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Michael Lewis: Another perspective on Bronco, the state of UVA football

uva footballAFP reader Michael Lewis shares his thoughts on editor Chris Graham’s reporting on UVA football coach Bronco Mendenhall’s State of the Program talk to the UVA Board of Visitors.

As a regular podcast listener and column reader I value your opinion. However, I would like for you to consider that I didn’t hear Bronco Mendenhall disparaging the talent of his players or being overly critical of Mike London in listening to the audio tape and some follow up discussions with those in the know.

It is a fact that Mendenhall honored all of the London commitments from the ‘16 class. It is also a fact that only one-third of that class remains. Typically, a third-year class should help to comprise a good portion of the ‘18 season depth chart. But with such a low retention number, that obviously is not possible.

In addition, we all knew there was a drop off in recruiting quality during London’s final seasons. Combine that drop off with the high attrition rate from ‘16 and it serves as why 17 true first-years from the ‘17 recruiting class played last season.

Furthermore, there was a need to aggressively pursue the transfer market to fill the gaps due to the lack of upperclass depth until the ‘17 and ‘18 classes, Mendenhall’s only two, can fully mature.

This is how I viewed his comments in the context of only having 27 ACC caliber players at the moment. One should also apply the loss of experience through graduation. When all of the above is framed in the proper context, Mendenhall’s comments appear quite coherent heading into the preseason.

Now, what troubled me with Sam Blum’s reporting, as he chose to downplay that Mendenhall said he expected the number of ACC caliber players to rise into the 40s as the season progresses, into the 60s by 2019 and possess a full roster of them in 2020. Rather than give the totality of Mendenhall’s views on in player development, Blum chose to play up the sensationalism of the 27 number in his Twitter and social media posts. That’s disingenuous reporting in my view.

The incremental ascension of ACC caliber players interprets to me as effective player development and off-season training by the staff, as well as recruiting prospects that fit the program, not a shot at the talent level of current players.

Finally, it is my understanding nothing was said to the BOV that Mendenhall has not communicated in various forms to the current players, and in many cases, to prospective recruits as well. For better or worse, he’s a consummate straight talker. Some find it refreshing, as it avoids hearing the endless coach-speak that is all too common.

Also, Carla Williams is 100% on board with Mendenhall’s vision and he is not addressing the BOV without her full endorsement. Carla is no wallflower; as you know, she had the direct responsibility of a top Power 5 program at UGA. This was not about making excuses, or saying the media had misrepresented the football program. The two of them wanted to speak directly to Board members regarding how high the bar is for football success in 2018 and going forward, what it’s going to take to get there, and the need for total support after years of under-funding and less than adequate resources.

This was a table-setting exercise to put the BOV and major donors on notice. Basically, UVA leadership, if you want a program that can compete for titles in the ACC and maintain the school’s lofty academic tradition, well, here is what it’s going to take to achieve high end results during an era of Power 5 conferences and a 4-team playoff system.

Translation: we need a $65MM football operations center, an annual football budget in the $30MM range, that will permit additional upgrades in the analytics staff that tracks every aspect of player development, to opponents’ tendencies months in advance of GameDay, to the mining of prospective recruits nationwide that fit the program’s profile. In addition, more upgrades are needed in strength and conditioning staff. The two additional staffer hired this past winter got UVA to the water line level. If the program is to compete for ACC championships, that number must to be 8 to 10.

That was a big part of Mendenhall’s mission to speak directly to the Board, many of who are major donors and they can effectively pass the word around.

I wanted to offer that additional color. There was a clear strategy for Mendenhall and Carla’s outreach to the board. With Jim Ryan arriving in August, those three are in lock-step in what needs to happen for football to succeed. After all, no UVA AD I’m aware of in my nearly 63 years on the planet was ever told by the BOV Rector upon being hired, “football is your #1 priority, we need you to fix it!”

That was my takeaway, along with the passion Mendenhall shared of wanting his players to set high goals for life beyond football and to take full advantage of a top academic environment such as UVA. A much-needed message when so many football players come from families of lesser means and a UVA degree can change the trajectory for theirs and their families future.

Thanks for indulging my response. Greatly enjoy your podcasts, and especially this past basketball season!