Nearly 20 years ago, Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen was coaching high school football in Park City, Utah. One day, Andersen received a random phone call from BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall that would ultimately lead to an opportunity to get his college coaching career on track.
“He (Bronco Mendenhall) was at Northern Arizona and asked me if I wanted to coach the defensive line or have the opportunity, when I had really nowhere to go,” Andersen said. “He gave me an opportunity.”
After coaching at Northern Arizona, Andersen went on to coach at Utah, Southern Utah and Utah State. Following the 2012 season, he was offered the coveted head coaching job at Wisconsin. Andersen had the chance to face Mendenhall often while coaching in Utah, and even after taking a job almost 1,500 miles away, not a lot has changed.
“Having BYU on the schedule was probably one of the most shocking things that I looked at when I took this job,” Andersen said. “It’s amazing, they follow me all the way here.”
The two coaches first came to know each other while playing junior college football. Mendenhall was playing for Snow College, while Andersen played for Ricks College. Since then, the two have gotten to know each other well, and respect is not lost between them.
“He did a really nice job with Utah State and did a nice job as a coordinator at Utah,” Mendenhall said. “He deserved it (getting the head coaching job at Wisconsin) and has done a nice job already with them.”
Even though the two have spent most of their careers on opposing teams, they have still been able to build a good friendship over the years, especially after Andersen left Utah to coach at Utah State.
“As soon as he left (Utah), it changed, and he was much more open and normal, actually — in terms of public relations and our friendship,” Mendenhall said. “So we’ve gotten to know each other well, and there is mutual respect and admiration. It just took him changing schools.”
A relationship off the field has led to some very good games on the field. The two coaches are almost even when it comes to wins against each other. Currently, Mendenhall is winning the battle, winning eight of the 15 games in which the coaches have met.
“Those games at BYU, I’ve had many great victories and many, many tough defeats. That is the rivalry game that you play,” Andersen said. “Our goal when we went to Utah State was to try to find a way to create a rivalry game again against BYU and Utah State which had not been there forever and ever. It’s been lopsided games, and we were able to be fortunate enough to win a game against them and compete at a high level for every year we were there except probably the first year, and created a rivalry again in that situation.”
The two coaches will get the chance to further their personal rivalry when BYU travels to Madison to face the Badgers on Saturday. Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m. locally. The game will be televised on ESPN.