On Wednesday, Dec. 6, The University of New Mexico announced Bronco Mendenhall as the new head football coach. Mendenhall signed a five-year contract, making him the 33rd head coach for the Lobos.
This is not Mendenhall’s first time in Albuquerque, as he was the defensive coordinator and associate head coach for the Lobos under Head Coach Rocky Long from 1998-2002.
Mendenhall has been coaching college football for 32 years and has been a head coach for 17. Out of his years as a head coach, his teams were bowl eligible 16 out of 17 seasons and snagged seven bowl victories.
In his 17 years as a head coach, Mendenhall has a record of 135-81 – ranking his victories among the top-100 all-time in Division I football.
He spent 11 seasons at former Mountain West school Brigham Young University as its head coach from 2005-2015. From there he moved on to be the head coach at the University of Virginia for six seasons from 2016-2021, and had taken a break from coaching since then.
In a press conference on Thursday, Dec. 7, Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez officially welcomed Mendenhall to the program. Nuñez shared that when he met with Mendenhall in Las Vegas, Nevada, he was sure at that moment Mendenhall was the coach for the Lobos.
“I asked him (Mendenhall) point blank, ‘Coach if I ask you for this opportunity would you come?,’ he said, ‘Absolutely.’ I knew then that he would be our coach,” Nuñez said.
Nuñez expressed that he knows Mendenhall and his family are “authentic,” which is a “trust factor” he was looking for in a new head coach.
Speaking for the first time as head coach of the Lobos at the press conference, Mendenhall was emotional with his return to the place where he took some of his first steps in his coaching career.
“I didn’t quite expect to be emotional,” Mendenhall said as he wiped his eyes. “Who would have known – 17 years later as a head coach we’d be back in Albuquerque, and it’s an amazing experience and I’m grateful.”
Both the Cougars and Cavaliers were coming off a string of losing seasons when Mendenhall came in, and he turned both teams into dominant competitors in their respective conferences. This is the type of turn around that Lobo football has been waiting for, and Mendenhall has proved he knows what it takes.
Being a good coach is all about the relationship built with the athletes. Mendenhall knows that the hard work he will put into rebuilding the Lobo football program will build and strengthen the relationship he is creating with the team.
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“There’s a concept of doing hard things together that galvanizes relationships, and the harder the better … The gratification is increased the harder the better,” Mendenhall said.
Mendenhall expects to build a winning team and to see it continue to win and grow as a program.
“In terms of measuring progress, I like to win … and that’s my expectation,” Mendenhall said. “The longer the season goes, the more I like it. And the sooner that happens, and the more consistently that happens, the more I like it.”
There have been a number of Lobos entering the transfer portal, but those that remain are ready to get on the field and start working. Running back Jacory Croskey-Merritt exhibited excitement at the opportunity to work with Mendenhall and be a part of a winning program.
“Only thing that I’m wanting to do right now in my college career now is win, and I think he (Mendenhall) can have the right mindset for things … I’m excited to get to work,” Croskey-Merritt said.
Mendenhall has been tasked to rebuild a team that has only amounted 11 wins over the last four years. He said he knows that it will be a long and grueling process to rebuild the program, but he welcomes that challenge and the opportunity that comes with it.
“I like the process of transforming, and I like the process of helping the program either become or re-becoming,” Mendenhall said. “Every challenge comes with an opportunity, and each place has distinct opportunities and challenges.”
Lobo football has a bright future ahead of itself with Mendenhall at the forefront. Fans, faculty, and athletes alike are eager to see what he can do to rebuild the program and begin a new era.
“I know it can be done, I want it to be done. I wouldn’t have taken this job unless I thought I was the person to do it … what better challenge to take,” Mendenhall said.
Francesca Cicconetti is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @fran_cicconetti.
Francesca Cicconetti is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached on Twitter @fran_cicconetti