There's an office in the Lobo football headquarters at the University of New Mexico that Bronco Mendenhall moved his stuff into back in 1998. This was the place he'd make his second home as days turned into nights and game video cases were the primary decoration.
The office belonged to New Mexico's defensive coordinator. The man who vacated it for Mendenhall was Gary Patterson, who followed Lobo coach Dennis Franchione to TCU, where he remained D-coordinator for the Frogs until 2000, when Franchione accepted the Alabama job. TCU then elevated Patterson to head coach.
Today, the two former occupants of that Lobo office and holders of UNM D-coordinator title meet in LaVell Edwards Stadium for what should be a real battle as the Cougars try to stay undefeated and hold on to a two-game lead in the Mountain West standings.
Patterson, whose team was voted as the preseason MWC favorite back in July, hopes to get TCU bowl-eligible, and he'd like nothing better than to do it in Provo, avenging a loss to the Cougars in Fort Worth a year ago.
The two men coach teams who have seen their offenses go up and down over the years. But one thing that's been a constant is the fruit from the tree in which both men are rooted: defense.
The Cougars and Horned Frogs have proven they can take opposing offenses to the mat.
Patterson's and Mendenhall's style is to apply pressure, elevate conditioning, demand hustle from players, make take-down tackles and hold big plays to a minimum. As head coaches, they've succeeded.
Only two coaches in the MWC have run through the league with 8-0 conference records Patterson and Mendenhall.
Gary Crowton and Urban Meyer who have have moved on to the SEC had undefeated runs when the league had seven teams.
In short, Patterson and Mendenhall have proven themselves to be the coaches to beat in this league. No other head coach currently employed in the league has had championships in this decade except CSU's Sonny Lubick (2002) and his team is now 1-8, soon to be 1-9 at New Mexico on Saturday.
According to published reports, Patterson is the highest-paid coach in the MWC, with a salary of $952,162. A Web site that tracks coaching salaries has Mendenhall a close second, a figure ($900,000) the BYU coach has publicly said is "inaccurate." Because BYU and TCU are private schools, details of their contracts are not public information.
On Monday, when Mendenhall was asked about crossing paths with Patterson, he told of the office exchange in Albuquerque nine years ago.
"There is a similarity of being a defensive coordinator and promoted to a head coach, as he has done at TCU and I have done here. There is also a similarity in philosophy that applies. Only time will tell if I'll end up having some of the same success he has had, but he has done very well and should be respected for that. "
I asked Mendenhall if he found anything interesting in Patterson's office when he moved in.
"You know, there were a few notes that I found there, and one in particular was from a pro scout. It complimented coach Patterson on the way he coached his players, not only in scheme but also in technique, and how hard they played. I remember looking at that and I was impressed."
Did you throw the note away?
"I threw it away. I'm a thrower-awayer. Nothing personal toward coach Patterson, but my wife will tell you, I throw things away quite frequently."
Patterson and Mendenhall have each won one game against one another as head coaches.
Gentlemen, who gets the leg up today?This week's predictions:
BYU 21, TCU 14: If the Cougars turn the ball over more than twice, they could lose. Cougar linebackers need to step up, shut down the run and force TCU into throwing situations and they'll keep the 12-game win streak alive in league play.
AIR FORCE 38, NOTRE DAME 7: Look for the Falcons to delivery a nasty whipping on the Fighting Irish on the hallowed Notre Dame home turf.
NEW MEXICO 23, COLORADO STATE 7: The Rams are almost at the end of a long, frustrating gauntlet in which they've been beaten like bongos. They now stand 1-8 overall and 1-5 in the MWC while the Lobos are eager to get the TCU loss out of their systems. Lobos roll.
UTAH 24, WYOMING 14: Fresh legs at home should enable Kyle Whittingham to continue building on a win streak. The Cowboys are error-prone and a habitual turnover machine at the most inopportune times.
SAN DIEGO STATE 34, UNLV 10: The Aztecs have caught their second wind after the unscheduled bye allowed them to heal up some secondary players. Look for the Aztecs to win their second game in a row.
RECORDS: Last week 2-2; overall 41-16 (.719)