UVA football coach Bronco Mendenhall: Making UVA football great again

UVA football coach Bronco Mendenhall has decided, for some reason, to go all Donald Trump on the media. Which, sorry to say, but I have to be honest: if you’re Trumping the media, I assume you have something to hide.

This jump the shark moment in Mendenhall’s UVA tenure came in the form of what the coach apparently dubbed a “State of the Program” address to the UVA Board of Visitors last week, reported on extensively by the Daily Progress.

Strangely, Mendenhall emphasized that he wanted to talk directly to the Board of Visitors, so that the board wouldn’t have to “rely on any other source.”

“What I’ve learned in the world of college football and through the world of reporting is if all areas of the world and all topics are reported on as they are in sport, I would question the authenticity and sincerity and accuracy,” Mendenhall.

O … K …

Now, if you’d asked me ahead of this, I’d have said that the local media had done a pretty kid-gloves job covering Mendenhall since he took over the program two years ago, present company excluded.

Media covering most programs going a combined 8-17 in the first two years of a new coach’s tenure are usually cranking up the heat on the hot seat heading into Year 3, but the beat writers and columnists covering UVA football continue to give Mendenhall a free pass, considering the state the program was in when he took over.

OK, so that having been said, it wasn’t in as bad a shape as he is making it out to be.

Consider, for example, among his comments to the Board of Visitors, his observation that only a third of his current roster are what he considers ACC-caliber players.

This, he intimated, is the result of subpar recruiting by the Mike London regime. Mendenhall said he honored the scholarships offered to players by London and his staff, but added that only about a third of those holdovers remain, leading to the logical conclusion that the others had been weeded out, which, fine, that’s a coach’s right, but it’s odd that he’d go out of his way to say he’d honored their scholarships.

It kind of looks like he’s saying those kids just up and quit after realizing they weren’t up to snuff. To emphasize, that two-thirds of the London holdovers just up and quit after realizing they weren’t up to snuff.

Hey, maybe. I’m not buying it, but maybe.

One reason I’m not buying it is because as bad as things were under London, his last two teams went a combined 9-15, which, if you’re doing a side-by-side comparison, is better than the 8-17 that Mendenhall’s first two teams have been able to do.

That, and the fact that the best players on Mendenhall’s first two teams were London holdovers, might lead one to call bullshit on Mendenhall’s attempt at historical revisionism.

I need to pace myself. We’re just getting started on the calls of bullshit.

Next up, the MAGA-infused nonsense about “85 percent” of the NFL supposedly coming from broken homes, and “78 percent” of former players being “divorced, bankrupt, a substance abuser and disabled, all four.”

He was using these, ahem, alternative facts – the Progress asked a UVA athletics spokesperson where Mendenhall had gotten those numbers, and got “no idea” as the response – to buttress his case for his players to have goals beyond the NFL, an admirable goal.

We all have seen, ad nauseam, the NCAA commercials about 99 percent of college athletes going pro in something other than sports.

Thing is, yeah, 100 percent of kids who are ACC-caliber football players think they’re going to play in the NFL, which is why they lift all those weights and get up at 5 a.m. to run sprints and take summer-school classes to free up time in the fall and the rest.

They’re not doing it for their health, in other words, particularly with what we know about concussions, right?

Talking up how the program is thinking more about the players’ long-term futures might come across as setting up the excuse for why UVA football will never be competitive with the Clemsons, Florida States, Alabamas of the college football world, as in, sure, they win the big games, but our kids win at life, and isn’t that more important?

The stuff about the NFL being almost entirely kids from broken homes on their way to bankruptcy and worse comes across as a guy who is a football coach who probably doesn’t like being around football all that much, because, I mean, isn’t it all the repetitive blocking and tackling that begins in Pop Warner, continues in high school and college and then into the NFL, that leads to the injuries that turn into disabilities, self-medicated by substance abuse that factors into divorce and all wrapping up into bankruptcy?

A cynic might say to Mendenhall, dude, you can be a part of the solution here. But, no, instead, you keep on collecting that $3 million salary, while the kids keep blocking and tackling each other into oblivion.

Let me concede here: the line about kids coming from broken homes hits a little personal for me. My parents split when I was a kid, and I was raised in a trailer park by a single mom on a minimum-wage job. People fortunate enough to come from more stable, secure backgrounds come across as condescending when they talk about kids coming from “broken homes.” File that one away the next time you think about using that term. It’s a pejorative.

Final quibble: that doozy of a quote about how Mendenhall wants to play “the worst Power 5 team that we can play.”

ACC teams currently play eight conference games and four non-conference games each year, and included in the four non-conference games is a mandatory game against a Power 5.

UVA’s opponent this year is Indiana, which went 5-7 in 2017, with a win at Virginia among its five.

The Power 5 opponent in 2019 is Notre Dame; in 2020, it’s Georgia.

Yeah, yikes. No Power 5 cupcakes in those last two, right?

I actually have no problem with the scheduling for this year’s group, anyway. The program is still in rebuild mode, and I think in rebuild mode you do schedule weak, to try to give your team a chance to be as competitive as possible, to provide the opportunity for momentum, both on the field and in recruiting.

But then, once you start winning, which, ostensibly, happens at some point, as the rebuild concludes, and you have your program in place, you need to schedule accordingly.

Nobody would say you have all four of those nonconference games be against the Notre Dames and Georgias of the world, but you can’t play ODU, Liberty, a MAC team and an mid-grade FCS, either.

Me, personally, I’d rather see Mendenhall schedule a Notre Dame or Georgia every year and lose 52-0 than schedule a weak Power 5 to try to rack up a cheap win. But that’s the UVA alum who runs 9 miles in the rain on a Monday in June because he’s planning to run a marathon in November talking there.

You ask me, if it’s easy, it ain’t worth doin’, is the point to life.

Mendenhall, conversely, wants it easy, both in terms of scheduling and what is expected of his teams in terms of results, and he’s willing to throw other people under the bus – saying two-thirds of his players aren’t ACC-caliber, which is utterly astounding – in the process.

Lower the bar, so you can climb over it. Very presidential.

Column by Chris Graham

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