SALT LAKE CITY — It was strange to see Bronco Mendenhall talking about BYU from a distance, last week. The old positivity was there, but the pleading was gone.

Selling the Cougars is no longer his problem.

Still, he was thoughtful enough to tell ESPNU he thinks BYU is a great candidate for the Big 12. At last there was weight behind his statements. Not that his claims of power conference worthiness were invalid before. But promoting oneself only goes so far. It’s nice if someone else has your back.

Now that Mendenhall is the football coach at Virginia, it’s a different matter. He’s speaking from an outside vantage, and thinks the Cougars belong with the A team.

“Man,” Mendenhall said, according to announcer Greg Wrubell’s transcription, “it would be a huge mistake if anyone passed BYU over as a potential addition to their league.”

The prospect of BYU joining the Big 12 has caused some to predict Mendenhall will end up wishing he’d stayed in Provo.

Man, that too would be a huge mistake.

BYU football is a job he should appreciate from his rearview mirror. It’s not the product, place or people, or because he failed to be “fully invested,” either. But other than coaches hoping to move up, how many would want to take it on, even as a member of the Big 12?

In some ways it’s more work than other coaching jobs, thanks to the attachments, at a lower salary.

Kalani Sitake wanted to be a head coach and he took the BYU job; Ken Niumatalolo is the head coach at Navy and didn’t. Answering no-Sunday concerns, finding academically qualified players, signing honor code-worthy recruits and answering to numerous people is complicated — as is changing your offensive philosophy.

Mendenhall wouldn't openly say it, but he has to be relieved. At Virginia he gets to be a coach only, no LDS fireside engagements required. Plus, he’s earning two or three times as much money as he did at BYU.

But there’s one overriding reason Mendenhall wouldn’t still want the BYU job, even as a member of the Big 12: Virginia is part of a conference that just signed a 20-year TV contract. The Atlantic Coast Conference also has a grant of rights agreement making it nearly impossible for a school to leave during the next two decades. Any team that breaks rank forfeits its revenues to the ACC for the duration of the contract.

So if Mendenhall were coaching BYU in the Big 12, he might still have conference stability worries. All it would take is for Texas or Oklahoma to leave, and the legendary league would start looking like the Big East after it was gutted.

Regardless, Big 12 membership would be a sublime move for BYU. That’s the most realistic way to get in the playoffs and the only way to stay relevant. Beyond that, the prospect of playing TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas on a regular basis is — sorry, honor code — intoxicating. Everything would get better: facilities, resources, players and exposure.

But from a stability and stress standpoint, Mendenhall chose wisely. The ACC is secure. That’s why the Big 12 is adding schools; it wants to build value and permanence.

After the league’s current TV contract expires in eight years, things could get scary. Texas and Oklahoma already once threatened to leave. So Mendenhall probably hasn’t lost sleep over his decision. At Virginia he has his place, his team and fewer peripheral things to juggle. He has more flexibility and his program has more security than ever.

The BYU job is good and almost certain to get better. Sitake, a former player, is a terrific fit. The school’s resources and visibility, even without the Big 12, are enviable to many universities.

Power conference inclusion would make the job in Provo much more about coaching and less about selling. That luxury hasn’t existed for at least five seasons. But would staying at BYU have been better for Mendenhall?

No. In the era of expansion and realignment, it’s not even close.

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