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Bronco comes home: BYU hires new defensive coach

Mendenhall has worked with Crowton before

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PROVO — As if BYU coach Gary Crowton didn't know enough about Bronco Mendenhall already — they share a long-standing friendship that began at Snow College in the mid-1980s — he saw first-hand how a Mendenhall-coached defense can wreak havoc on an offense a month ago at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

New Mexico's swarming defenders confused Cougar quarterback Matt Berry, did not allow an offensive touchdown and limited BYU to an anemic 188 yards of total offense. The Lobos won in Provo for the first time in 31 years and eventually earned a bowl berth.

Turns out, it was quite an audition for the BYU defensive coordinator vacancy that would emerge a few weeks later. "(Mendenhall) did a great job running their defense," Crowton recalled of that up-close-and-personal experience. "They frustrated Matt Berry a little bit. OK, more than a little bit."

On Tuesday, Crowton made a big announcement, hiring Mendenhall, the man behind that vexing defense, away from New Mexico to become BYU's new defensive leader.

If you can't beat 'em, hire 'em.

The 36-year-old Mendenhall replaces Ken Schmidt, who stepped down last week after 21 seasons at BYU. Crowton promises that the Cougar defensive philosophy will change dramatically. "It will be different," he said. "It will be a much more aggressive style of football."

Mendenhall's approach involves a blitz-based defense that puts unrelenting pressure on quarterbacks. His defenses have established a reputation for showing a variety of formations and alignments while inducing opposing offenses into turnovers and mental mistakes.

This year, in conference games, the Lobos were No. 1 in the MWC in total defense, rush defense, pass efficiency defense and opponent third-down conversion defense. UNM was No. 2 in scoring defense and sacks and No. 3 in pass defense. In 2000 and 2001, the Lobos ranked in the top 20 in the nation in total defense. In 2002, they ranked No. 43 nationally.

"I'm excited about his intensity, discipline, focus and knowledge of the game," Crowton said of Mendenhall, who coached the defensive secondary for Crowton at Louisiana Tech in 1997. "I feel comfortable with the chemistry he brings. We didn't always have that chemistry this year."

New Mexico coach Rocky Long will allow Mendenhall to remain on staff through UNM's Las Vegas Bowl date with UCLA on Christmas Day. "I'm grateful to coach Long for letting me coach in the (bowl) game," Mendenhall said. "It would have been difficult for me not to."

Mendenhall will officially begin his job at BYU in early January. At that time, he plans to interview the Cougar defensive coaches. Together, Mendenhall and Crowton will determine if further coaching changes are necessary.

Crowton said he considered at least one other candidate for the coordinator opening. Last week, Crowton interviewed Utah defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham, who has built a stalwart defense at the U. In the end, though, Crowton felt Mendenhall was the right fit for his program. "I know him. I've coached with him," he said.

Mendenhall said it wasn't an easy decision to leave the Lobos, especially into the arms of an MWC rival. He has invested the last five years of his life in UNM football. A year ago, Long promoted him to associate head coach and signed him to a two-year contract that paid $100,000 per season.

However, for Mendenhall, Crowton's offer was an opportunity to be part of BYU's storied tradition and enjoy the new, state-of-the-art indoor practice facility that is being constructed on campus.

It was also the chance to return to his roots in Utah County. He grew up in Alpine, and his father, Paul, and brother, Mat, played at BYU. "It was a fantastic offer and an ideal situation," Mendenhall said. He wanted his two young sons to be closer to their grandparents, who still live in Alpine. Mendenhall and his wife, Holly, are expecting a third child in June. "Very few times does a coach have an opportunity to pick a place where his family lives," he said.

Of course, Mendenhall's close relationship with Crowton played a major factor, too.

Not long after it was announced that Schmidt was leaving BYU last week, Mendenhall began fielding phone calls from members of the media, who identified him as an obvious candidate to replace Schmidt.

It was Long who initiated contact with Crowton, to gauge BYU's interest in Mendenhall. Long wanted a quick resolution in order to avoid distractions for his team. Long granted Crowton permission to talk to Mendenhall.

However, Long grew impatient after Mendenhall spent last weekend at BYU interviewing for the job but returned without an offer. Long gave BYU an ultimatum Tuesday afternoon to make its decision, imposing a 3 p.m. deadline regarding Mendenhall's future. Crowton extended the offer to Mendenhall and that afternoon a news conference was held in Albuquerque to announce Mendenhall's decision to join the BYU coaching staff.

The Bronco Mendenhall file:

A native of Alpine

Played at American Fork High, Snow College (1985-86) and Oregon State (1987-88)

COACHING EXPERIENCE

Graduate assistant, Oregon State (1990)

Defensive coordinator/secondary coach, Snow Junior College (1991-92)

Secondary coach, Northern Arizona (1993)

Co-defensive coordinator, Northern Arizona (1994)

Defensive line coach, Oregon State (1995)

Defensive coordinator, Oregon State (1996)

Secondary coach, Louisiana Tech (1997)

Defensive coordinator, New Mexico (1998-2001)

Associate head coach/defensive coordinator, New Mexico (2002)

ACCOMPLISHMENTS

At 29, he was promoted to defensive coordinator at Oregon State — making him the youngest coach to hold that position in Pac-10 history at the time.

Coached Brian Urlacher, the 1998 Mountain West Conference player of the year and first-round NFL draft pick of the Chicago Bears.

His defense was one of only eight Div. I teams to rank in top 20 in total defense in 2000 and 2001.

FAMILY

His father, Paul, played for BYU (1953-54) as did his older brother, Mat (1975-79).

He and his wife, Holly, have two sons, Cutter (3) and Breaker (1) and are expecting a third child in June.


E-MAIL: jeffc@desnews.com