I didn't have an in in college football at that point. I was hoping I could get back in at some point. So I owe Bronco a lot for that phone call. We were good friends for a number of years. —Gary Anderson, Wisconsin head coach
Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen is very familiar with Bronco Mendenhall and the BYU football program.
Ever since their college football playing days, they have followed each other. They first met as rivals when Andersen played center at Ricks College and Mendenhall played defensive back at Snow College. After graduating they went their separate ways, so it seemed.
In 1994, Mendenhall was serving on Northern Arizona's football staff but was leaving after the season for a job at Oregon State. Mendenhall called up Andersen, who was serving as the head coach at Park City High School at that time, told him about the job and encouraged him to apply.
"He asked me if I wanted to coach the defensive line or have the opportunity, when I had really nowhere to go," Andersen said at a press conference as quoted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I didn't have an in in college football at that point. I was hoping I could get back in at some point. So I owe Bronco a lot for that phone call. We were good friends for a number of years."
Andersen took the job as an assistant and stayed at Northern Arizona for two seasons before moving on to Utah and Utah State, where he coached for a combined 13 seasons.
He said his friendship with Mendenhall has "definitely grown since my time at Utah State. We've become close coaching friends. We text back and forth quite a bit. I have great respect for him."
So when he took the job at Wisconsin this year he was caught off guard when he learned he'd be facing a familiar opponent right away.
"Having BYU on the schedule was probably one of the most shocking things that I looked at when I took this job," Andersen said. "It's amazing. They follow me all the way here."
Andersen hasn't had much success against Mendenhall, as he's just 1-3 against the Cougars in his four seasons as the head coach at Utah State. BYU crushed the Aggies, 35-17, in 2009, during Andersen's first season. The next year Utah State ended a 10-game losing streak, winning 31-16 at home. The next two games went BYU's way again, as the Cougars won 27-24 in 2011 and 6-3 in 2012.
"Our goal when we went to Utah State was to try to find a way to create a rivalry game again against BYU, which had not been there forever and ever," Andersen said in the Journal-Sentinel. "It's been lopsided games and we were fortunate enough to win a game against them and compete at a high level for every year we were there except probably the first year, and created a rivalry again in that situation."
BYU will play at Wisconsin on Saturday at 1:30 p.m., with the game broadcast live on ESPN.
Justin Giles is a recent graduate of the University of Utah. Email: [email protected]