Coaches linked for life

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Coke and Pepsi. Letterman and Leno. Kyle Whittingham and Bronco Mendenhall.

Some pairs will forever be linked whether they like it or not. They walk parallel paths. These duos can’t escape each other because of their analogous places in pop culture history.

Mendenhall and Whittingham. Bronco and Kyle. The Beaver-turned-Cougar and the Cougar-turned-Ute.

When the two coaches eventually hang up their whistles — whether they’re fired or have practice facilities named after them — their legacies will be compared.

“There’s a lot of similarities to them,” said legendary BYU head coach LaVell Edwards, who knows both men well. Whittingham played his college ball for Edwards 25 years ago.

“The more you think about it, the more there are a lot of similarities. Their backgrounds, their experiences, their age is pretty close to the same,” Edwards said.

Both Whittingham and Mendenhall are former defensive coordinators who took over the state’s two major football programs in the same year.

“They’re both no-nonsense guys,” Edwards said. “I think they’re probably really well-liked by their teams because of their approach. A better word is probably ‘respected.'”

Both men were exclusively defensive players. Both come from “football families.” Both earned masters degrees at the same school where they did their undergraduate work — Whittingham at BYU, Mendenhall at Oregon State.

Mendenhall has arguably been more successful because of the perception that he righted a sinking ship while Whittingham took over the Utes at the peak of the program’s success. Utah has since not lived up to expectations since he was named head coach — whether they were realistic or not.

Mendenhall went 6-5 in his first year at the helm. He followed that up with a 10-2 campaign. Last year, the Cougars led the nation in home winning margin, blasting opponents by an average of 35 points at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

“I think he’s done very well,” Edwards said. “He’s been very fortunate to have a couple of good quarterbacks and they’ve done well and he’s kept them healthy.”

Whittingham went 7-5 in his rookie campaign and then 8-5 in his second season. But Whittingham, Edwards said, has not been lucky with injuries.

“It hurt Kyle last year when (Brian) Johnson got hurt and wasn’t quite ready early in the year,” Edwards said. “I think he’s done very well because there’s nothing you can do about (injuries). You just have to move on.”

Edwards believes the two men’s coaching styles vary slightly.

“They coach offensively maybe a bit differently but not as much as you would think because they both kind of spread it out,” Edwards said. “Utah runs a little bit more of an option-oriented attack with their quarterback and they both throw quite a bit. BYU probably throws a little bit more.”

After almost three years at their respective head coaching posts, Edwards gives both Mendenhall and Whittingham a positive assessment.

“I think they’re both excellent coaches,” he said.

[email protected]