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Former UVA football coach Bronco Mendenhall hired at New Mexico

Chris Graham
Bronco Mendenhall. Photo: UVA Athletics

The coach who led Virginia to the Orange Bowl four years ago, then got run out of town, is taking over the moribund program at New Mexico.

Bronco Mendenhall didn’t have his name come up seriously for any better jobs since leaving Virginia two Decembers ago, which is surprising, given his track record – nine wins a year, on average, at BYU, the Orange Bowl berth at Virginia, after taking over for two failed coaches.

Maybe he was damaged by the way things ended at Virginia. Virginia had back-to-back .500 seasons after Mendenhall took Virginia to the ACC Championship Game and the Orange Bowl in 2019, then resisted an ultimatum from AD Carla Williams to replace his defensive coordinator, opting to step down abruptly instead.

He inherits, well, not much, at New Mexico, which fired Danny Gonzalez last month after a 4-8 season in 2023, and an 11-32 record in his four-year tenure at his alma mater.

Dating back to 2017, the beginning of the end of the tenure of Gonzalez’s predecessor, Bob Davie, New Mexico is 19-60 over its last seven seasons.

“We welcome the challenge and opportunity of building a program of excellence,” Mendenhall said in a statement. “We are excited to get to know the players, assemble a world-class group of people, immerse ourselves in the community and truly make a difference at UNM.”

Mendenhall knows rebuilds. He took over at BYU in 2005 after his predecessor there, Gary Crowton, had put up back-to-back-to-back losing seasons, going 14-21 over that stretch, getting the Cougars to 11 wins by Year 2, the beginning of a run of five double-digit-win campaigns in a six-year stretch.

He took the job at UVA in December 2015. Mike London, his immediate predecessor, had gone 27-46 in six seasons, with just one winning season, 8-5 in 2011, his second year, and Al Groh, the guy that London had replaced, had losing seasons in three of his last four years before he got the axe.

Mendenhall’s first UVA team, in 2016, went 2-10, but the 2017 team went to a bowl, and the 2018 and 2019 teams went 8-5 and 9-5, respectively.

The program hit a wall with the COVID pandemic, and Mendenhall, shockingly, would be pushed out two years after having taken Virginia Football to unprecedented heights.

And now he’s at New Mexico, where he served as defensive coordinator from 1998-2002, developing the 3-3-5 defensive scheme, which is now in vogue because the defense is a good counter to the spread offensive scheme that is widely used in college football today.

“We are excited to welcome Bronco Mendenhall as our new head football coach,” New Mexico AD Eddie Nuñez said in a statement. “Throughout this process, we were looking for not just a proven winner, but a leader of men that has a clear vision for what our program can be. Coach Mendenhall has twice taken over programs that were struggling, turning them into winning, championship programs.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].