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Bronco Mendenhall: ‘It was my decision only’ to step down from Virginia job

bronco mendenhall
UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

Bronco Mendenhall woke up Sunday, after Virginia’s 29-24 loss to Virginia Tech, and something didn’t feel right.

He tried to talk himself out of the decision that he was about to make, but kept coming to the same conclusion.

“It did not feel right. And I was not at peace. As I returned to my initial thought, it was very clear,” said Mendenhall, who stunned the college football world Thursday with the announcement that he will be stepping down as the head football coach at Virginia after the team’s bowl game later this month.

“I was requested to stay by our athletic director. I was requested to stay by our president. It’s my decision only,” Mendenhall said. “And Holly, my wife, is a little stunned and shocked, too. But I believe a renewal and a pause and a reframing and a reinventing and a reconnecting is necessary to then become the very best person I can be moving forward. And as you know, my passion, and my wife’s passion, we love to teach and inspire and build people, young people especially. And I know what that takes.”

Mendenhall’s teams have compiled a 36-38 record over his six seasons in Charlottesville, winning the ACC Coastal Division title in 2019.

The 2021 season had Virginia in position for a repeat as division champ. The Cavaliers opened 6-2, and had a chance, with wins in their final two games, at Pitt and at home against rival Virginia Tech, to go back-to-back.

Virginia lost a non-conference game on the road at BYU in late October, and in the process lost starting QB Brennan Armstrong to a rib injury.

The ‘Hoos lost another non-conference game at home to then-#7 Notre Dame, then fell at Pitt to drop out of contention in the division race.

The loss to Virginia Tech, which had parted ways with sixth-year head coach Justin Fuente earlier in the month, wrapped a second consecutive .500 regular season.

A reporter asked Mendenhall if the way the final month of the season played out impacted his decision to step down.

“I can’t put a percentage on it. My first response would be no. Because I like hard things. I know what it feels like. And I assess, and I like challenges. And really, there was enough separation from that time period – and the coach’s life, things turn over fast,” Mendenhall said.

After going back and forth over the past few days, “the clarity of this was really finalized yesterday in my mind,” Mendenhall said.

“In the coach’s world, that’s almost an eternity from whenever the last game was. So, this is a personal and bigger picture, that’s how I think, decision. And any other data point, it’s hard for me to even remember, to your question, who we played the week before the last game and who we played the week before that. That’s just how coaches are dialed because it happens so fast. So, I don’t see a correlation there. And I would tell you if I did. I just don’t sense that.”

Mendenhall and his staff were scheduled to be on the road recruiting this week, as would be typical after the regular season’s conclusion, with signing day coming up mid-month.

Because everybody was spread out all over, Mendenhall didn’t get the chance to break the news of his decision to step down until Thursday.

“I spoke to my staff at 4:45 today. I spoke to my team at 5:00. And now I’m speaking to you at 5:30,” he said.

There were tears and plenty of emotion in those encounters.

With the players, Mendenhall said he wanted them to understand, “it’s nothing they did, I love them.”

“Trying to then say how could I add more impact to the world maybe after a refresh, a recalibration. And it’s not sustainable, like, this pace as a college football coach and a head coach for that many years, and if you want to do it right, not just winning, but if you want amazing academics and really build great people, if you really want amazing character, if you really want to teach values, if you really want service to happen, that’s harder rather than easier. And I want all of that. And, yeah, I’m not going to do it unless I can and feel energetic enough to do all that. So, they saw that and they understand. It doesn’t mean they liked it. But I’m looking to continue to add value, not just ride it out. And there’s a base camp and sometimes there’s, I don’t know what we’ll call it, a halfway camp. And I just kind of pulled into the halfway camp for a minute and need to reheat and thaw out and just see what’s in the backpack. And then here we go again at some point.”

His staff, many of whom had coached with him at BYU, then packed up and moved east with him when he got the job at Virginia, “had similar reactions – tears, shock, sadness, disbelief. And it’s going to take time to process,” Mendenhall said.

“These are my closest friends. And this is now, their wives and kids who all came, and I’m responsible for all of them, and I love all of them. We were very close before we took this journey. This is now inseparable and galvanized and welded to where you can’t break it. I just did in terms of, now the paths become different. My hope the way each person goes, like how they do it, is the same. Where they do it, that’s, yep, that’s on me.

“We know, and for most of us there’s different cycles you go through, and there’s – from anger or denial and then withdrawal, and then finally you get back to acceptance. And there’s all of those things happening right now,” Mendenhall said. “I know exactly the implications of people because that’s the world I live in. The decisions I make impact families and young people. And so, I don’t take it lightly. And after 17 years in a row of being a head coach, I know what’s required. And I don’t take that lightly.

“I absolutely want to be at my best in anything that I do for everyone that I’m responsible for. But most importantly, yeah, my partner, Holly, it’s 25 years straight, 17 of which I’ve been a head coach. And, man, I don’t know if anyone – none of you know what that could be like, and I don’t know. But what I do know is I want to spend a lot of time with her together, reconsidering the next thing we’re going to do together. And that would be my first priority, is what are we going to do together and what’s next for us before we take on anything else.”

Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press
augusta free press