PROVO – On a relatively calm Friday afternoon in December 2015, the astonishing news announced that Bronco Mendenhall was leaving BYU after 11 seasons to take up the position of head coach at the University of Virginia.
It was almost five years ago.
“It seems longer. It seems to be 10 or 15. It’s even hard to remember sometimes because all of our lives are so busy, “Mendenhall told Deseret News in a telephone interview amid a pandemic that makes the coming season anything but certain.
“In the life of a college football coach, there is so much going on every day. It seems that I have been gone for a long time. Maybe 10 years or more. ”
In reality, it’s been 15 years since Mendenhall’s first season as BYU’s head coach.
But for the past four years, he’s been busy building the Cavaliers’ soccer program, which had recorded seven lost seasons in eight years before his arrival. In their first season in Charlottesville, the team went 2-10.
Since then, Mendenhall has orchestrated progressive success.
In 2019, U.Va. had one of its greatest seasons in the history of the school. The Cavs won their first Atlantic Coast Conference coastal division championship; won nine games for the first time since 2007; defeated rival Virginia Tech for the first time in 16 years; played in the Orange Bowl; and was ranked # 25 in the latest coaching survey. In addition, Virginia has placed 10 players on the ACC All-Academic team.
Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall watches warm-ups before an NCAA college football game against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia on Saturday November 26, 2016.
In this file photo from October 22, 2016, Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall leads his team to the field for an NCAA college football game against North Carolina in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall answers a question during a press conference at the NCAA Atlantic Coast Conference College Football Media Day in Charlotte on July 18, 2018.
Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall makes an appeal during the team game against Louisville in Charlottesville on October 29, 2016
Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall watches his team before an NCAA college football game against Duke in Durham, North Carolina on Saturday October 1, 2016.
Virginia football head coach Bronco Mendenhall receives a huge hug from Thursday hero Jerod Davis at the team’s indoor facility after playing NCAA college football in Charlottesville, Virginia on Thursday 6 April 2017. Thursday’s Hero is a program created by Mendenhall to honor people who have overcome challenges in their lives.
Virginia soccer coach Bronco Mendenhall chats with a fellow coach after playing spring soccer at their indoor facility in Charlottesville, Virginia on April 6, 2017.
Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall shakes hands with wide receiver Terrell Chatman (9) before an NCAA college football game against Duke in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday October 19, 2019.
Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall watches his team warm up before an NCAA college football game against Virginia Tech in Charlottesville, Virginia on Friday, November 29, 2019.
Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall, right, buries his head in the shoulder of Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins (3) as he and his team celebrate beating Virginia Tech after an NCAA college football game between Virginia Tech and Virginie in Charlottesville, Virginia, Friday, November 29, 2019. Virginia defeated Virginia Tech 39-30 for the first time in 15 years.
Virginia Cavaliers head coach Bronco Mendenhall, left, and Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen, right, pose for a photo at a press conference for the Orange University football game NCAA Bowl, Sunday December 29, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Florida faces Virginia in the Orange Bowl on December 30.
Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall, left, runs on the field as wide receiver Terrell Jana (13) carries the American flag during the first half of the NCAA Orange Bowl college football game against the Florida, Monday December 30, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla.
For some perspective, in its history dating back to 1887, Virginia has had only one season of at least 10 wins (the Cavaliers went 10-3 in 1989).
Mendenhall led BYU to a 99-43 record in 11 seasons. He posted a 25-27 record in four years at Virginia.
Mendenhall is one of only two active coaches in the country to lead at least two programs that have had a losing season, and to lead these teams to a bowl game in a year or two. The other is Nick Saban from Alabama.
According to Mendenhall, he and his wife, Holly, are builders. They love the challenge of creating programs – and people.
In an extensive telephone interview with Deseret News, Mendenhall spoke about BYU and Virginia football, why he left Provo and whether there will be a football season this year.
The following questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Deseret News: How did your program manage COVID-19 and not have your players on campus?
Bronco Mendenhall: We haven’t had training in the spring this year. What really happened was that there was more time for recruitment. We would have finished spring training this week. So we had five weeks of overtime. This time was used for recruitment. It redefines the processes that operate remotely and our daily work structure. We are more advanced than ever in recruitment. But it was only because we made the spring training window disappear that we were able to do it. We were given a five-week head start. But we needed training in the spring because we lost our quarterback (Bryce Perkins), who made up 78.5% of our offense. He looked a lot like (former BYU quarterback) Taysom Hill – a really dynamic athlete and player and how he went, that’s how we went. We needed training in the spring.
Our players were all on school break when our school closed for face-to-face lessons, and they were asked to return home from their school break destinations. The first thing we did was send them their schedule as if they were with us. They woke up at 7:30 am and showered and had breakfast. We have a team message. It is more about characters and principles than faith. We call it “the best day of my life.” It’s from 8 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. Then they have their football matches from 8:15 am to 9:00 am. Their conditioning from 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. When we are in U.Va., all our practices are also in the morning. Their classes are 11 to 4 with a break there for lunch. Then there are their academic coordinator meetings, their nutrition and their stretching at night. We sent them this schedule and they can have it in front of them so that they can act as if they were always there, not only in their spirit but in their structure. It was really helpful.
DN: Are you optimistic about the university football season?
BM: I think there will be a college football season. The two remaining questions are: when will it start and how many games will be played? I don’t see any scenario where football is not played. Would it be early September or October? Yes. Would it be in the spring? Perhaps. Could there be fewer games than 12? Yes. I don’t see any scenario where it’s not played.
DN: How rewarding was it to reach meaningful benchmarks for the program?
BM: These are tangible indicators of the fundamental principles that have been in place since our arrival. When Holly and I decided to leave BYU, we didn’t know, for many reasons, what the outcome would be. But we were clear on the intention. The intention was to leave something that was known, comfortable, relatively safe and stable and successful to a complete stranger who was just the opposite.
It was not sure, it was not successful, it was struggling in all areas. But we were truly convinced that we believed and wanted to make a difference elsewhere, especially in the area of mission. All of the opportunities that have been given to us at BYU – training, learning, and incredible opportunities and experiences – were preparatory to the increased challenges that come and also to the increased gratification that has left familiarity with uncertainty. The whole first year at the University of Virginia was nothing more than trying to establish a culture. What does excellence look like by attending a team meeting and arriving on time and showing up prepared? … It’s only the second year that we’ve had enough football strategies and skills to make this relevant. At the first team meeting, the team really couldn’t make eye contact. They were desperate. There was no point in playing the game, being affiliated with the institution, or representing it through football. It was an incredible and rewarding experience to train young people through football.
… When you put it in the context of beating our rival for the first time in many years and winning the Coastal Division Championship, then having a great chance of winning the Orange Bowl – not just there participating – where we started, has been very rewarding. These are the external measures. But internally, seeing who became the young people probably goes beyond all of these markers when I see what’s going on. The highest averages in football history here at U.Va. occur. Most of the hours of service never given occur. Thursday’s Heroes program captivates the community as well as the ACC. Satisfying is an understatement.
DN: How was it to live last season after the death of your father, Paul? What legacy has he left you?
BM: I had an incredible experience when we were preparing to play our first game of the season at Pitt – who is a rival in our league and we hadn’t beaten them yet in our three years here. My personal assistant at BYU was Ashley So’oto, married to Vic So’oto, who coached my team (at the time) and is currently an assistant at USC. Ashley attended my father’s funeral. She came back from Virginia and it meant a lot to me that she was there. I didn’t know it was happening, but she didn’t really know how connected my father was to New Zealand and Maori culture. His funeral was strongly influenced by his missionary service while serving as mission president in New Zealand. Some of the speakers and songs reflected on the Maori culture and the language. I said at my father’s funeral that my last memory of my father was when I retired to leave, he went out on the lawn with his cane. He went out and did the Haka on the lawn. I was just in tears. I saw it in the rearview mirror. I shared this story at the funeral. Ashley relayed this to Vic.
We have this tradition of going to the opponent’s stadium when we get off the plane before going to the hotel and having an inspirational message. I was in the locker room having a quiet time. The team was walking on the field. A player came and said, “We need you on the field. I went there and my team was aligned in formation and did the same Haka as my father, as my last memory of him. I didn’t know. It was the greatest gift I have ever received.
DN: What are the parallels between the reconstruction of BYU football and Virginia football?
BM: Lots of parallels. At BYU, there had been three losing seasons. At U.Va., the significance of the loss and lack of recent tradition was much greater. The deficit was much larger. At BYU, the expectation is, and always has been, to be exceptional on the field, especially in football, then to do it with student-athletes who live the code of honor and represent the institution very well . There was an expectation and commitment at the start, especially for BYU’s soccer program and budget and really just the support of the game itself at the institution to be exceptional. In U.Va., (coach) George Welsh was around the same time as (BYU) LaVell Edwards. They entered the Hall of Fame (College Football) in the same class. Really, which is parallel, when George Welsh finished, the football program at U.Va. strived for consistency and excellence. It was over a period longer than just three years that BYU had. I had hoped when I got to U.Va. that we would be able to be competitive and have a national ranking program over a four-year period. I was hoping we could do it in three. But after seeing the first year, there was not a single sector in the program here that was not in deficit beyond what I had imagined. I could not find any program points that were even the industry standard for a Power Five program. … It has been a four-year process to reach even the industry standard from an internal perspective. There is now a blueprint and a fundraising campaign for facility upgrades and other things. It really reflects what happened in the program. The U.Va. build, while many parts were similar to BYU, the deficit was much, much greater and the challenge much, much greater. It’s mainly because of tradition and expectations.
DN: What is it like to coach a Power Five program and have Power Five resources?
BM: It’s just to confirm that the Power Five is the elite level of college football. That’s all I imagined it would be in terms of competition. Every week there are exceptional coaches and players – every week. Rather than three or four games before or around, almost trying to find opponents that you can find, which is a real challenge for independence, the four or sometimes five quality games you could get are played every week at Power Five level. The growth and the challenge it presents for our players and staff is simply invigorating, as well as the support and resources you have to meet these challenges.
DN: What is the difference, in terms of expectations, between the two places?
BM: It’s just a point of reference. Much of what is happening is done only through education, appreciation and recognition of the reality of programs and what they are capable of today – what is really happening and why. The great thing about a place like BYU is that expectations are so high. It’s a fantastic thing. It brings culture to life and that’s one of the things that makes this program and this place special. At U.Va., while there had been such a disconnect from success for such a long period of time, fans and people were so grateful to see progress being made. The main difference was the existing expectations. I would say that we are currently exceeding all the expectations that have been placed on the program compared to the schedule that has been given or even planned.
DN: In Provo, you were a very public figure and people talked to you about BYU football everywhere, from church meetings to groceries. How’s it going in Charlottesville? What is it like to have a job that is not so closely related to your faith?
BM: I’m having trouble figuring out a way to describe what BYU’s head coach is. It’s an incredible opportunity to be a 24/7 ambassador and a representative of our faith through football. I kissed him as best I could. I also did it imperfectly. At U.Va., I live in relative obscurity, that is to say in relation to the BYU experience. On occasion, Holly and I can go out for dinner and only be recognized that the meal is next to impossible to eat because of the constant interruptions and people and exchanges. It’s a building over time here. But the relative obscurity that we have as a Division Five football coach at the Power Five level has really been refreshing in terms of the privacy that we have had and that we have been able to appreciate in relation to what was required at BYU, which is great and is expected and required. But for someone who is an introvert like me, it was a challenge.
DN: Before leaving BYU, you had other offers and opportunities to leave for a senior coach position in a Power Five program. What made Virginia different?
BM: It has become very clear. Then just the reality that there is a time and a season of growth and impact for all of us. What I want for Brigham Young University, and always will, is the best of all. I want BYU to be completely aligned with our faith and for each program to be executed exactly like that and for them to have the chance to share this through every activity in the world. I’ve tried as hard as I can since I got there. But there has been an aspiration in the past year in concert with the incentives to make an even more significant difference if possible. Holly and I thought when we were most satisfied with BYU. It was when we resumed the program and there had been three lost seasons. Shortly after, we had a lot of success in the field. The chimney fires and Thursday’s Heroes program were starting to take hold and making a difference. We realized at that time that we were builders. We started to aspire to build again. By calling ourselves builders, not just young people, but programs, we were captivated by the Division I football world program that was to be built and that had something other than football that they really, really cared about. highest level. level. We wanted to make that kind of difference, or have the chance to make that kind of difference. And the more difficult the better. We asked for my children’s vote. It had to be unanimous for us. That’s how it happened.
DN: What are the similarities and differences between recruiting players at BYU and Virginia?
BM: The players and what we are looking for are very, very similar, except being members of the LDS faith. Many of our children are denominational and have very strong beliefs and convictions and very, very strong students. It’s amazing that my team is very similar in character from a character perspective. When you have high-level metrics, whether it’s faith or academics, it’s amazing how predictive it is on character. … Recruitment is actually very similar, a little more expensive here, because not only are we linked to belonging to our faith, which was not a requirement at BYU but was certainly a key attraction. Here, the academic filter is very high and makes the pool smaller than what many Power Five programs would have. But in a way, it increases and guarantees the quality of people, which is so much fun to be around.
DN: How would you describe your relationship with your assistant coaches?
BM: My assistant coaches are my dearest friends. They became that through this experience. We are all a mutual support group at all levels. Not only personally but professionally. We look forward to seeing each other every day. Many of my staff spend time together after work is finished. Our children are all friends. Our families participate together in calls in our parish. It galvanized a group of people and it could not have happened without this distance of movement and the challenges we faced.
DN: Utah has become a hotbed for college coaches across the country. Do you spend a lot of effort to recruit the state of Utah?
BM: When I was coaching at BYU, I could feel and see the number of Utah Division I players seem to increase and the quality of football played and the quality of training became very good. Each year it seemed to increase until I thought it was exceptional football in high school. Especially from Pac-12, it seemed that more and more non-state schools were coming into play. I saw it more regionally to begin with, and I still see it relatively that way. More kids who want something outside of the Mountain West area or who are drawn to something like education at an elite level, there might be something that gets them out of it. But there must be a very strong reason for the children or for my staff; if there is a player from the state of Utah who is interested, usually the first question I ask is, “How is it? “Is that reason enough for them to cross the number of states necessary to play here? Sometimes it is.
DN: At your press conference the day it was announced that you are leaving for Virginia, you said that you did not want to play BYU, even if BYU was on schedule in the future. (The previously scheduled 2019 game has been pushed back to 2021 in Provo, and the two teams are also slated to play in 2023 in Charlottesville and 2025 in Provo.) Do you still feel that way about BYU this way?
BM: I do. There are many simple reasons. BYU has a very special place in my heart. I will always find it hard not to shoot for them because of my faith. It’s a cleaner break and it’s cleaner for me to support, of course, rather than being a competitor. The next part is, I learned here at U.Va. that there are so many good teams that are really (geographically) close. We traveled to Oregon and we traveled to Boise, and that really didn’t make sense to me. They had also programmed UCLA and USC before. I was against this planning philosophy and I am now. I inherited this game and this series. I asked BYU to work and not play the game, but I think they would like to. It really doesn’t make sense from a football standpoint for us. We could easily take on anyone in one state and have a schedule very similar to traveling to a few time zones and what it looks like during the season. There is the personal part of wanting to support and always want the success of BYU and the reality that it is far for the children here and for our program. Very different from playing in a bowl game.
DN: So we can see you on the sidelines at LaVell Edwards stadium in 2021?
BM: Yeah, you could. For now, it’s still on schedule. I don’t think BYU intends not to play the game. I made my hopes clear at the press conference and kept it going throughout. If that is the case, it would be in a very unique set of circumstances to be back at the place where I coached.
DN: Do you follow what’s going on with BYU’s soccer program?
BM: I would love to say yes, but it is not. It’s easier for me personally not to do it. I love and respect the institution as well as any player who chooses to attend and be in accordance with BYU’s code of honor and mission. I really support any program that works perfectly compared to that of BYU. I don’t watch the games, I don’t respect the ins and outs of strategies or relationships. I really didn’t look back, to be honest.
DN: Have you crossed your path with your successor, Kalani Sitake? Avez-vous déjà parlé avec lui de ce que c’est que d’être entraîneur à BYU?
BM: Non, nous n’avons pas parlé. Je suis revenu pour les funérailles de LaVell Edwards (en décembre 2016). Dans ce contexte, nous avons eu une conversation rapide depuis qu’il avait été nommé entraîneur-chef. C’était juste pour quelques minutes et il y avait beaucoup de monde autour. C’est la seule interaction que j’ai eu avec Kalani depuis qu’il est devenu l’entraîneur-chef de BYU.
DN: Vous et Kalani êtes les seules personnes à savoir ce que c’est que d’être entraîneur-chef à BYU en tant que programme indépendant. Comment décririez-vous ce travail?
BM: Il y a toutes sortes de défis personnellement à la hauteur de ce que nous voulons tous être en tant que personnes. Chez BYU, il y a un examen minutieux et des attentes très élevées. C’est très, très visible. Toutes ces choses le rendent très unique, merveilleux et stimulant à la fois.
DN: Lorsque vous étiez à BYU, vous insistiez sur le fait que l’indépendance n’est pas durable. Vous sentez-vous toujours de cette façon?
BM: Mes pensées sur l’indépendance n’ont pas changé. Cet élément particulier rend très difficile la croissance et le développement du programme, simplement par manque d’affiliation. Je ne vais imposer de plafond à personne ni à aucun programme. Mais il y a un niveau de difficulté supplémentaire simplement en raison du manque d’affiliation à une conférence Power Five et de la perception qui en découle.
DN: Voyez-vous BYU faire partie d’une conférence Power Five à un moment donné?
BM: J’espère bien. J’ai poussé fort pour ça quand j’étais entraîneur. Je pousserais toujours fort. Mais je n’ai pas mon mot à dire là-dessus. Ce serait toujours mon espoir.
DN: Avez-vous entendu des fans de BYU depuis que vous avez déménagé en Virginie?
BM: Je fais. Fréquemment. Exprimant principalement l’appréciation et la gratitude qu’ils auraient peut-être souhaité partager plus tôt (rires). Voilà comment cela fonctionne.
DN: Quand vous repensez à votre séjour à BYU, qu’est-ce qui vous vient à l’esprit?
BM: Je suis totalement reconnaissant. Je me concentre uniquement sur les grandes choses de pouvoir être entraîneur ou avoir un travail qui correspond parfaitement à mes convictions. Je suis complètement reconnaissant et reconnaissant. C’est le sentiment écrasant que j’ai et je me sens vraiment chanceux d’avoir pu être entraîneur là-bas.
J’espère que ce qui est exprimé est à quel point je suis reconnaissant d’avoir passé du temps à BYU. Cela a été déterminant pour qui je suis devenu en tant que personne. Cela a été un élément de formation pour ma foi, mes opinions familiales et mes compétences professionnelles. Sans mon temps là-bas, le succès qui se passe chez U.Va. ne se produit pas. Tout ce que j’ai appris grâce à mon expérience là-bas m’a aidé à me préparer à ce que j’ai entrepris ici, ce qui était encore plus difficile.
DN: Comment va votre famille – sa femme Holly et vos fils Cutter, Breaker et Raeder -?
BM: Ils ne pourraient pas être mieux. Le créneau que nous nous sommes forgé, tout comme le défrichage de la propriété dans les temps anciens, le travail qu’il faut pour prendre une zone boisée et la nettoyer, la planter et la cultiver et maintenant voir le rendement qu’elle commence à montrer, en sorte à bien des égards, c’est ce qui se passe. Ce fut le défi le plus difficile de ma vie mais aussi le plus gratifiant. Il n’y a pas eu de journée facile. La chance de faire la différence est quelque chose que Holly et moi voulions vraiment et avoir un impact positif non seulement sur un programme mais sur une communauté. C’était magique. Cela ne signifie pas qu’il ne peut pas tourner et aller dans l’autre sens, car il est toujours difficile. Mais à ce point, ce fut vraiment un rêve devenu réalité.
DN: Lorsque vous êtes devenu entraîneur-chef à BYU il y a 15 ans, vous avez dit que vous ne voudriez pas être entraîneur-chef tant que LaVell Edwards (29 ans). Combien de temps vous voyez-vous en tant que coach?
BM: C’est une excellente question. Je ne suis pas un entraîneur-chef à vie est la meilleure façon de le dire. Je n’ai pas d’intérêt et je suis devenu moins amoureux du monde de l’athlétisme universitaire alors qu’il évolue vers le professionnalisme, la commercialisation et le divertissement. Je suis un défenseur du sport amateur et du développement des jeunes à travers le jeu. J’adore le modèle savant-athlète. Je me retrouve de plus en plus dans la minorité. Je pense que l’athlétisme universitaire est un excellent moyen de développer les jeunes. J’étais à Brigham Young pendant 11 ans. Je viens de terminer quatre à l’Université de Virginie. Il serait difficile d’imaginer un autre poste d’entraîneur après celui-ci en tant qu’entraîneur-chef.