Tony vs. Bronco: Comparing, contrasting the turnarounds

UVA AthleticsTony Bennett had Virginia Basketball in the NCAA Tournament by Year 3, but Year 4 was a step back, if you remember, to the NIT.

Year 5 was the beginning of the salad days: the ACC championship, #1 NCAA Tournament seed, Sweet Sixteen.

The march to the 2019 national title began in 2014.

How does the Bronco Mendenhall turnaround of Virginia Football measure up?

I’d argue that he’s a year ahead of schedule relative to what Bennett has done with hoops.

The breakdown

The first two years for each: a wash.

Bennett’s first two teams were a combined 31-31, and didn’t qualify for postseason play.

Mendenhall went 2-10 in Year 1, went bowling in Year 2, but that team lost its last four and finished 6-7.

Year 3 for Bennett was the return for Virginia Basketball to the NCAA Tournament, though that season ended with a fade, with losses in four of the last five, including a 26-point thud from Florida in the Big Dance.

Year 3 for Mendenhall: a brief late-season swoon, back-to-back OT losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, but the 28-0 whitewash of South Carolina in the Belk Bowl sent the ‘Hoos into the offseason with expectations.

Year 4 for Bennett: another late-season fade. A 3-5 finish, including a 75-56 thumping from NC State in the ACC Tournament, sent Virginia to the NIT.

Mendenhall’s Year 4: the win over Virginia Tech, the ACC Coastal championship, the program’s first appearance in the Orange Bowl.

Yes, the season ended with losses to Clemson and Florida, so, downer there.

I still argue that the 2019 Virginia Football season feels to me like the 2013-2014 Virginia Basketball season.

Both were teams made up of players who performed above their heads from a recruiting standpoint to bring home trophies and earn opportunities to play in much bigger games than anyone would have expected of them.

The 2014 Sweet Sixteen loss was razor-close. The 2019 Orange Bowl loss came down to a couple of plays in the fourth quarter.

Progression

Obviously, how history judges the 2019 Virginia Football season will be based on how Mendenhall & Co. build on things from here.

Bennett followed up the success of Year 5 with a 30-win season in Year 6, 29 wins the next season, leading to the recruiting haul of 2016 that brought in the nucleus of Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome that would form the foundation of the 2019 title team.

Aside from the 23-11 hiccup in their freshman years, in 2016-2017, the chart flowed up pretty much in a linear progression after the breakthrough of Year 5.

Football can be harder to maintain in terms of progression. Looking back to the original rebuild of Virginia Football, under George Welsh back in the 1980s, you had big success by Year 3, the 1984 team that went 8-2-2 and won the Peach Bowl, but Year 4 was a step back, to 6-5, and Year 5 was a 3-8 debacle.

Welsh had his best years in 1989 and 1990 – Years 8 and 9 – going 10-3 in 1989 and spending three weeks in 1990 at #1 before fading late to an 8-4 finish.

Football usually is the tougher turnaround just because of the sheer numbers you need in terms of depth, and the time it takes to develop young players into contributors.

That’s what makes the Mendenhall rebuild all the more remarkable to me. He took over a program that had reverted back to pre-Welsh levels and took it to the highest stage any Virginia Football team has ever been in within four years.

Story by Chris Graham



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