Press Conference: UVA football coach Bronco Mendenhall talks Richmond, Week 1
Bronco, there has obviously been a lot placed on Bryce, a lot of the faith put into him. We’ve heard a lot of stuff about how vital he will be to this team. His numbers last year, besides getting to the championship game, were not like video game numbers. How much different do you expect that he will play under this system than the more kind of traditional quarterback role he played last year?
COACH MENDENHALL: You know, I think it’s to be determined. We certainly know what we want those numbers to be, and we think we know within the system and past performances – within the system what that could be.
I don’t think anyone knows going into game one. We’re still looking for a reference point. And that would be for all areas of our program. As much as any coach would like to say they know exactly where they are and what to expect in game one, I don’t think anyone knows exactly what to expect.
The bottom line though is our quarterback position will have to be exceptional for us to have a good year. That is the reality.
So rather than pretend — and Bryce is embracing those expectations — our job is to build his capability in relation to the demand appropriately and is sequentially. So my guess is game one won’t look like game 13, but hopefully it looks exactly as it needs to for his role and his development and our team’s development for the first game.
Q. Is it unusual to have captains and not have your quarterback be one of them?
COACH MENDENHALL: Not necessarily. I would say especially in the circumstance of a transfer. And so sometimes as a quarterback that’s an underclassmen I think that is pretty typical as well. So I would put those in the same category. Bryce received significant support in the voting. But, again, he’s new, which is a little bit longer, and certainly has the respect of our team, but not the time yet.
When you compare or contrast that to Jordan Ellis, Olamide – I wouldn’t take it’s a slight to Bryce. I mean, who gets more votes than those guys? I’m sure it’s possible.
Q. You opened kind of your tenure against Richmond, and you talked so much in the weeks after that about the demeanor on the sideline and the depth and the numbers in the program and how much work you had. When you stop and think about that, how far have you come since that moment?
COACH MENDENHALL: Well, yeah, I think the difference of a 2-10 season to a postseason appearance is the best way to describe it.
It was probably the first and maybe the most impactful precalibration in becoming the head coach at UVA on exactly where we were was the start of that season.
I’m not going to diminish the fact that it was against Richmond. Really it could have been any team. Me then seeing our team’s demeanor in Scott Stadium, how exactly we were prepared or had been prepared to play a game, and maybe some of the existing influences that I wasn’t aware of.
And so we worked diligently just step by step to recreate the culture of the love to play the game, love to prepare to play the game, and claiming our home space at a higher level.
It’s still a work in progress, but I remember just the graphic starting point and precalibration of, oh, this is where we are. That’s what I remember most about maybe that game or that time period.
Q. People had such a strong reaction to when you told the board of visitors there were X number of guys who were ACC ready. Right now, where is that number in comparison, and are you happy with the progress you’ve made?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, I don’t intend to have like a barometer and maybe like number of customers served, you know, like at McDonald’s something. The reality is I’m transparent and I’m truthful, and especially with my players. I won’t share anything outside of our team room that I haven’t shared with them. They know exactly where they stand and always will. They know exactly what I believe the truth is and always will.
I don’t think you can have growth as a person, as a team, without knowing where you currently are. I intend to keep with that exact same format. But what I have learned is it’s much more powerful within the team format maybe than outside, or sharing it outside, where some don’t want to understand or won’t understand.
Q. Coach, I think you’ve said you prefer to have a multi-talented quarterback.
COACH MENDENHALL: Yes.
Q. You had an any idea of what you were getting when you got Bryce. What has surprised you about him since he’s gotten here?
COACH MENDENHALL: The biggest surprise is poise and consistency. A lot of times with the new players, especially at that position, day by day there is way ups and way downs.
With him it’s been more of just solid, steady decision making. There are still days of or plays of volatility, but I’ve been most surprised and impressed with consistency, especially demeanor.
There will be gigantic plays that he’ll make, or maybe that we don’t make, and he just matter of factly moves on. So his poise and consistency I think will give him his best chance and our best chance as there are ups and downs through the season – starting in game one just to kind of follow our guiding principal of less drama, more work, which is what he is.
He didn’t come in expecting accolades. He hasn’t required any additional attention. He hasn’t required any unique management. He just has been part of our team. I think that’s what endeared him to our team.
My hope is that his performance reflects that consistency of his demeanor. If that happens, then it allows our team to have the earliest success possible. As we all know, early season, especially with the ACC, is very important. Wins are hard to get.
Q. How much did the time that Richard Burney and Mandy miss because of their injuries accelerate the development of Aaron and Jordan in particular?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, there was no one else. Without Mandy and without Richard, we could not practice as a football team, other than using first years and evaluating first years, and so Aaron Faumui and Jordan Redmond got the majority of the work with not only the ones but the twos and every other group that we could put in there because we were out of defensive line bodies.
So the downside is we haven’t had the consistency to have Burney and Mandy and Eli all together and working consistently for all of fall camp. We’ll get a few days of that before Richmond, but what we have done is be able to establish significant depth with first years, and they are still first years, but they have been — their development has been accelerated to the point they’ll play significant amounts in game one all the way through the year is my prediction.
Q. How would you describe the competition between Joey and Brendan. Obviously Joey is at the top right now.
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, and that’s going to go back and forth daily, as well as within a game, as well as game by game. It’s the reflection of what I would love to have at every position on our team. I think it makes them both better.
And also, you’ll see certain situations where they’re used in a little bit more relation to their skillset. So I view that position as my ideal for our team. There aren’t many positions that are like that currently.
If you’re saying what do I see in the future, it would be a reflection of that.
Q. Has there been a resolution to the Dylan Thompson situation?
COACH MENDENHALL: The status with that is he passed his course at Ohio State. He has graduated. He is here. He just finished his second acclimation day. So he’s behind obviously, but he is here.
So he’s practiced with us for two days. He’ll finish his acclimation days. He’ll have to learn our system obviously. It’s hard to play without knowing what to do. Then he’ll be integrated as he’s ready and as he earns his way in.
But it is a position of need. It will be really unique to follow how fast that matriculation happens. But I thought it was unlikely that he would arrive and I thought it was unlikely he would be on our team, so that’s been an added bonus. Again, he’s been here only two days so far, so we’ll see how that comes along.
Q. You’ve talked about you depth in the secondary, but receiver is definitely Richmond’s deepest position as well. What do you see out of those guys on film?
COACH MENDENHALL: Productive, consistent, confident, and they make a lot of plays. There are three of them that have 60 catches or more, with a quarterback that while he redshirted a year ago, proved capability in the playoffs before then. I really like their offensive system.
I think the league that Richmond plays in, and William & Mary and JMU, I think it’s a really good league. I don’t think good football is tied to perceived level. Good football is good football. I think the majority of teams in that league play good football. They’re coached well; there is good talent.
The biggest difference is they’re just not as deep in number of scholarships. I like the receivers a lot. I like the quarterback. I like their system.
The other thing is they have a history, and they know how to win. Those are the expectations and just part of their identity. So, yeah, I like the test. It’ll be a good one.
Q. Among those top three receivers they have, is there one guy you have keyed in on as this is the matchup? We need to stop him?
COACH MENDENHALL: Not necessarily. I watched their old quarterback in the Senior Bowl and he was very impressed him. The Richmond system is good. Their personnel is strong.
Their quarterback and those three receivers, and I think they have two excellent running backs as well. I think they’ve done a nice job with their personnel and their system.
I think the simple key is the more you focus on one of the receivers, the other two then become capable and more dynamic. The workload has been spread evenly, and I don’t think that’s by accident. You have to defend them all.
Q. You’ve got a lot of receivers obviously. Chuck Davis is on the depth chart. Also on the depth chart as punt returner. I think he worked behind Daniel Hamm there last year. Where is he in his progress?
COACH MENDENHALL: He just has labored behind the scenes and he just keeps making plays. There is no one that we trust to catch a punt more than Chuck Davis. If you’re saying who do you put out there if you’re just positive the ball has to be caught, which is basically every time, right? But sometimes there is a trade of for sure someone’s catching ability with possibly what you might get after the catch.
If it comes down to ensuring the ball is a caught, Chuck Davis is that person. We can put our entire team around him, put wind in his face with fans, play music, blindfold him, I mean, he just catches the ball. Makes a head coach sleep better at night.
And then at receiver — and today he was working against our defense, and he just makes play after play regardless of circumstance. Steady and kind of a journeyman backup, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the field for us at some point in maybe a significant role if he keeps doing what he is doing.
Q. You talked earlier about comfort in your home space. I think you said last year that you never get involved in trying to get fans to come out. Just let results speak for themselves. But if there are 45,000 people there on Saturday and 15,000 empty sets, is a there a way in the way your mind worked that you use that to drive the team to prove to more people and make them come?
COACH MENDENHALL: We know exactly what needs to happen: We need to win, and we need to win the right way at UVA. Luckily that aligns with exactly my philosophy. I want exceptional people, exceptional students that play great football. When that happens, it’s hard not to come. It changes, it invigorates a community. It’s a vibrant place to be on a Saturday, and there is a sense a pride and accomplishment that comes with being a UVA alum, someone that lives in the state, that, man, there is something cool happening in Charlottesville.
We’re a work in progress. That is the direction. Whatever the attendance will be will be a direct reflection on how much our philosophy and our success has been embraced to this point.
I’ll just take it as feedback. I don’t get my feelings hurt. It’s just gives clear feedback as to room it grow and ways to continue to expand and claim those spaces and connect with our fans through, again, the earned-not-given philosophy.
I think that stadium and our stadium will be full when we’re playing football in a manner that allows it to be full. So we’ll just keep working.
Q. Couple depth chart questions.
COACH MENDENHALL: Sure.
Q. Chris Glaser, when did he make that move and what was it about Ryan Nelson’s play that made you think that’s a guy we can trust at linebacker?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, just time and consistency. The edge has become more secure day after day after day through the beginning of fall camp, now going into game week.
You’re always, especially at the offensive line, looking to have the best vibe, and that usually means a player that can play two spots and sometimes three.
Glaser can play center, he can play guard, and he can play tackle. So if you look at the two deep and say, Man, there are first year and we’re kind of thin. You can really insert Glaser at three different positions. That makes it look better. Glaser is really versatile. We have been able to highlight that because of how Nelson has played from beginning of camp through to where we are now.
So those two things are dependant on each other.
Q. Really the exact same question on the other side. With Hanback moving over to end, what do you like there and what did Redmond do to make you think he’s the guy?
COACH MENDENHALL: Well, it’s been out necessity because Burney Mandy Alonso have not been practicing and healthy. As we continue then to look at, Okay, what first years and what might be our best combination, it became apparent that Jordan Redmond at nose tackle was a little bit farther along than possibly other first years.
So now looking at who might and what allows us to have our best three D-line on the field. Like, Oh, what gives us our best five on the field at the same time? Redmond’s ability to play nose and Eli’s ability to play end now gives us more depth with the same number of bodies.
Q. Last year your field goal game was not very productive. What kind of competition did you have with this group?
COACH MENDENHALL: The competition is ongoing. One of the bright spots through camp, earlier than what has happened recently I would say, A.J. Mejia started exceptionally well through camp. First two and a half weeks especially. The sound of the ball coming off his foot, it made the whole coaching staff and team stop. It sounds different and it was going through the uprights more consistently and from farther away. So I would say what I’ve seen so far in practice settings is the field goal range has been expanded and the consistency has increased. So those are good things.
Now what’s happening with Hunter Pearson returning to full health, which we’re almost there, there is starting to be now the possibility of a longer range kicker and a shorter range kicker. Hunter Pearson’s range is longer than A.J.’s, and A.J. is more consistent from a little bit closer.
So there is a reality now of Mejia range, and then possibly another range. Based on how much data we can keep getting in on consistency and percentages, that’ll determine whether we’re going for it in this range of the field or Pearson comes out to take a shot.
I haven’t decided that yet, but that could be a possibility.
Q. We’ve all heard and seen a little bit of how Bryce can kill you with his legs. How has he developed as a passer over the than the past year, and how much better is her now than he was when you got him?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, I’m hesitant in practice just to make definitive statement, but that’s the area that he has improved most. It’s the area this our team has improved most since Bryce arrived.
Where the majority of the ball being moved early on in Bryce’s career with us through spring and early fall was happening with his ability to run. More balance is coming daily with his ability to throw the football and us to catch and protect, and so we’re a lot harder to defend when you can do both.
So I would say we’re making significant strides in that area. So in direct answer to the question of where have we grown most, his decision making and accuracy in throwing the football is probably where the biggest gains have been made.
Q. When we met with Carla, one of the things she talked about was making a real concerted effort to bring football alumni back to the program. Most of those guys aren’t your guys. What’s the impact been of that? How much has there been an uptick in that and how much has the team maybe benefitted from that?
COACH MENDENHALL: I think there has been a significant uptick because there has been a significant emphasis uptick. Carla has done a really nice job with that.
I think that players might take offense to saying they’re not my guys. I would say they’re our guys. But I do understand what you’re saying because I wasn’t their coach.
The ones that have interest in coming back though, it’s been fun because they consider this their program. I’m currently the steward over the program and of the program. I really want it to be something that they’re proud of and support and love the results.
I love to run it in that way. It matters to me that they’re proud of what we’re doing and like what we’re doing. I would say the overwhelming majority that have come back have shared that. They’re coming back because they are UVA, and I am appreciative of that. Our team is appreciative of it.
In a team meeting this morning, in fact, I believe the number was — as part of out team meeting, there were 22 former UVA players that were Super Bowl champions. There has been some very special people on the field, and, man, there have been some amazing people off the field in terms of what they’ve accomplished.
That, in essence, is what UVA football is. I want the success on the field desperately. I also want those successes off the field and quality lives, too. So the players that are coming back, they see that and it resonates and they’re aligned with that.
I think that helps make us each other’s guys, even though I didn’t coach them.
Q. A little off the beaten path, but in Northern Virginia we’ve seen a few high schools cancel their football season; in New Jersey a few high schools have canceled their football season because of lack of interest. They didn’t have the numbers turning out. Does that concern you, and what can you do to impact that?
COACH MENDENHALL: Sure it concerns me, in this perspective. My opinion is that football is an amazing vehicle and platform to develop young people. Other than that, it’s just a game. I’m not interested in it being just a game. It saddens me that a platform or vehicle to develop people is not being supported.
I think what has to happen from my standpoint as well as other college coaches, is to make a clear emphasis that that matters. Yes, winning important. There is a strong business element and entertainment element. Viewership is driving college football.
I stand on a very different side of that. Acknowledging the reality of that, my primary purpose is develop people so they can have amazing lives.
When football goes away anywhere, it saddens me. If it goes away, I would like the community or possibly the administration to have to acknowledge by what they see in other coaches and programs, wait, are we really going to let this happen at the expense of development.
I think possibly the perspective is results only, and I certainly think some of the safety issues are contributing or have contributed. So I think there is an interplay there. I think effective coaching and quality coaching is the development of people, looking after the welfare and safety of student athletes, and getting results.
I don’t see enough emphasis on all of that being presented. I think you probably don’t either just if you look at what’s written about our business. So I would love this program to be one that clearly shows that development, safety, welfare, and results can happen all at the same time.
Q. When you think about guys like Tavares Kelly, Billy Kemp, Olamide Zaccheaus, Bryce now, even on the defensive side of things with Juan and Darrius Bratton, you’ve seen very successful football, and team speed is typically an emphasis. How pleased are you with where your team speed is right now?
COACH MENDENHALL: We are establishing depth and speed, and so some of the players you just mentioned in Tavares and Billy Kemp, and now Bryce coming in at quarterback, those are all new players to the program. There are others as well, and so it’s just reflective of possibly in roads being made to address depth in this program.
It’s become more visible in the secondary and at receiver in skill. That’s accelerating faster than our depth in the lines. So even though there will be first years listed on O-line and D-line, most likely you’ll see impact — the impact we’ll see will probably be through the speed rather than the trenched, even though there will be first years playing in both places.
Q. Both you guys and Richmond are transitioning from more of a pro-style offense to more of an RPO-based offense. Much as there can be a disparity in scholarship players, does that even the field a little bit on Saturday?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah. So I’ve coached against a number of FCS programs in my career, and coached at Northern Arizona myself. We never felt when I was coaching at Northern Arizona at the FCS level much difference between ones. It was just the depth.
When you play a first game especially, anyone is especially vulnerable and there is always uncertainly. There are new teams, new schemes that have been made in the off season, and you’re never certain.
The amount of in-game coaching in game one, that’s part of game one, and so I think possibly that’s why — and I haven’t done the research on this. You could follow up. Seems to me like games one and two there are maybe more upset-ish type of games, and a game that happens you say, Holy cow, did you hear about so and so. That shouldn’t happen. The simple uncertainties that come with game one and two I think add to that.
Q. You mentioned the depth. What additional challenges does that bring?
COACH MENDENHALL: Practice, practice for sure seasons, especially when you’re relatively consistent playoff team. Man, it’s where the redshirt rule really helps now in terms of adding to your roster.
But more games with the same number of players or more games with even a fewer numbers, practice becomes really difficult. Then you end up having to choose. Do you become more NFL model-ish where you’re serving each other. That’s fine. Just the number of practice reps you get is lessened because you’re under time requirements.
Yeah, unique tradeoffs, but the quality of football being played is still very, very good. So a lot of innovations that happen with reduced numbers is some of the best coaching I think that there is.
Q. Talking about the new redshirt rule, and you have these two back up quarterbacks who theoretically that could still play and take advantage of that, is there one you feel like you want to see in this opportunity?
COACH MENDENHALL: Man, I think that’s a fair question. There is all kinds of scenarios, and I hope we don’t get to see our backup quarterbacks much.
I know that there is a developmental part. But because Bryce is a transfer, every rep counts for him and he needs every one he can get. So you’ll probably see us — and it’s a delicate balance. If you put us in the context, let’s say we have a comfortable lead. Again, every rep is still helpful for him in the game context to develop our team.
Then there is risk of injury. If he does get hurt, then, yeah, you need to develop a back up soon enough and capably. So I’m still erring on the side of Bryce’s development because it’s a new quarterback and it’s game one with a long season to go.
In terms of backups, we’re going to be slower than quicker to insert at this point.
Q. Do you find yourself in practice watching Bryce on some of these runs, just mind boggling kind of stuff? You can’t contain your own excitement.
COACH MENDENHALL: You know, I’m an excitable guy so there may be a corner of my mouth that comes up. It’s just fun to watch an amazing athlete. There be will be comparisons made, but there is just the athleticism, change of direction, and how dynamic — it’s pretty special to be able to see, especially when it comes in the package being of a good player and a good person. That makes it better.
So that’s what makes maybe both corners of my mouth go up. The long run might make one corner go up, but then when I think about who he is, it might be both corners.
Q. Based on what you just said about backup quarterbacks, where they in terms of if something happened and they had to play, how much of an about-face would that have to be in how you play? Are they both capable of playing and doing what you want Bryce today?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, Brennan is more aligned in terms of what Bryce does, and it would require less change within what we’re doing offensively.
Lindell currently is more polished and more experienced and farther, but the style play would be different, and so we’ve had to prepare for both.
The context of the game and what’s required, if we’re playing from behind and possibly need to throw and catch at a higher level, then probably Lindell.
If it’s more — it’s about even and we still want to play the same style, then it’s probably Brennan.
It’s the simplest way to describe it right now.