Bronco Mendenhall era begins at Virginia

Bronco Mendenhall arrives at UVA

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If you didn’t know that Bronco Mendenhall was a football coach, you’d be forgiven for thinking him a business management professor.

“Results are not an accident. Results are planned,” said Mendenhall, introducing himself to the University of Virginia on Monday, at a press conference in which he was placed center stage for UVA Nation, a spotlight in which he was admittedly a bit uncomfortable.

An “introvert” by nature, he said, he isn’t your old-school, fire-and-brimstone motivational speech kind of football coach. Mendenhall, 49, coming to Virginia after 11 years at BYU, is more apt to discuss management philosophies than he is X’s and O’s.

Illustrating that tendency, Mendenhall waxed philosophic to reporters on an analysis of BYU football that he conducted as he prepared to interview for that job back in 2005, describing how he’d reviewed 25 years of box scores and related data to try to come up with a formula for future success.

In the end, he joked, the single best predictor for success on the field was points scored, and the second best was points allowed, but then, turning serious, he said the study gave him insight into what his teams needed to do to score at a certain level and keep opponents off the board on the other side of the ledger.

Strategies were then put into place to best reach those offensive and defensive goals, as Mendenhall described it.

“Running the numbers,” Mendenhall said, helped develop the blueprint that BYU football followed in his 11 seasons, in which his teams averaged nine wins a year.

That reputation preceded him and his first visit with the UVA roster. His first meeting with the team went well, with Mendenhall making it clear what his expectations are.

“I’m an effort-based coach,” Mendenhall said. “I like guys who try hard. I revel in that.”

He said he encouraged his players to continue their training over the Christmas break, looking ahead to the spring semester, when the hard work will begin in earnest.

“I cannot wait for the first day of workouts,” Mendenhall said, stressing that “it will be will over skill to start,” emphasizing that his players have to earn their practice time.

“One of the ways they will see if I am serious is if they can make it through practice,” Mendenhall said.

His staff is still in flux, as is Mendenhall himself. A key condition to him taking the job at UVA was that he would be allowed to stay on at BYU for its bowl game. The Cougars (9-3) will play Utah (9-3) in the Dec. 19 Las Vegas Bowl.

“It would have been a deal-breaker,” he said, if he had not been able to coach BYU in its bowl game.

“The message is, I’m going to be there to the end with my current team. From a moral perspective, that had to happen,” Mendenhall said.

Which means he will have a busy next couple of weeks. In addition to getting BYU ready for Utah, he will be piecing together a staff at Virginia, making phone calls to recruits, all the while his wife, Holly, takes charge of the family’s pending move across the country.

Mendenhall introduced his family – Holly and sons Raeder, Breaker and Cutter – to the assembled media and UVA staff on hand for the press event.

“You’re not just getting a football coach, you’re getting a family. We’re coming across the country to a new home,” Mendenhall said.

That was moments after Mendenhall introduced himself one-on-one to media members.

There was emotion in his voice when he talked about BYU.

“There would be very few places that I would leave BYU for,” Mendenhall said, talking about how it was a point of motivation for him to rebuild the BYU program that had gone through three consecutive losing seasons before he was hired to a point where legendary Cougars coach LaVell Edwards would be proud of the job that he was doing.

Mendenhall then referenced his first meeting with legendary UVA coach George Welsh, and his goal to build the Virginia program back to a point that Welsh can be proud.

“The ink is now wet. This starts the next chapter,” Mendenhall said.

The new coach is looking forward to the challenge up ahead, and it is no doubt a challenge. Virginia is coming off four straight losing seasons, and a stretch of eight sub-.500 seasons in the past 10 years. Scott Stadium played to half-capacity crowds for several games in 2015, with a fan base that regularly packs the John Paul Jones Arena and Davenport Field for basketball and baseball.

“The seats will be full. I can see it. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” Mendenhall said, adding: “I want people here to have one more sport to get excited about.”

– Story by Chris Graham/Photos by Crystal Graham