New University of Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who is remaining with Alabama as defensive coordinator through the playoffs, and Brigham Young's Bronco Mendenhall, who also accepted a head coaching position at another program, are both currently pulling double duty.
The feat is tricky, especially for the hiring programs that need all hands on deck as they transition to a new coaching staff. But Mendenhall and Smart were firm with the decision to delay their moves to Virginia and Georgia, respectively, until after their current teams wrap up their postseasons.
“I was taught growing up working with my dad on our ranch that if you start a job or start a task you do it as well as you can and you do it all the way till it’s finished,” Mendenhall said. “That’s where satisfaction and happiness and peace really comes from, is trying as hard as you can to do the best that you can.
“I’ve worked hard to establish trust with this team and these players and I care about them deeply. I want to help them finish what we started and possibly be an example for them in the future if they’re faced with a similar challenge to leave before something is done.”
Mendenhall has been the BYU head coach for 11 years with two more as defensive coordinator. Virginia will be Mendenhall’s second head coaching position.
BYU’s last game, against Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday, is so important that had Virginia not been willing to let him finish the season coaching the Cougars, Mendenhall said at his introductory press conference it would have been a “deal-breaker” because “what message would that send?”
Smart, who will be a first-time head coach at Georgia after being on the Alabama staff since 2007, had a similar take.
“It’s very important to me that I finish things the right way over there,” Smart said. “A lot of these young men playing for the University of Alabama, I sat in their homes three, four, five years ago and convinced them to come to the University of Alabama. And I don’t think it would be doing justice to turn and walk away from those kids.”
The decision to pull double duty wasn’t made by one person. The administrations at Virginia and Georgia could have demanded that their new coaches start right away. There’s plenty to do, most importantly recruiting. But all four programs have been cooperative.
There was no buyout clause in Smart’s Alabama contract to prevent him from leaving. Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said letting him stay on with the Crimson Tide for now was the right thing to do.
Alabama is preparing to face Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 31 with a spot in the national championship game on the line.
Smart left to work at Georgia for a little more than a week then returned for the Crimson Tide bowl practices.
“I know the professional integrity that Kirby has and the commitment that he has to our players as well as his new job,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “And I feel very comfortable that he’ll be able to manage that. And I think University of Georgia has been first class in how they’ve sort of handled this transition and helping us both be able to do this the way we’re going to do it.”
Unlike Smart and Mendenhall, new Maryland coach D.J. Durkin didn’t think it would work with him pulling double duty.
He immediately left his defensive coordinator position at Michigan and will not coach in the Citrus Bowl, even though it’s against his previous school, Florida.
“I’m an all-in type of guy,” Durkin said at his introductory press conference. “To me, if I’m here, I’m here. I think splitting between would have been hard for me to do.”
Mendenhall acknowledged there was a different feeling around the building after the announcement that he was leaving, but practices have helped coaches and players fall back into a routine and regain a feeling of normalcy.
Senior receiver Mitch Matthews said there’s a focus on the game and getting one last win for Mendenhall, who would hit 100 wins at BYU with a victory Saturday, but “a coaching change is never easy. … Guys have questions of who’s going to be our next coach and who’s going and coming in.”