But in reality, it got its start nine months ago, when UVA and Mendenhall shocked the football world with the announcement that the 11-year veteran coach at BYU, who had won 99 games at the school that his father and brother had played at, was coming east.
His first meeting began with him telling the players to sit up straight in their chairs. Mendenhall and his assistants, most of whom followed him from Provo to Charlottesville, assumed that their demanding approach to conditioning would weed out a wide swath of the roster, which didn’t end up being the case.
The talent base, recruited by predecessor Mike London, who piled up strong recruiting classes in his six years at the head of the program, but managed just one winning season, is there, it’s been repurposed in the Mendehall way, both from a conditioning and a schematic perspective.
Now it’s time to see how the past nine months of hard work translates on the field.
“Really the best stance is to under-promise and over-deliver. I think the promise comes from people just seeing and believing this will work by past history. I don’t think anyone wonders if we’ll win or not. The biggest question is when and with whom and where are we starting from,” Mendenhall told reporters on Monday at his first game-week press conference.
Mendenhall is a stickler for details, to a point where he’s having his team practice how they come out of the tunnel before games.
“I’m not sure why I’m so particular. One of my core beliefs, though, is that organizations are perfectly designed for the results they get,” Mendenhall said. “If they don’t know how to come out of the tunnel, haven’t practiced it, then it wouldn’t be a masterpiece. At some point I want this program to be a masterpiece for college football, but more specifically I’d like UVA football to be recognized as that.”
Gone are some long-time gameday traditions. The pregame Adventures of CavMan video, for instance, got the axe. Probably not a bad thing there, as the videos had long since gotten stale.
The ceremonial team walk into the stadium was also nixed. Pomp and circumstance are low on the list of Mendenhall priorities.
Winning football games is the focus, and it’s not something that Mendenhall or anyone else in the UVA program takes for granted.
“I know it’s difficult to win any games as a college football coach. I’ve said that, and maybe the fans at BYU got tired of me saying that. There’s a lot of work that goes into preparing for a single game, and winning college football games is hard,” Mendenhall said.
It’s hard, but Mendenhall, who sweats confidence, has no doubt that the work, not just hard work, but directed work, will pay off.
“This is a step-by-step process with realistic expectations from my perspective, but with optimism that it will absolutely work out in the end,” Mendenhall said. “It will be fun to see where we’re starting from. I’m anxious to see that, just as I’m sure you are and the players.”
That’s a message that Mendenhall has been preaching since Day 1. I was at his introductory press conference in Charlottesville back in December, where he talked about his approach at BYU, which involved crunching numbers on offensive output, what defenses needed to do to keep opponents off the scoreboard, how special teams impact the bottom line, and where it all fits in in terms of wins and losses over the course of a season.
The system leaves nothing to chance.
“I have no worry that this will not work out. I know how hard it’s going to be. Now it’s just a matter of time. But we will have success here,” Mendenhall said. “I’m going to work very hard in facing the brutal facts of where our team currently is, but we need to work on and accelerate that as fast as possible. I wish I could give you a timeframe. This is really just kind of a monumental day of where we’re going to start from. I don’t know what it will look like either.
“Each step along the way through spring practice, through the winter conditioning, through the summer and through fall camp, I’ve been able to establish what I think are benchmarks of where I think we might be. None of those really are as accurate as I would like them to be. I would hope by years of experience I would have some idea.
“I think the metrics of benchmarks – I’m in the ballpark. But really until you play, there are always surprises. There were surprises in our first scrimmage in fall camp, what it looked like to move our team from the practice field to the stadium and practice there – then to move the practice from the practice field to Lambeth. Each thing is new. I’m determining the amount of slippage each time when we move and how strong the execution holds and what things might affect the team as I get to know them better.
“So really it’s time. The next step in our program’s development is to play a football game, and that will give me a great chance to determine, and hopefully every i has been dotted and t has been crossed in terms of preparation.
“I’m sure there will be surprises. Rarely do things go according to script. One of the things we practice is very seldom the team knows what period is coming next because it doesn’t go according to script. I’m hoping they’re resilient and confident when transition and change happens, but we’ll see.”
So, there you go, UVA fans. It’s going to happen.
Write it down: a bowl this season, contender status in the ACC Coastal next year, and a couple of recruiting classes down the line, the sky is the limit.
Story by Chris Graham