BYU, Utah football: Bronco Mendenhall, Kyle Whittingham keep things strictly professional
Coaches are not close friends
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Bronco Mendenhall and Kyle Whittingham don't interact a heckuva lot. Certainly not to the extent that former BYU and Utah coaches LaVell Edwards and Ron McBride did during their years in the long-standing football rivalry.
There have been no funny television commercials made or friendly banter exchanged.
It simply isn't how Mendenhall and Whittingham roll.
Case in point, a photo shoot for the National Kidney Foundation.
"When we had the picture standing next to each other, and our arms around each other, that lasted for about two seconds," Mendenhall recalled with a laugh. "They snapped it and then it went back to normal. I think we had similar feelings about that."
What the duo does share, however, is respect for one another.
"I think he's done a terrific job. They've had a lot of success the past six years. The wins speak for themselves," Whittingham said. "I would say our relationship is amicable, a very professional relationship."
The coaches are hardly strangers. Both were hired to take over their respective programs the same year and will square off for the sixth time as head coaches Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"I would say our relationship is friendly and cordial. But I haven't had the chance to coach with him like I have some of the other coaches in the league," Mendenhall said. "We've been to a lot of head coaching functions together with our wives. Also, the nature of the rivalry, there's almost a dividing line at the Point of the Mountain."
As such, Mendenhall noted, there's not a lot of crossover other than the kidney foundation and a Boy Scout golf tournament.
It's kept their relationship professional.
Even so, Mendenhall doesn't sense any animosity. It's just different.
"It's certainly not how LaVell Edwards and Ron McBride used to be," Mendenhall said.
That's not to say, however, that the coaches ignore each other.
"If he and I were here, we would visit and talk just as maybe anyone would," Mendenhall said. "I would say cordial and professional, if I had to put words on it."
Both have backgrounds as defensive coordinators and each spent time in the Big Sky Conference earlier in their careers, Whittingham at Idaho State and Mendenhall at Northern Arizona.
Since becoming head coaches in the same calendar year (2005), they've both been successful.
Whittingham, who is credited with co-coaching Utah's Fiesta Bowl victory over Pittsburgh with Urban Meyer, is 57-19 with the Utes. Mendenhall, meanwhile, is 55-20 at the helm of the Cougars.
Neither coach is surprised about the mutual success.
"Both programs have good players and good facilities. That's what it takes," Whittingham said while noting it brings more national exposure when both teams are doing well. "I think it's healthy for the rivalry to have both programs where they're at."
Mendenhall noted that it's a "pretty neat thing" to have the state's two premier programs have somewhat similar success. It's something, he added, that doesn't happen in most places.
Even so, Mendenhall doesn't find it surprising.
"When Urban Meyer was hired at Utah, I think he made a lot of just core and fundamental changes that really inspired a different level of commitment and play at the University of Utah," he said. "Kyle was there to see all that and he's a very competent and skilled coach as well. So besides his own abilities, he had a really nice model to learn from. Not only that one but other good coaches."
The Utes' rise to prominence, which includes two undefeated seasons capped by Bowl Championship Series appearances since 2004, has raised the stakes.
"It's fun to acknowledge and see anyone have success over time in this business," Mendenhall said. "Because it's not easy."
So describes the rivalry since Whittingham and Mendenhall took over. Aside from a lopsided outcome in 2008, when Utah prevailed 48-24 to lock down a trip to the Sugar Bowl, the other four meetings included two overtime games and outcomes of seven points or less.
Mendenhall has a 3-2 edge in the head-to-head coaching meetings. Whittingham and the Utes, however, are considered favorites to even things up on Saturday.
The Mendenhall-Whittingham Era
2005: Utah 41, BYU 34 (OT)
2006: BYU 33, Utah 31
2007: BYU 17, Utah 10
2008: Utah 48, BYU 24
2009: BYU 26, Utah 23 (OT)
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