augusta free press news

Press Conference: UVA football coach Bronco Mendenhall

UVA football coach Bronco Mendenhall talks with the media at his weekly Monday press conference.

BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s good to be with you. Our team is gaining momentum and confidence. It was a good win, another mark of just another small step in building our program. Again, I still see us at the very beginning stages of what we’re setting out to do. However, it is difficult to win college football games, and I think it was a good performance. It was probably our best offensive performance in the past or in my tenure as the head coach in terms of complete play, running the football, passing the football, not only accurately and efficiently but for down field throws as well. Our offensive line took a step forward in the run blocking schemes. They had been making progress pass-blocking-wise. Defensively I think for three quarters, especially a little longer than three quarters – played a solid game, and are becoming pretty opportunistic in taking the ball away. I think that’s going to trend in our favor more so than a year ago. Our depth is still an issue that’s manifesting on special teams. There was a long kick return, and, again, there’s trying to spread the resources and have the right players in the right spots at the right time. We’re still struggling to do that special teams-wise. We’re getting closer on offense, defense, but special teams is lagging behind. Just seems like a key unit or a key play somewhere along the line in the game, so that’s still not solidified.

Our punting game was improved. Back to similar to how it was in week one. And I think those are my general thoughts after watching it. Looking forward to playing another game. So, yeah, I’ll take questions.

Q. You have experience coaching against Boise State. You’ve also played in that stadium. Anything unique stick out about that experience, other than the blue turf?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, the memories of the games are becoming more clear. I believe one of my first games there at BYU, we missed a field goal to win. Another game we went for a two-point conversion and I think lost 7-6. I think there was another close one in there, and then they came to our stadium and we won a couple. But the stadium, the turf is one thing, but the style of play, Boise is always really aggressive at the beginning of the game. They prefer to get out in front in kind of shock and awe and gadget or trick or momentum or tempo or something unique and different. They really play hard and play fast at the beginning of the games there. Doesn’t mean they don’t finish well, but the game plan, and they settle into more normal football as the game goes. But the initial onslaught is usually and the crowd especially, that’s usually those two things together kind of make this a unique challenge. You have to start fast and you have to be resilient, especially early, to play well there.

Q. Kurt obviously didn’t play great against Indiana. How much does what the offense was able to do this weekend speak not only to his ownership of his own game but maybe his leadership on the offense and maybe pushing everyone to come along?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I think that Kurt played with a chip on his shoulder. Indiana did have a strong performance against us, and I thought they played a good defensive game. We also did not play our best game offensively nor did Kurt, so I think he took it upon himself. We talk about extreme ownership a lot, titled after the book, and he never once looked for another reason or something else that he could not control. He owned the performance. He knew he could do better. We knew our offense could do better. So I think he was the catalyst in the mindset going into the next week. That will be one of the next challenges. I’ve already seen it. Our players have already heard it a lot, nice win and good job, and right from the beginning of practice there had to be a refresher of, man, we’re just starting and there is lots to do. So handling and having a lead of that significance, but also having early success, those are just things that are part of our team’s development and we’re going to have to learn to handle that at a higher level just from what I’ve seen so far.

Q. You haven’t talked much about redshirting. The other day you got the ball back with about a minute, minute and a half left. Did you consider putting Stone in the game?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: We have considered it, and we’ll still consider it. We really like Lindell, and I think he’s going to be a very good football player. Considering all we’re doing right now because he might be a strong enough contender where, if he didn’t take any snaps this year, then that might be helpful to the program going forward. So we’re still working on how he might do that, and that’s why you didn’t see him.

Q. You are no stranger to playing on short weeks. I think you did it three times maybe in your last season, and I think 17 times in your 11 years there. Particularly with your philosophy of resting on Sundays, things like that, how do you plan these weeks?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s a unique challenge and a test of principle as well. The easy answer is we use Saturday. So right after the game, for my staff, it was less than a one-hour turn around, so they worked all the way midnight-ish, I would say is about as late as we were here. That basically got our preparation to practice Monday morning, which was this morning, and Monday is a Tuesday now. So everything’s accelerated.

Just one thing that’s not going to be altered is Sunday. So what I’ve learned is that you can get it done. You can play well on a Thursday. You can play well on a Friday if you have the right model and you stream line and you know what’s really important and efficient. I think that I feel very comfortable in relation to our model. This is the first time with this team, so they’re kind of finding, wow, this is urgent, and I think the coaches realize there is a difference there. So the modelling is being helpful. But there was a transition and some growing pains this morning in meetings and practice to get the appropriate mindset.

Q. Can you take me back to Brenton Nelson, was he a walk-on, earned a scholarship from you and what has his progression been like?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, Brenton was a walk on. He doesn’t speak much. He’s quiet and introverted. But our offensive coaches last year were saying, man, this guy just keeps playing the ball, and playing the ball. We have this guy that we’re having a hard time getting behind and he intercepted us a lot. Then I got to know him a little bit a year ago, and he worked the entire spring through summer. When I came back from summer, Kurt Benkert said he’s been throwing the ball all summer and there was only one player that’s picked him off and that was Brenton Nelson. And he says, ‘man, I hate that guy.’ Not meaning like personally, but, oh he just playing so well . And he kept doing that in fall camp. I awarded him a scholarship this fall. It’s one of the coolest things happening, the number of walk-ons awarding scholarships. It’s to me the ideal way to award a scholarship is someone comes to a program, chooses where they want to be and earns and works and strives and then their value is demonstrated. Then they get the award. That’s what’s happened.

As we’ve had a couple injuries, Brenton just has made so many plays he’s now found himself in a starting role. Basically that happened when Tim Harris went out. All the players and all the recruits and all the different people fighting for these spots, there is Brenton who just came out of it on top. Earned his chance. If you watch, his last game was exceptional.

He’s tackling well, he’s covering well, he’s playing the ball well. I mentioned all that to him and he just smiles. That’s about all you get, which I like also.

Q. You had mentioned that moving Juan to corner was something that might change, might go back. Does Brenton’s play change your outlook there?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It is, but also De’Vante Cross is playing really well at corner also. So that’s a position we have more options than many others on our team right now, which I like. So our plan really was to play De’Vante at corner more and allow Juan to play two positions last week. But with the number of shifts and motions and different formations that UCONN was giving us, we thought that was a little bit too much for game one to play corner with some of the things they were throwing at us.

Q. With your Sunday theory about coaches and being off, I imagine there is some part of you that wants to know how many players have come in on Sunday and kind of taken it upon themselves to maybe get a head start on watching film or whatever. Do you get reports on that or do you know how that goes? Do you have any sense of whether guys come in on Sunday?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I don’t know, and I don’t ask. I think that’s — I think Sunday is just a complete choice for every individual. The players know there is nothing required of them — I take that back, treatments are required. So after church I stop by and I do poke my head in on treatment just to see how guys are doing, and that’s — I never go to the second floor, but I do walk in and check on the players on my way home. But I don’t know who is watching. And now with so much of the media and content that can be downloaded or streamed, most of that can be done at home anyway.

Q. I tend to overdo the redshirting questions. But you indicated with Stone that it’s a consideration. What about when you see a guy like Reinkensmeyer and the fact that you’ve got him four more years? Does that kind of make you think that redshirting isn’t such a bad idea?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Sure, and again, I’ll be clear on our policy. I don’t make the final red-shirting decision until the end of their four years. So just because a player hasn’t played in year one does not automatically mean redshirt. They might say oh, I redshirted that year. That’s not the way I see it. So if they’re saying that to anyone, they’re not accurate. They have to put together a composite career and be consistent to then earn that bonus. Again, UVA expects every student to graduate in four. Just because they’re an athlete, I’m not breaking from alignment from that. So I expect all of our guys to graduate in four. If they’ve then earned a chance to get their Masters for how they’ve contributed through four, I’m all for that.

So, again, for all of us, just because someone didn’t play in year one does not mean that was now red-shirt. That will be decided at the end.

Q. With Micah’s knee situation and the short week, does he touch the practice field this week? He talked about how for him at this point it’s just about getting mental reps.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, that sounds good, but he saw a lot of the practice field today, and we’re building a program. I trust Micah, but when your best players are your best workers as well, your program accelerates. He has more latitude than most because of who he is, but each opponent is a different style, runs different things, and mental reps are very helpful, especially when you’re as mature as Micah is. But we’d love to have physical repetition as well, and we manage that the best we can with him. But he’s also really aware of what we’re trying to build here. He values and knows his example means a lot, and he couldn’t be handling it any better. We have to pull him off when we want him off.

He’s not one of those guys that looks to see if we want him on. He’s going on and then we pull him off, which is a blessing for us as a coaching staff for him to have that mindset rather than the other.

Q. You made the switch on the offensive line in the second half two weeks ago, started that way in this last game and things obviously went much better. What about that group of five is working so well?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think Dillon is the key. He just is a lot like Brenton Nelson where he doesn’t say a word but he just keeps playing well. So he’s understated, but just through this whole course of time from spring, through fall, through summer, there he is. When you watch him play, he’s just productive and he’s fast, and he’s physical, and he keeps grading really well. He’s emerged through his performance, which is the best way for us as coaches because it takes any of the subjectivity out of it. Just when everyone can see it, players as well as coaches, it’s just nice for that to happen. Then it gives you the idea, okay, now that that’s in place where he can play here, who else are the best four? That allows you to possibly have players move to different spots, which Fieler moved to guard. And so far in this short week and a half, new transition, that’s helped us.

Q. Maybe this is more for Coach Anae, but when you guys are getting 5.5 yards per run, how much can it change the way you call the game when you have that confidence?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: You saw the number of balls that went deep. When you can run the football, the awareness of the secondary on the run changes, and that doesn’t mean all those passes were a direct result of the run game, but in theory and in concept, what it means is if you can run it effectively, there has to be more attention paid in a secondary members thought process. When some of that process is on the run, the more likelihood that we can throw it, it goes up. And the deeper, the better. Again, when the ball goes deep, then the safety plays further off. When they play further off, the run game is better. So it was the clearest evidence and clearest display, so far, of what we’re trying to accomplish offensively since at least we’ve been together, if you’re looking at what we’re trying to do and how and why with our current group of players.

Q. By the time you were hired in December of 2015, most of the 2016 recruiting class was in place. What’s it like kind of forming a relationship at that stage with players like Dillon who are already on board?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s a mixed bag. There were some players, so put it this way, I made a conscious choice, and I’ll speak to something now that is, you know, some will agree with and some won’t agree with, but I’m not for coaches leaving their teams before bowl games. As you know I chose to stay with BYU before I came here. There is absolutely a trade off for recruiting and that class.

A lot of those kids, if our staff was selecting, some wouldn’t have been retained and they would have had an option to move on quickly while there is still recruiting time. But here’s the point. There are players now choosing not to play in their bowl games. There is now transfer legislation where there might not be any penalty. And the simple message from the players to the coaches is well, you do it, why shouldn’t we? My simple answer would be much like the NFL, after The National Championship Game, there is a window where coaches can change and universities can hire, et cetera. I think it sets a really poor precedent for the leader of the program who has recruited all those kids to then, when there is still a game to play, leave.

I know there are all different views on it, and there is an absolute trade off and it does hurt the initial transition to the new program because your relationships are behind, your evaluations are behind, and it’s really not possible to run both programs. I tried that, and it doesn’t really work. Principally based I’m not for it, and I don’t like what that says about college football.

Q. Bronco – Olamide I think had averaged eight yards a carry the first two years and you guys used him very little last year. You finally gave him the ball this week. How much of that was just trying to find another way to spark the running game, and how much of that was thinking back to the spring where you said you were trying to find every way to utilize him?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s both – there is a unique balance between trying to establish concepts and offense or defensive scheme and getting principles in place and highlighting players. We’ve probably taken too long. I’m talking collectively as a program, just making sure the philosophies and identities were set. It’s hard to say in retrospect. But we’re becoming clearer. That was just the closer sign of us finding at least another player, putting him in the right spot, the right time, and getting him the ball the right way.

That’s what he’s capable of. The traditional runs have not been our strength, and Olamide, how he gets the ball is not usually in a traditional format. So I think we’re becoming closer as to what we need to do with him.

Q. Through these first three games, what kind of impact do you think Jordan Mack has had inside as a whole?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: He’s playing really well. He’s another one – it seems like we’re just hitting the all-star team of quiet and introverted – but fierce competitors and really hard workers. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s physical, and he’s making lots and lots of plays at that position. As that position should. So now when you have Micah, whose volume of plays and tackles is very high, and if you choose to run away from that side, you’re not much better off now with a very capable and competent player there. Outside of Jordan Mack is Chris Peace on that side. So that’s kind of pick your poison as to which way. We’re just becoming more balanced, and that’s helpful.

Q. I believe we’re talking to John Montelus this week. I had an opportunity to talk to him last winter, and he was really down after not having played a whole lot. What do you see from him? Does he seem to be enjoying the experience?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: He says he is. I tell him every time I see him how grateful I am that he chose UVA and that he’s here.

Again, in that context, regarding going back to the transfer legislation, when a player graduates and has done everything he needs to to graduate in three or four years and is in good standing, that, to me, qualifies him for higher education, another degree, and an opportunity to be wherever else he wants to be. That basically closes his contract to me. I’ve lost players as well from that, which, it’s okay. There is a time and place for everyone to learn, and grow, and move forward. Contract is fulfilled, as far as I’m concerned. So I’m lucky that he came here and he’s helping our team. He seems to be positive, optimistic, upbeat. He’s loving playing the game. His ankle still bothers him a little bit from that injury that happened all the way in camp. So I think that’s frustrating him a little bit. But, man, he’s making a difference for us.

Q. You mentioned Jordan, Bryce Hall and him are kind of similar as guys you threw in the fire as true freshmen. For the most part we’re kind of learning new positions and than maybe what they were recruited for. Talking about Jordan, about Bryce’s strides as well, how important was that last year kind of looking back on it?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: He just allowed us to play. If Bryce wouldn’t have been able to step out and do the job last year, it would have made it hard to even function or practice or play in a game. That he not only played, but he performed well and he’s tackling well. So a year ago he was solid in coverage and conscientious and pretty good with the ball down the field. Now he’s adding improved tackling to his game. So I kind of put that group in a trio of Bryce and Jordan Mack, and on the other side Joe Reed. Those players of that class that we were talking about have emerged as the early performers. Juwan Moye would be another one, and now Dillon Reinkensmeyer, so that class is blended family.

That’s a tough thing to survive in college football when a new staff comes and a new philosophy and skill sets sometimes match and sometimes don’t. And personalities match and sometimes they don’t. Relationships are having to be formed. But those guys that I just mentioned, I’m sure I forgot someone, but they’re the ones that are kind of leading that class that was the transition class is the way I would call it.

Q. Is Joe Reed good for Friday?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, so last that I heard and saw, he should be good to go.

Q. What were the challenges for you and your staff coming cross country in terms of establishing recruiting in this state? And what kind of things have you seen that are encouraging? Any sort of things you’ve had to do to transition?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think recruiting, No. 1, is a lot of hard work, but No. 2, it’s relationships. So myself and my staff, we didn’t have existing relationships in this part of the country. As you know, relationships and trust, those are formed with time and consistency. Luckily there was a reputation of what and who I was and who our staff was that most people were giving us the benefit of the doubt on the positive side, and optimistic and happy that we were here. That’s not quite the same as coaches or others pushing players to UVA. You know, it was still kind of an early investor of, how is this going to work? So time as helped. Then just learning how far we need to go. Where would be a waste of time? Where are the thresholds where it’s too far, and how to be more efficient with the volume of players that we’re able to consider, which is more than we had been able to consider, and what we need. We have a lot clearer idea. I thought I had a good idea a year ago. Each game this year is also making it clearer to me what we actually need.

So, man, we’re spending a lot more time on the personnel selection and recruiting than we ever have. But rightly so. The roster, the roster, the roster, the number of times my coaches have heard me say that, they can say it every time I just start the word with an R. But that’s in building our program, that’s a huge component.

Q. How difficult was it to see Andrew Brown leave the field early the other day? It did not seem as if he was — I guess they called it targeting, I don’t know. You would know better. But it didn’t seem intentional.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s been — yeah, I would say I had a mixed reviewing of that. No. 1, I’m glad he was running to the football because there was a time he would stand and watch. So I’m glad he was at the ball. Now it’s maturity. That’s the next phase for him, and that’s knowing when to go over the top of a quarterback and when to go at him. He hit him with his forearm, and I would have called it after seeing it. So I’m glad that he’s getting to the ball and with a more aggressive mindset, and now adding maturity and decision-making to that, that reflects also now the level of consistency or experience we’re going to need from him. Teachable moment.

Q. Personal fouls, do you have any specific penalties you assess to players when they get personal fouls?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, there is. We have a strike protocol in our program, and a 15 yard penalty is similar. The accountability is similar to what a strike costs, and that’s a pretty high exchange rate.

Q. I have no idea what you just said (laughing)? The other thing, historically, a loss like Indiana where a lot of people felt they should have won could have kind of kept going and hurt the program. Also historically when they win a game in dominating fashion that they thought they should win and you touched on this this morning, feeling like, okay, we have it all figured out now, how do you address that this week going forward, especially with the short time to do it?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, it’s just one of the next teachable moments in the program. The team sometimes they kind of want me to be more animated after a good play on the sideline, and sometimes I think they want me to be more aggressive on a bad play on the sideline, and I’ve learned for every way up there is a way down. For every kind of up there is a kind of down, and I like consistency. So the team meeting was to the point, accurate, fast, and efficient this morning, and the players kind of looked like is that it? I don’t know if they were expecting confetti to come down from the ceiling or something, but it’s just right back to work. We had a nice celebration after the game Saturday, but plenty of things to improve on, and I’m not hesitant about pointing those things out. That’s just part of now having this program understand my expectations, but also real life expectations of that moment’s over. You did own it. It was awesome. So glad. Now it seems like a year ago already and we’re moving forward. So hopefully I can help teach and work with this group for that to happen. Again, there was a transition this morning. There is no time for anymore transition. It’s, again, a short week. But even if it wasn’t, life lessons apply here as well.

Q. Are you one of those coaches that dances with your team in the locker room?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Am I one of the coaches that dances? I’m not sure if I’ve ever danced in the locker room or not. I’m not opposed. I just don’t remember doing it.

Q. Lots of coaches do it all over YouTube?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yes, yes, they do. All right. Thanks.