The person who replaces Bronco Mendenhall as BYU’s head football coach has big shoes to fill, and not just because Mendenhall won a lot of games.
Mendenhall’s legacy is much deeper than wins, rankings, and bowl games. It extends beyond victories over Oklahoma, Texas, UCLA, and Utah. It is vaster than placing NFL talent and posting top-20 defenses. His legacy is cemented in his commitment to BYU’s religious mission and the relationships he had with his players. And Bronco’s his replacement will have to show the same fervor for everything BYU stands for.
That’s why I think one name stands out as Bronco’s likely replacement: Ken Niumatalolo.
Niumatalolo has had a successful career as head coach at the Naval Academy. In 7 full seasons, he has led the Midshipmen to six winning seasons, six bowl games, and three bowl victories. In his first full season, Niumatalolo led Navy to their first win over a ranked team (#16 Wake Forest) in 23 years. This season, the Midshipmen have garnered national attention with their 9-2 record, top-25 ranking, and darkhorse Heisman candidate quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who holds the NCCA career rushing record.
Off the field, Niumatalolo has the qualities the BYU higher-ups value. Specifically, he is a devout member of the LDS church, a de facto requirement of the school’s head football coach. In fact, he was featured in last year’s Meet the Mormons, a documentary film produced by the church to display the church’s values and diversity. He is a known quantity to those that make the decisions, and it is evident that his life is in harmony with the principles BYU stands for.
Niumatalolo may not be the flashiest pick, but let’s be honest: BYU is probably done with risky coaching moves after the Gary Crowton debacle. Niumatalolo is the safest, most qualified of the realistic candidates out there, and that is what BYU is looking for.