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Bronco on future of UVA Football: ‘Still more here at UVA to go and do and become’

armstrong mendenhall
Brennan Armstrong and Bronco Mendenhall. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

Art Guepe, remember him? Guepe led his Virginia teams to a 47-17-2 record in seven seasons.

Guepe, the history books tell us, left Virginia for Vanderbilt after UVA President Colgate Darden turned down an invitation that had been extended to the Cavaliers to the 1952 Orange Bowl.

Something about Darden not wanting to play “big-time, highly subsidized football.”

Two of his 12 successors have managed to have winning career records on Grounds since: George Welsh and Al Groh.

Bronco Mendenhall inherited a program that had fallen, hard, from the perch that Welsh, 134-86-3 over 19 seasons, from 1982-2000, had elevated it to.

Mike London, hired to succeed Groh, whose teams had gone 59-53 over nine seasons, had just one winning season among his six, a modest 8-5 finish in 2011, on his way to a 27-46 mark.

Mendenhall had gone 99-43 in 11 seasons at BYU. He moved east thinking that he could get things turned around in short order.

“Year 1 reflected that it was harder than I thought. When I saw the first year of 2-10, I had to reframe everything,” said Mendenhall, who announced Thursday that he will step down after the Cavaliers’ bowl game later this month.

He had UVA bowling again by Year 2. His 2018 team finished 8-5 and defeated South Carolina 28-0 in the Belk Bowl.

His fourth team would end up being his best – winning the ACC Coastal Division with a 9-3 regular season, in the process earning a bid to the, wait for it, wait for it, the 2019 Orange Bowl.

Darden, no doubt, turning over in his grave at the coin toss.

The last two seasons have been a regression to mean – 5-5 in 2020, 6-6 with a bowl game to go in 2021.

Mendenhall admitted in a hastily arranged Zoom conference call with reporters on Thursday to being “disappointed” at the finish to the 2021 campaign. Virginia was, at one point this season, 6-2, with a clear path to a repeat as the Coastal champ.

A reporter asked him if it is difficult to make Virginia a consistent winner in college football, given the history of the program.

Mendenhall did a slight reframe of the question, to, what will it take, then answered, “Commitment.”

“There’s all kinds of seats you can buy for a concert. You can buy the price of admission and sit up in the rafters, or you can buy front-row tickets and have a backstage pass,” Mendenhall said.

“And so really, it will just come down to decision-making and reallocation of resources, but also leadership selection,” Mendenhall said. “I’m responsible for everything that happened in the program. And independent of anything else, the record is mine, and I own all of that, and I love it, and I love my team, and there’s certainly things we can do better and could have done better.

“My hope is that the past six years has shown specifically and decisively what the next steps are needed to be to launch us even farther forward than we are. And that’s what I hope for players, the fans, this institution, our athletic director and everyone else.”

It’s sounding like an amicable split here, based on what Mendenhall said there, about wanting his successor to build on what he’s done, and then also what he had to say about his meeting on Thursday with Athletics Director Carla Williams.

“I’ve already made myself available to vet or advise, if needed,” Mendenhall said. “We’re so aligned. We visited today about all the things that the next head coach should have here, and I couldn’t have written it any better. It was just like we see it exactly the same way, and there is now still more here at UVA to go and do and become, and Carla wants that, I want that, and I’m certain that whoever is chosen for our program will be exceptional, and whoever is lucky enough to join as an assistant coach and a player, it will be an amazing experience for them as it has been for me.”

Another way this is coming across to me as being amicable: Mendenhall has every reason to point to deficiencies in facilities, both with Scott Stadium itself and the long-delayed effort to build a new football operations center, as a stumbling block to being able to get things moving forward, but he sidestepped several attempts from reporters to get him to shoot.

His best answer to those queries: “I’d love for us to find the right venue and let Carla answer that and stay on that point until everybody’s tired. And just let her describe that,” he said. “I think, because I don’t think it will sound right, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for me, because I’m grateful, but I’m so thankful to be here and the experience I’ve had. I don’t in any way, shape or form want to frame this like, if he had this … that’s not what I’m saying. So, I think that ought to come from Carla. And that would be hard for me if I saw anything that came out like that, because that’s not what I’m saying. I think for Carla moving forward, I think that would be the way to hit that.”

Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press
augusta free press