Bronco Mendenhall: Why Virginia coach doesn’t want to play BYU


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.

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.

Virginia football head coach Bronco Mendenhall receives a huge hug from Thursday hero Jerod Davis at the team’s indoor facility after a spring soccer practice in Charlottesville, Virginia on Thursday April 6, 2017. Thursday Hero is a program created by Mendenhall to honor people who have overcome the challenges of their lives.
Steve Helber, Associated Press

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.


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