Bronco Mendenhall has spent most of his life out West, immersed in big rivalries like BYU-Utah. Now that he is on the other side of the country and temporarily living in an RV until his new home is ready, the new Virginia coach has gotten a crash course in what the Virginia Tech rivalry means -- without having to do much at all.
"Basically, every person that I run into, they remind me of what's important," Mendenhall said recently. "I didn't have to go to them. They've come to me."
Most important: putting an end to Virginia Tech's 12-game winning streak -- the longest streak by either team in the rivalry's history, dating to 1895. When the teams play again to end the regular season, there will be some familiarity there. Mendenhall and Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente are both new to the rivalry, but the two have a shared history.
Fuente served as running backs coach and offensive coordinator at TCU from 2007-11 and faced Mendenhall's BYU teams every single season when both played in the Mountain West. TCU went 4-1 in those games, averaging 34.8 points in the four wins. They faced each other once as head coaches, in the now infamous Miami Beach Bowl in 2014. Fuente led Memphis to 55-48 overtime win over Mendenhall and BYU, but the game's ending was marred by a benches-clearing brawl that saw punches and helmets thrown, and players covered in blood.
Both teams disciplined the players involved, and worked to move past the ugly incident. Now here they are again, taking over a much more heated rivalry.
"We saw each other at an awards banquet in Richmond, Virgina," Mendenhall said, recalling the first time they saw each other after taking their new jobs. "We hadn't talked since maybe a day or two after the Memphis game and our bowl game. We said, 'How ironic is this? Now we're at rival schools.'"
They saw each other again in Amelia Island, Florida, last week for the ACC spring meetings -- where both went about getting to know the other coaches in the league. Mendenhall only knew Duke coach David Cutcliffe from their work together on the AFCA Board. Fuente hadn't crossed paths with many of the coaches before, either.
But that will all change soon enough for both.