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Provo • In that awkward and clunky way that sort of defined Bronco Mendenhall's 11-year tenure at BYU, the former head coach said Saturday night after his fifth-straight loss to the Utah Utes, 35-28, that the 2015 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl "certainly qualifies to be in the BYU-Utah football rivalry manual, or handbook, or whatever it is."
Actually, the entire day will not soon be forgotten.
A couple hours after the game concluded, BYU's courageous comeback from a 35-0 first-quarter deficit having fallen a touchdown short, athletic director Tom Holmoe appeared in the Sam Boyd Stadium press box and announced that former Cougar Kalani Sitake will replace Mendenhall, who is off to Virginia.
Holmoe said BYU will conduct a news conference Monday to introduce the former Oregon State defensive coordinator as BYU's 13th head coach.
Adding to the day's weirdness was the fact that Utah coach Kyle Whittingham actually broke the news a few minutes before Holmoe did, mentioning in his postgame remarks that the longtime Utah assistant will do a fine job at BYU. As if that wasn't enough craziness, Sitake thanked two of BYU's biggest protagonists Whittingham and former Utah State coach Gary Andersen, now at OSU for helping him get where he is today, possibly the first time those two coaches names have appeared under BYU letterhead.
"I want to express my appreciation to Gary Andersen and Kyle Whittingham, who have given me tremendous opportunities in my career and helped prepare me for the chance to be a head coach," Sitake said. "I am forever grateful to them and all the other great coaches I've worked with and players I've coached throughout my career."
The third Saturday in December will also be remembered for Mendenhall's poignant, sometimes tearful, final remarks.
"I think I leave the program as [one] that wins about nine games a year, that has very good grades, that has players that want to be at BYU because of the standards, and that want to work hard," he said. "I think there is an outstanding foundation in place for someone else to come in and put their stamp on it. I leave with no regrets."
Asked what his lasting legacy will be at BYU, Mendenhall repeated the mantra that he used a lot this season that he tried hard.
"I know that wins and losses is how a coach is evaluated," he said. "I get that. And we have won enough that I have been able to stay at a place for a long time. I am thankful for that. Along the way, I have been completely engrossed and given everything I have had to a given team and a group of players. That is really where the reward is."
Mendenhall, who went 99-43 at BYU, was asked if he had anything to say to BYU's fans as he hits the road for Virginia and takes six assistants with him (although some might be persuaded by Sitake to stick around).
"It has just been overwhelmingly positive, and my experience here has been [positive]," he said. "And I appreciate the intense support, and the passion for BYU football. And the standards. I have learned along the way, and I am not all the way polished with it yet, to embrace that. Lucky to have been part of a fan base that cares that much about success, and about winning. Holly [his wife] and I have had remarkable experience and are thankful for the opportunity, and appreciate the fans' support."
BYU to introduce Sitake on Monday
New BYU football coach Kalani Sitake will be introduced to the fans and media on Monday afternoon on the BYU campus.