Let us now praise Bronco Mendenhall: Who is leaving Virginia Football better than he found it
We’ll root for Bronco Mendenhall to lead Virginia to victory in the Fenway Bowl so that his final season in Charlottesville is a winning one, but either way, he’ll hand things over to Tony Elliott the afternoon of Dec. 29 with things trending up.
For one, the football operations center that Mendenhall and AD Carla Williams had long said is a necessity for Virginia Football to be able to move forward got the green light last week from the Board of Visitors.
Elliott gets to reap what Mendenhall sowed when the ops center opens for business in 2024.
Mendenhall also leaves behind a roster capable of getting Elliott out of the gate in Year 1 to, what, if things go well, 8-4, 9-3?
Elliott inherits the ACC Preseason Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy short list QB1 Brennan Armstrong, a bevy of wideouts – Dontavyion Wicks, Billy Kemp IV, Lavel Davis Jr. – at the base of an offense that ranked third nationally in 2021.
He’ll have to revamp the defense, which ranked in the bottom 10 nationally, but if Elliott and his new staff can just get the D to play C- football next year, the prospects are bright for Virginia in 2022.
Mendenhall, you may remember, inherited from predecessor Mike London a group that got decimated by an FCS team in its season opener on the way to a 2-10 finish in 2016.
London, in turn, inherited from his predecessor Al Groh, who had gone 3-9 in his final season, a team that he had to cajole four wins out of in his Year 1 in 2010.
Both London and Groh were fired. Groh replaced George Welsh after a 6-6 finish in 2000, but struggled out of the gate with a young roster in Year 1, and the Cavaliers had to win two of their last three to finish 5-7.
Mendenhall is leaving Elliott a group that can get his tenure out to a nice head start. Think ahead to what an 8-4 or 9-3 Year 1 for Elliott would do – for recruiting, for getting the rest of the ops center paid off ahead of construction.
Groh, in his Year 2, as the roster that he’d inherited from Welsh began to mature, had Virginia 9-5, the first of four straight winning seasons that seemed to have Virginia Football on an upward trajectory.
The end to the Groh years – three losing seasons in his last four – got us to where we were when Mendenhall took over.
The 2-10 finish in 2016 in Mendenhall’s Year 1 was the ninth losing season in 11 years in Charlottesville.
By Year 4, in 2019, Mendenhall had Virginia in the ACC Championship Game and the Orange Bowl.
His tenure unfortunately ends with a thud – a four-game losing streak after a 6-2 start that had the ‘Hoos in contention for a return trip to Charlotte.
But actually, he gets a chance at a nice ride off into the sunset in the bowl game, and then we’ll hope he can watch with some pride next year and into the future as Elliott tries to build off the foundation that he laid down.
He’ll finish his time here with an overall losing record, mainly because of that first year, which if things were accounted for fairly would go on the lifetime coaching records of London and Groh.
Losing record here or not, Mendenhall is the first Virginia coach since Welsh, a generation ago, to leave a stable foundation for the next guy.
Story by Chris Graham