PROVO — When Bronco Mendenhall learned ESPN reported UCLA named him as a candidate they'd like to consider for the UCLA head coaching vacancy this week, he was flattered and then annoyed.

Mendenhall told reporters after Thursday's first official practice for the Dec. 22 Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl, he was flattered that anyone would consider him worthy of a job like UCLA, but he was also annoyed that it popped up while the Cougars were preparing to meet the Bruins when his focus is on bowl work.

In a statement released before practice, Mendenhall said, "I have not been contacted by UCLA, nor have I expressed an interest in the head coaching position at UCLA. My focus has been and will remain on preparing this team to play in our upcoming bowl game. I do not wish to comment further on items of speculation."

Mendenhall said he felt the need for a statement to be active and eliminate any distractions.

"I'm not sure it will happen again many times in many years, I guess it will just play out. I feel very fortunate we're having success now and that eventually I might be sought out.

"I'm not interested. My first obligation is to these guys, and I'm very happy."

Mendenhall had his name thrown in a mix for the Bruin job this week that included former BYU offensive coordinator Norm Chow, now with the Titans of the NFL and another Cougar assistant in the mid-'90s, current UCLA interim coach, DeWayne Walker. Walker did interview for the job this week and will lead the Bruins against the Cougars in the bowl game.

Mendenhall is 21-4 the past two seasons and has been undefeated the past two years in the Mountain West Conference.

Sophomore quarterback Max Hall said there must not be anything to the rumors of UCLA and Mendenhall because the coach would have mentioned it to the team first.

"He didn't mention anything to us because it wasn't a big deal," said Hall. "I think he's proud to be our coach, and we're proud to have him."

BYU hired Mendenhall in mid-December 2004 to replace Gary Crowton. The university renegotiated his contract this past summer after the Cougars finished 11-2 and defeated Oregon 38-8 in the Las Vegas Bowl.

"I'm certainly flattered, then it goes right to annoyance in terms of it being one more thing to manage trying to get a team ready to play," said Mendenhall.

If his name crops up again, Mendenhall said he's working on a "strategy" to handle it so it does not interfere with the football team. "Again, my first obligation is to this team."

At this time of the year, with coaches leaving programs through their own choice or by firings, Mendenhall is aware boosters and the media deal with prospective replacements and it comes with the territory when reporters come calling.

"I appreciate you guys following up to see if there is a basis to it. I'd tell you if there was something, but right now, it's just another thing to deflect."


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com