Bronco Mendenhall talks UVA Football bye week, Miami
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It was good to be practicing again today in a game-week setting. Game week usually adds a different level of focus and urgency. Bye week there’s preparation and there’s study and there’s reframing and resetting and renewal. And you really never know if that’s applicable or is effective until you apply it. And practice is helpful but until we see how we play, we won’t know if we have applied it or studied well enough to improve our program or not. I believe the bye week was effective and helpful, not only from a self-understanding, but an early start on our next opponent and the Coastal Division.
And the players have a lot on their plate, reading week, a couple reading days today and school continues to be a challenge for them as it moves down the semester. So it’s kind of the life of a normal student or scholar athlete at UVA as we prepare for a Friday night game versus Miami. So I’ll be glad to take questions.
Q. When you engage in long self-scouting exercise, like you do on a bye week, are there typically revelations or does it just confirm kind of what you thought?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s both. There used to be more revelations, but because our self-scout processes go on each week and we have systems in place that are yielding information after every exposure to an opponent, the bye week just gives you more time to digest, and sometimes go a little deeper and asking specific questions. And I would say when we have time in a bye week or sometimes even in off season, it yields maybe one or two things that are substantial, verifies almost everything else. And there might be one surprise in there, but because, again, of the processes are so well defined and continue on a weekly basis, it, not as much as it used to be in my earlier days as a head coach.
Q. When you advance scout a team like Miami in a bye week, and then they play a game that’s completely different from anything that seems like they have done all year, do you throw it out the window or do you assume that you’re going to get the good Miami that you saw before Saturday?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Really hard to say. That comes just over time and watching. Normally you default to whatever a team has done most consistently and most effectively and you prepare for that and the outlier is the outlier. Sometimes that backfires though and the outlier becomes the new normal, and it’s really hard to tell. But in general the consistency is what I default to, is what have they done best? What do they do best? What has their identity been most? And you use that as the baseline.
Q. To follow up, though, the fact that they changed quarterbacks and you had this extra time to prepare, does that throw a wrinkle or had you been looking at both those kids? How do you approach that?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think it’s a fair question. It’s one thing to change quarterbacks, it’s another thing to change back. Really, you look for commonality of system regardless of who the quarterback is. And then you do your best to adjust to whom might be playing that position after you defend the systems and the plays and the concepts.
So I’m not sure which player Miami will choose as their quarterback or to play against us. I’m sure that will be announced or maybe it won’t be, prior to us playing. But there is enough film and there is enough information on both and with a little extra time I think that that will be helpful.
Q. As a non-coach looking at Miami, I don’t see a lot of consistency in what they do offensively, other than big plays. I think they had three plays of 25 yards for scores. How dangerous is that and how do you prepare for that?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think that that’s really well put. Miami is dynamic. We know their personnel, and I’ve been in the league long enough now. And some of the players are players we have had exposure to before. And, man, so the skill players are fast, which means on any given play a ball could be handed off to someone that goes the whole way. The ball could be thrown to someone that can go the whole way. That’s always an inherent threat that’s just in the background of your preparation. If you miss a tackle, this could be one that goes for a touchdown. Or if that player gets behind you, that could go for a touchdown.
So in addition to what I’ve already described as the concepts and the schemes, when you add the personnel into it, there is a dynamic capability that regardless of consistency, some of the teams that are hardest, and when I was calling plays defensively that I was most worried about were the ones that had dynamic personnel that just on any given play could go the whole way.
Q. Last time we saw you, you said the running game needed to improve. Obviously with the eight sacks, I guess the pass protection needs to improve too. What has it been like for the offensive line over the last two weeks or the last week, I guess, in terms of changes or assessment?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Our offensive front is really the position group right now that’s controlling the speed in which we can progress. Because of its effect, direct effect on the run game and the pass game, there’s really no offensive play where that can be a workaround. It has to go through the offensive line.
And I would say in general, rather than just this week, it is a continuation of work that’s happened the minute I’ve arrived here. We have needed graduate transfers, we’re developing players, we have enough scholarship players now while we work on the quality. Our run game yardage is about 70 yards off pace from where it was a year ago per game. The sack total versus Notre Dame was a little bit of an outlier in relation to why the protection hadn’t been outstanding or up to my expectations previously, that game was obviously a higher yield against us than what I had hoped for.
So lots of work going. And there is no comfort zone for our offensive line, there’s continual expectation, asking and directing and prompting and driving, and they want to get better, they need to get better, and they’re working hard to get better. That’s just a matter of factually where we are.
Q. We got a depth chart that didn’t have Brennan Armstrong, no Rob Snyder. Where are you guys, from an injury standpoint, coming out specifically with those two guys?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, Jim made some notes for me that helps me remember. So Rob Snyder, he’s out for the rest of the year. He has a, now if I can remember the injury, foot or ankle. Anyway, so he is out for the rest of the year. And Tyler Fannin is also out for the rest of the year. Brennan Armstrong is still recovering. You brought up another name? That’s it? Oh, and Sean Smith, a backup corner, is now, had surgery as well. Tyler Fannin’s was a turf toe, a severe one that required surgery.
Q. I believe there’s a video online and maybe stories when you were at BYU of, with the offensive line in the summer kind of challenging them to get meaner and tougher. Is that something you can do during the season and is it something that you feel like might have been required the last two weeks?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, I think that expectations can be altered at any time in any one of our lives, and higher standards or different expectations. In this case nothing has changed really regarding the expectation, but sometimes the methodology and sometimes the teaching has to be different. And I think any teacher is always looking for ways to reach the people they care about. And, man, for some it’s the facts and analytics, for some it’s stories, for some it’s only action, for others it’s the sequence or outline form. And sometimes the delivery has to change as well. So we’re doing everything we need to do and can do and know how to do to improve and expedite how fast that can happen within building a program that is I think rapidly ascending. But also I would say tenuous in terms of just its place in not only the national market but in the ACC Coastal. There is very little margin for error for any team in this league at any time, especially in our division. And I think when the teams play you never quite know what’s going to happen when the opponents match up. My hope is that we have become or become the consistent team, that there’s not so many ups and not so many downs and you know when we play what you’re going to get and the outcome and the methodology seemed fairly predictable. Hopefully by time spent that’s what shows. The volatility again is surrounding our front, quite frankly. And so one of the things that we have additional resources so when I was the defensive coordinator at New Mexico we played against Texas Tech a number of times and Robert [Anae] was the offensive line coach there, which he also did at Arizona. And so, yeah, we’re working double time, where Coach Anae is taking some of them, Coach Tujague is taking some of them, my oversight is part of it as well. And so I feel comfortable with the plan. It’s just how fast we can make the progress needed to reach the goals that we have in the time frame that we want. It’s not a matter of intent or desire. You brought up a point about either toughness or being nasty or etcetera. I just want the work capacity and the yield to be successful enough to help our team, and that’s what I’m asking for.
Q. You also mentioned the kind of chaotic division you’re in. And I think that you’re the only team that hasn’t already lost a division game. I know you don’t tend to look ahead at other teams that you don’t care about, but these were all teams you have to care about because you’re going to play them all. Is it comforting to see them all beating up on each other beneath you and is that something that you make particular note of or is that something that you use to highlight the fact that you guys could be, could fall into that trap as well?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, not comforting but we certainly are paying attention. Because — well so I woke up to a text or I woke up the other morning and the coaches were watching the ACC games and while I had been out working on the ranch and building stalls and different things. And then I woke up one morning and I think most of the coaches had been watching the Pitt and the Duke game and the thread amongst them had 70 messages. They were basically giving the commentary on back-to-back of, can you believe that play? Well did that just happen? And it’s so — and then there was whatever you call the little pictures that you put on the text that there was roller coasters and whatever. And just like kids, you know, my coaches. So there’s ups and downs and all kinds of and I’m looking at my thread and it was pretty accurate when — and we are, it’s not like we’re not part of that. Our style to this point and what has emerged over last season and this season seems to be less way up and way down, but it’s not far removed if it is. And the rest of the season will show if it is. We certainly are paying attention. And I framed it to my team because the bye week was a time to do that. Where we had five games that were meaningful and mattered and I was happy with the start of our season. The bye week now all that did is now frame much like you’re at a carnival going into one of the rides, now here is the Coastal ride. And we’re going right into five straight Coastal games, and those are more meaningful and they are more impactful. I think that’s why we’re paying attention to what — and holy cow, you never know what’s going to happen when you’re on that ride.
Q. Because of the injuries you mentioned, there are several true freshmen or red shirt freshmen who are now on the two deep with Jaylon Baker and [Fentrell] Cypress and [Josh] Ahern and Nick Jackson was on there. Is it possible to use practice to truly accelerate their development or is that, does that just happen at its own speed?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, it’s the primary way to accelerate it. And I think I alluded to it or I predicted when asked early in the season how many of the first-years might play, and I think the number I said might have been 10. I think that could still happen. We also get back Dontayvion Wicks, back from concussion at wide receiver as another first-year who was really doing a nice job before he got hurt as a special teams player as well. So just by the shear effect of attrition and Power Five football, and now with these young players that are capable, that’s, they start emerging and showing up and that’s just kind of how it works.
Q. The stats show that Mike Hollins has played in all five games. I think he’s only carried the ball in the one game where he had a hundred yards, I think. Where is he right now in terms of development?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I really like Mike. I like him not only this year, but I certainly like him in the future. And it’s a delicate balance because I love developing people. And sometimes when you give a first-year too much too soon, especially in a primary ball carrier role, if not careful, over time, and this isn’t specific to Mike, this is just young first-years that I played before, sometimes their careers don’t last as long, the trajectory doesn’t stay as steep in terms of what their potential is, and the felt need to improve kind of comes off too early. So we have almost been intentionally holding back before we let Mike go for the sake of just trying to build his, not only the yield we can get this season, but also for his future. So it’s a delicate balance. And we have opted and I’ve opted for on the side of conservative, but I think what you’ll see is his role expand from this game on. I won’t predict nor can I say how many touches, but I think that you will see that expansion in a more sequential manner. But we have been really intentional about trying to hold off. And but it appears now that just as we get to know our first-years better, Mike included, and they get to know our program better and through the culture and the maturity and expertise we try to or experience, we try to balance that to when they’re ready for more and what they can handle that will actually benefit their future development rather than something we have to go back and fix later.
Q. Wayne is obviously somebody you admire a great deal for what he’s done with his life already, what he brings to the program. What are the strengths that make him so vital and does he have a break-away speed play in him or is he just a four-yards and a cloud of did you see guy?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: He’s more of the second, more of a slasher and capable. He would get, in the league that we play in, he’ll get chased down if he breaks out into the open. But he’s tough and he’s physical and he’s elusive, but probably the best thing that he does is his vision. We certainly miss and love Jordan Ellis, how hard he ran the football and who he was, Wayne has elements of that with a vision that allows the ball to be run in more varied places off similar plays where Jordan was, but he’s basically, if I were to try to capture what he is, he’s all purpose, so he’s a very good pass blocker, he catches well out of the back field, he can run it effectively, so maybe the old school all-purpose back is kind of the way to explain what Wayne is. And then he’ll run down on a kick off and he’s good on special teams and so he’s just a football player, with a contribution-based mindset. He’s just coach what can I do, how can I help. And he’s just, there’s zero drama or maintenance about what his role is, which is so refreshing.
Q. When have a player who leaves for two years to do a mission thing, what do you get back compared to what you sent away and what do you see in those guys that’s different from what they were?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, that’s a loaded question. So when I was the head coach at Brigham Young University it ended up where right about 85 percent of my team were return missionaries, so the sample size is pretty large. And I’ll speak in terms of generalities, what I would see is a different level of maturity, a different level of decision making, a different perspective in terms of life and values and priorities, I would see a different level of understanding and just basically in regards to life. And then I would see a challenge and a struggle within for this intent to play and become the player they were with a body that had been wearing a suit and knocking on doors and not doing any physical training for two years. And I would see that wrestle. That would take about a year before a baseline was even reached to how they were before they left. I would see a different level of leadership, because almost all of them served in leadership roles. I have a son currently serving in Uruguay, my wife informed me he’ll be home November 15th. Told me the time. And I put it on my calendar. Like because in the season sometimes I’m, I forget what day it is and what’s happening. But through his letters you can see a growth and maturity and an understanding and the development that is so accelerated and so fast through these challenges that it allows a level of consistency, maturity and sustainability that I would say exceeds that of teams and young people that are just first year players that seem to make decisions that are not quite as consistent, not quite as guided, not quite as focused, which sometimes has their play be not quite as consistent, not quite as focused and etcetera.
Q. You mentioned priorities. George Walsh used to say that when he was recruiting people everybody and their parents thought they were going to the NFL eventually. How often have you seen a guy come back from a situation like that where his priorities were that this is child’s play or a fool’s game and there’s way more important things — and I’m not degrading football, but just the maturity goes to a move on with life.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So rarely did I see someone that was capable of going to the NFL after serving a mission, rarely did I see them not choose to go on and play. What I did see though and in my own understanding, those players were more capable of handling the finances and the unique things that happened with the envelope and they managed their life at a higher level. Youth and money, those things, that’s a pretty volatile combination and you add exposure and fame to it, that’s a pretty significant challenge for anyone. The kids that have served missions seemed in general that went on to play, and again most did, they just seemed to maintain this perspective while they were playing that seemed to be healthier and allowed them actually to play longer. The other thing was that most of those kids, not all of them, young men, I should say, because of their age, the free agency was a more likely way for the envelope to take them, years equals dollars, right, and so so many of them were chosen in the free agency market and those coaches, they just rave about them, they know what they’re getting and feel like they get a steal like an under valued stock or something. And yet they would get this sustainable, consistent, team oriented balanced, mature person that would kind of solidify their teams. So it kind of worked well for both. So again in relation to those that were truly capable of playing, most went on and played. None that when I was the head coach that I thought were truly capable of playing then stepped or didn’t take the chance, there were a couple though that were very good players that after seeing it, then were not enamored and after maybe their first year said, that’s enough and so that tended to be more what happened is once they had seen it, then a small percentage then said, okay, now rather than not trying it.
Q. On Joey Blount just from a leadership standpoint where does he fit in? Is he a locker room guy, a vocal guy, more quiet, how does he fit in?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think Joey, his leadership and his presence on the team is emerging. He’s demonstrated his capability as a football player. What Joey has struggled with is just the consistency and the health to probably to have the, to reach the capability or the capacity that he would want and the team would recognize at the next level. So what they know right now is Joey is a very good football player, he loves UVA football, he’s very capable, skilled and really a strong teammate. As he’s able to play day-in and day-out, game in and game out, play in and play out, longer, nothing else will happen, other than just the rise and influence that he’ll have. So he’s doing a really nice job for the role he’s had to this point and so he’s an emerging leader is the way I would put it.
Q. You hit most of the second thing I wanted to ask, which is he’s made a lot of big plays but maybe not the consistency. When you’re trying to coach a guy like that, what’s your approach, how do you kind of sell them on, hey, we need the ceiling to be closer to the floor or however they say it.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It all comes to preparation, especially at that position, there’s no position that controls points on the secondary or on the defense more than the secondary. Usually if they don’t play the ball well in space or they don’t tackle well, there’s points that are a result of that. Bryce Hall received a similar message early on and took his preparation to a level that just is exemplary and it’s helped to have him in that room. Those same messages at some point our message of durability and consistency and productivity as players journey their career or through their career, at some point it’s just like, oh, that’s what they mean, they meaning the coaches and that then translates into a preparation model that starts to make it more of what you’re describing and what the player would hope for, what we would hope for, and, yeah, there’s not much time. So it’s the clock is ticking.
Q. What are your impressions of Miami’s defense and has it changed much since Manny [Diaz] has taken over the head coaching job as opposed to being the coordinator?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think they’re fast, athletic and I think they play hard. In relation to how and if they have changed, I think when defensive coordinators become head coaches, there’s a wrestle that happens and I think that it’s the same for head coaches that were offensive coordinators, there’s this initial thought of do I become the head coach or do I hire a coordinator. When you have had the success that Manny has had as a defensive coordinator, the choice he’s made, I’m sure, had to be based on someone he trusted and knew would run or hoped to continue the same system or parts or most of the same system. So I don’t see as many systematic changes, I see subtle changes, and that’s probably the biggest difference. So the system and the changes if any have been subtle, the results haven’t yet been to the level that Manny established, but certainly can be, based on what their talent is and so, yeah, we’re preparing basically for the same system, the same players and the same style as we have played the last number of years.
Q. You’ve got a walk on from our area who got a number a couple weeks ago, Josh Clifford. Without necessarily discussing Josh, but what does that mean, what did he have to do, what do those kids have to do, walk-ons have to do to get a number?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, well I love Josh, he’s tough and he’s resilient and, man, does he try hard. And he catches everything. And those things eventually are recognized by their peers and so the way that our numbering system works, once the season begins, there’s a number of ways you can be recognized. So we call the victory team players or the scout team because rather than putting pennies on now they usually just put something over their head that’s the opponent’s color. So that, their group is called the Mad Hatters just simply because of that. And the hatters of the week, if they don’t have a number that qualifies them for a number. And so the graduate assistants who are running the offensive hatter group and the defensive hatter group are the ones that choose. But also on special teams we have a player-led special teams as well and so for instance Hasise [Dubois] who runs our punt return team, he then has a chance to select and announce at the end of each week who was the best punt team hatter against them. Same with kick off. And so there’s basically six opportunities each week until the numbers run out, for players to earn that. And Josh Clifford through his kick-off coverage work, as well as his offensive hatter work it was like a double whammy, he was just so good for a couple weeks back-to-back that that’s what qualified him. Anyone that once the numbers are gone or even in place of that they also earn something that we call or they get a towel that has the fourth side on it and that allows them to dress for the game and to support their teammates from the sideline. And you don’t get to do that unless you have a number. So once they have a number and if they earn that right, then they get a fourth side towel and for someone once the numbers are gone, then they just become members of our fourth side, which is in our program is a huge thing.
Q. How do you come up with all the rules?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, so every principle needs a process and once the process is designed, then I don’t have to worry about it because it just runs, as long as it has the right owner, and so it matters to us, the details matter, and how you qualify for anything in our program matters because it’s earned, not given.