Transcript: Virginia introduces Bronco Mendenhall as new football coach
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Good morning, everybody. Thank you for joining us. It was eight days ago that we listed the characteristics that were going to be required of a new football coach that would come in to lead this program, and allow the new coach to be able to help us as a department and as a University achieve our goals, the goals of graduating our student-athletes, the goal of contending for a divisional title in the ACC, contending for an ACC Championship, and then obviously to be able to compete from a national perspective.
I have a piece of paper here that I have had with me over the last week or so. I’m going to read directly from that, and this is from the release that was done a week ago, and it’s a quote from me. ‘In our search we will look for a coach who, number one, demonstrated the ability to implement his system.’ Check. ‘Achieve the consistent level of success.’ Check. ‘A coach who will have the experience in recruiting.’ Check. And – ‘a coach that will be developing student-athletes who fit his profile for success on the field and in the classroom.’ Check.
We were able to find a coach who indeed fit the University of Virginia in our opinion and who was able to fulfill all the requirements that we were going to have in a new head football coach. In other words, we had a pretty good idea of what this coach had done.
But before I went to interview with him, there were a lot of things that had to take place, and I’m going to talk about that in just a second.
So we narrowed it down, and clearly what he had done at Brigham Young University was extraordinary. From a competitive standpoint his teams averaged nine wins a year over an 11-year career. His teams went to 11 straight bowl games. He as the head coach in his program during the period of time that he was at Brigham Young University achieved the 13th highest winning percentage of Division I FBS schools in the country, so clearly this is a guy that’s a winner. No doubt about it.
His plan succeeded academically. Brigham Young University has produced and ranked seventh nationally in terms of academic All-Americans, and they had the top number of players from Brigham Young University that have been named as National Football Foundation Hampshire Honor Society award winners, the number of 39, best of all FBS programs in the country.
So – as the interview was taking place last week, Monday a week ago, once again, we knew what Coach Mendenhall had done. The second dimension of a search is to be able to find out whom that person is, truly the essence of the person.
So our focus on Monday was who is this guy, what is he all about.
When we had the chance to meet with him individually face-to-face last week, we listened and listened intently as he talked about his vision, he talked about a strategic plan. He talked about successful leadership in organizations actually outside of sports and outside of football, and then he was able to connect and translate all those things into how that would help in terms of developing a successful football program.
And once he was able to do that, we had the opportunity to ask a lot of questions. It became increasingly evident that our new head coach was sitting right in front of us.
From my standpoint, he’s truly a remarkable coach. He’s a remarkable man, and it was as a result of that conversation and what he said and the way in which he said it that we were able to discover a little bit about who he is.
What he talked about went beyond those things that we just checked off of that list. Once again, on this piece of paper that I had carried with me over the past week, these are the kinds of words that I wrote down when I went back to my room 10 or 15 minutes after that interview.
Integrity, humble, inquisitive, well-read, data driven, intelligent, innovative, hard working, purposeful – everything has a purpose – continual improvement. And then finally, competitive.
These characteristics, these values are all consistent with the values that we’re looking for each and every day as we experience life around this university and life within the department of athletics, and these words tell an awful lot about the essence of who Bronco Mendenhall is. So it’s the total development of student-athletes, the holistic development of his student-athletes that is such a priority for Coach Mendenhall as it is for each and every one of us, I think, that has the unique opportunity and unique roles that we might have here in this athletics department working with student-athletes.
So we’re prepared at this time to welcome and support Bronco Mendenhall as our new leader, and also will be welcoming in a short period of time, his new staff as they implement all those things in terms of vision and a strategic plan that will lead our football program in the future. Please join me in welcoming Bronco Mendenhall.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s my pleasure to be here today. First and foremost, I’d like to introduce my family. You’re not getting just a football coach, you are getting a family, and we’re coming across the country to a new home, and so maybe Holly and the boys, will you come up just for a minute? This is not on the script.
For everybody, this is my wife Holly, clearly my better half. My Missoula, Montana, frontierswoman, fiercely independent, as most head coaches’ wives have to be, and in no way is this move possible without her, and for former and head coaches’ wives out there, you know what I’m talking about. So we make a great team.
My oldest son Cutter, 16; my second son Breaker; and my third son Raeder. Having a name like Bronco growing up, there are a lot of unique challenges, so Holly and I followed suit: Cutter Bronc Mendenhall, Breaker Blu Mendenhall, Raeder Steel Mendenhall. (Laughter.)
As you can see, there’s no purpose to coaching without a fantastic family and reasons beyond coaching, and I hope that my boys on a daily basis are proud of what their dad does. I don’t think coaches are anything other than teachers, and teacher to me is one of the noblest professions, and the best teachers are those that really love those that they’re teaching. I work hard to instill those values in my boys. Holly and I, the value of education is paramount to us, and where better to come if the value of education is something that it’s the core of what and who we are, where else would you go, especially when you can consider now growth and opportunity and a challenge in blending a career, football and family with the value of education and developing well-rounded young people, including my own, it made perfect sense to us. There would be very few places I would leave BYU for.
Most thanks to our athletic director and president – I don’t think anyone knew or had any idea that I was interested in this job or that I might be a candidate, which might be one of our biggest accomplishments to date.
I’m relishing in that, actually, under today’s microscope of information and how quickly it travels.
But it was clear after 11 years at BYU, 13 total, two years as an assistant coach, 13 years is a long time. Raeder reflects that. Raeder, come here just for a minute, please. So Raeder was born at BYU, and now he looks like this, and that’s — and that reflects how long I was at BYU.
I don’t know what the second phase of our lives and this chapter will bring, other than I know that the ink hasn’t hit the paper yet. This starts it, so the ink is now wet and started with this next chapter. It was really fun to be able to meet Coach Welsh, so this is like LaVell Edwards at BYU. I inherited his program. I considered myself the steward over his program, and I did everything possible to grow and expand and develop it. I wanted him to be proud of me, Coach Edwards, a Hall-of-Fame head coach. That’s what I wanted. That wasn’t the primary motive, but I did want his approval in what he saw happen, not only on the field but the integrity in which the program was run, the relationships that were formed with the players, and the holistic approach of representing an institution that was very unique, and I’m talking about BYU now.
I can say the same things now about the University of Virginia. An amazing coach (George Welsh) that developed and built this program, an amazing institution in terms of the academic component, and when I look at all the other sports and how well they do, I don’t think it’s a valid argument to say it can’t be done or won’t continue to be done at that level in football. That was intriguing to me.
I love challenge. After visiting with the team today, it became very clear today that that’s what this team needs, and I think for the most part wants. We’ll find that out once the challenge starts, but I think that’s what they do want. I think they’re hungry for success, and I believe I specialize in accountability and discipline and effort. I’m an effort-based coach. I love more than anything guys that try hard. I relish in that.
I celebrate effort. Very few people try as hard as they can at any one moment of their life, and when you do, you recognize it when it happens, and first and foremost, we will develop the will of our student-athletes. Skill will come along, the position mastery will come along, the execution will come along, but only after they learn to try hard. I don’t know how long that will take. Hard to me is as hard as you can go. That might be different from what we currently think is happening. I believe in a practice format that you earn your way to the next period. We might not practice. We might not make it out of period one for a while until that’s done exactly right. But this will be sequential, planned and progressive, not only on a daily basis but a yearly basis to reach our potential.
What I do know after now seeing our team and seeing this institution, I’m fiercely committed now to not only change on the field but for the infrastructure and the physical structures. A football building is absolutely necessary to dedicate or to show our dedication that we’re serious. And by not only having a coach that’s willing to do that on the field and players that are willing to do it, a facility is a tangible form of announcing our presence that we don’t intend to be taking a backseat to anybody, and so I’m willing to work with that, also, and help in any way that I can.
I’m blessed to have this opportunity. I’m thankful for the trust that’s been placed in me already. I’m not an entitlement-based person. I’m a contribution-based person, and I expect a conditional relationship as a coach. That is how coaches exist. And I expect to earn whatever praise is given. I expect to be under constant scrutiny while that’s being decided, and absolutely capable of handling all that as we go, as is my family. That’s a unique challenge for families – to live vicariously and hear vicariously and hear realistically of a job that their dad is doing.
I remain uncompromised and am drawn to the words of uncompromised excellence, because we’re not going to compromise anything. I like the idea of “and,” not “or.” We will have fantastic students, fantastic people, and a fantastic football team, and it’s not “or.” You’re not going to just have academics or football, and it won’t just be football or character, and it won’t just be character or being woven into the fabric of our community. It’ll be “and.” I want all of that.
In the most fiercely efficient and designed organizational design that exists in college football, we will work harder but more efficient and faster in less time than what anyone does in the world. I spent over 500 hours in organizational design and behavior designing BYU’s program specific to BYU, and this program will be designed specific for the University of Virginia.
So it can and will succeed in relation to what our players, who they are and why they’re here.
I want my coaches to have a life. There’s nothing that matters to me more than being a dad for Cutter, Breaker and Raeder and a husband to Holly, and you can do both. A cot will not be in my office. I won’t be sleeping there. But when I am there, I’ll be working fiercely and efficiently to help this program and the student-athletes in my care achieve their goals and success, and I want “and.” I want to be a great dad and a great father and a great husband and a great man of faith and contributor to our community and a teacher and a great football coach at the same time, and that’s what I am aspiring to be.
With that and with those initial comments, I’d be glad to take questions, if there are some, which I’m sure there may be one.
Q. You accepted the job Friday afternoon, you had a press conference in Provo that night, you flew out here yesterday – you met with the team today. What have the past 65, 70 hours been like for you? Have you slept?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I have slept, and my son Breaker described it best. It’s been really fun because we were in a hotel room last night, and Breaker said, “man, is this a dream? It feels like a dream.” It’s not. This is real. But we’ve been in different places and different states. I’ve said — I announced to my own team back at BYU that I was leaving, and they had no idea. That was very difficult.
The demand, and that instantly set off a press conference I wasn’t planning to have back in Provo until tomorrow, which that had to happen then that day, so that happened that night. My phone has quit functioning. It’s just been vibrating. If I put it down, it just doesn’t stop. It just moves.
I am a person that is a little bit obsessive compulsive where I answer and my email is clear every night and my texts are clear every night, so I’m a little bit uncomfortable right now as I won’t be able — I mean, I don’t know if I’ll ever catch up now.
The best part of this trip was seeing the team. I have a lot better idea now of what this team needs, how I can help, and what’s possible, and I didn’t know when I first started talking to them, but I started to get a very clear idea at the end, and I encouraged them to train over the break.
Q. Coach, when you’re approached with this opportunity, how much research did you put into it, or did you already know going into it, or what was that like just researching this opportunity, because obviously it would have taken something special to get you out of Provo.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, it did take something special, because I’m motivated by purpose, and I’m motivated by principle, and there has to be more than just football to do that. I love challenge. I love opportunity. I love growth. I love continued progress, and I saw every one of those things as a possibility here. Challenge, no question. Possibilities, endless. Opportunity, no question. A chance to make a difference, absolutely, while developing student-athletes at an institution that embraces fantastic standards, which I love, and I would not have considered it without all of that.
Fortunately I’m at a place that has all of that, and I’m ready to work, which is what it’s going to require.
Q. Both you and Craig mentioned your study of organizations both in and outside of athletics. Folks here are accustomed to Tony Bennett’s five pillars. I’ve read about “Five Smooth Stones.” What drew you to Paul Gustafson, and what has that study brought to your program and what will it bring here to UVA?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: The five smooth stones are the core organizational principles that promote change and give me guide posts and direction, one of them being organizations are perfectly designed for the results they get. It’s not an accident. Results are not an accident. Results are intentional, and they’re planned, and they are coordinated and they’re worried about and sleep is lost over them and there’s efficiency and there’s hard decisions that have to be made, but ultimately the organizational design brings talent and ability to fruition and builds a culture that is uncompromised and fanatical in terms of the things that you’ve decided on are the core principles of the program.
And so BYU’s success has not been accidental. The kids that have come there and why they’ve come has not been an accident nor random, and everything we’ve done has had a specific intent based on key metrics that have said if you reach this you will win, and not only win a lot but almost 10 games a year, and that was designed from the beginning, and it became really clear early on when I was named to the head coach position at BYU, I went back to my office — in those days there were still pink slips of paper, of notes that were to be answered, phone calls to be answered, and I had a giant stack. There was one that was randomly kind of sticking out, and I grabbed it, Paul Gustafson.
I’m not really a believer in luck and fate. I’m more a believer in intention and purpose. Anyway, I pulled it, and I called him. Graduated No. 1 in his class in organizational behavior at BYU – has a phenomenal consulting firm worldwide.
I called him and said, I’ve heard that you do something that I might be able to learn and receive help from, and he just lit up and he showed up the next day or the day after. He gave me an article to read right at the very beginning by Porter called “What is Strategy,” and I read it and I just devoured it. When I read I highlight. I’m an avid reader and I mark, and he came back and I reported to him on it, and I couldn’t get enough information as to what is this all about, this field. It didn’t take me long to realize it was directly applicable to an organization that I was running.
Just from what I’ve seen already, certainly change has to be made here. Change is good. In fact there was a great book called “Change Or Die,” and I don’t intend to die. That’ll happen later.
In the meantime, change will happen, and it will not only happen in the young people’s lives of our program, but it will happen on the field, and it will happen also within the walls of my organization, and there’s a lot of work to do there, as well.
Q. What do you see as the particular challenges of recruiting to the academic standard here? There’s a lot of talk about that and people talk about the few schools that have done well in football, but what do you see as the particular challenge of that?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I was hopeful that would be asked. First of all, one of the best predictors of future performance is past, when it replicates. BYU is a very unique place, a standard that is unreal in terms of the academic standards, which are roughly for a student-athlete, about a 3.2 (GPA) and a 19 on the ACT. Considering then that they’re student-athletes who won’t use alcohol, drugs or premarital sex, there’s an honor code there, 43 of my guys on a yearly basis were married, 80 percent speak a foreign language and have served missions all over the world. That’s 40 percent of the team that changes on a yearly basis, and I was told if I truly embraced those standards when I became the coach there that there’s no way you can have “and.” You can’t do that and win. I think it ended up being the reason that we won, because I think it’s a great distinctor, and who in a marketplace would give away a competitive advantage if you had one.
All young people need to know is if you want a phenomenal education and now great football in an amazing community, where else would you go if you want all of that? Not some of it, but if you want all of it, so having those filters already in place, I think it makes it easier for us, not harder. The world will say harder because normally you don’t think of academics and fantastic football together. One is usually exclusive of the other. I don’t agree, and I’m anxious to prove that here.
I certainly will be held accountable for that.
Q. Where do you stand on your staff? Have you agreed with anybody to join you from here or the following year?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s currently a work in progress, and there have been some members that have been added to my staff, and interestingly enough, I don’t think this is going to be a long process because when you’re very clear about what your goals, priorities and standards are, some are attracted to those and some aren’t. Much like student-athletes that might come to Virginia or maybe a place like BYU, it’s just not for some. I want those that are here because of those things, and I have a very select group that I think are capable of doing that, many of which are with me now, and so there could be a large number of coaches that come from BYU. That doesn’t mean that’s exclusively where they’ll come from, and I’m not sure yet how I’ll make those known and when they happen, but you’ll find that I’m a pretty intimate and private person, so when in doubt, that’s the direction I’m going to go, and that’s where I am currently.
Q. You’re coming into a program in a state where both of the primary programs in the state, Virginia and VA Tech, have had a little trouble of late keeping teams from outside the state from stealing key recruits. I looked at your roster, obviously given the fact that you’re recruiting a unique type of kid out there to that institution, BYU, you only had four kids east of the Mississippi, so I wouldn’t imagine you spent a lot of time on this side of the country. How difficult do you imagine it will be to get established out here and recruit in the state of Virginia and the East Coast in general, considering you haven’t spent much time here?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I love that question. I have a great story for that, actually. When I became the head coach at BYU and made it really clear to my staff and I inherited some staff members at BYU, I made it really clear to them that we were going to embrace every standard that BYU has, and I didn’t want to recruit anyone that didn’t fit, in a fit-first philosophy.
So we blanketed the country. We now — currently my team of recruits, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand, also to go outside to find kids that fit at BYU.
Having said that, after the first round of truly embracing every standard at BYU, my coaches came back off the road in spring dejected, discouraged, and with heads down, and we tallied the number of how many we felt fit every criteria. This is more BYU, and we tallied that number and we had 32, and the coaches were like this (hangs head), and my simple thought was, we have a surplus. We only needed 25. We had seven extra. It’s perspective.
People are people. Standards are standards. Values are values, and the idea that those can’t be embraced or won’t be embraced from a head coach from Utah as I talked to someone in Virginia, already talked to some of the early commitments, they sound like us. I was as comfortable talking to them as anyone else, and they didn’t ask me what’s it like out there in Utah. They wanted to know who I was and what I believed in, and I wanted to know the same from them. People are people, principles are principles, values are values, and the thought that we won’t be embraced when the coaches and the young people in the families know that I want what’s best for them and have it here, I don’t anticipate that being maybe a fraternity that can’t be broken into. Time and consistency will win the day.
Q. Along those same lines and trying to recruit kind of initially right when you get on the job, I know it’s somewhat unique for a new coach to a new institution to go back and coach his old team in the bowl game. Personally I find it refreshing. Was that a negotiation talking point as you accepted this job, and what were the main reasons why you wanted to fulfill the end of your term there?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: First of all, that would have been a deal breaker. I would not have come without being able to coach my team.
I think college sport in general, football specifically, is moving down a direction of exposure, entertainment, commercialization, and obviously the monetary component. Along the way for a coach to have recruited, trained and earned the trust of a team and then somewhere before the season is finished say, good luck and go elsewhere before the fight is finished makes no sense to me, nor do I think it’s morally right from where I operate from, and I don’t want that message for my boys. I want them to start a task and stay with it until it’s finished.
There’s no chance that I would leave. Is it more? Yeah, because now I am talking to committed players at Virginia while now I go back and play an in-state rival in a bowl game while working on a staff and trying to find — while Holly is trying to find us a home, and managing finances and checking on schools, and it is a lot. But who would I be if I didn’t stay to the end with my current team, and what message would that send? We get upset as coaches when a player might change a commitment or might come to us and sometimes say when a difficult stretch in the season hits that it might not be for him. Yeah, this is difficult, but the message is I’m going to be there until the end and finish the job that I said I would do for my team, and then I’ll be here to help my current team and my new team.
So from a foundational perspective, and to me a moral perspective, that had to happen, or I would not have come.
Q. For Craig, in terms of what your counterparts of other schools in the ACC Coastal have accomplished in bringing in this very new impressive class of coaches, do you have a comment on that and just how you think the ACC stacks up really nationally now? And then for Coach, if you’ve had a chance to think about the minds you’ll be coaching against here.
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Well, clearly I think it’s three new coaches in the Coastal. We have some people that will bring a new look to the conference overall but to the division in particular, a veteran coach going to the University of Miami that’s had sustained success at a great program at Georgia, a coach in Coach Bronco Mendenhall who is ascending in his career. There’s still a lot of upside in terms of what he will be able to achieve in his career, and then at Virginia Tech a younger coach who has distinguished himself in the last several years as one of the up-and-coming head football coaches nationally.
I think that the competition just continues to increase from a conference perspective as well as the division itself.
I can probably say the words that Coach Bronco is thinking. That is one of the reasons that he wanted this kind of opportunity. He wasn’t concerned about what the competitive level was going to be and whom we were playing. He’s about improving every day. Individually he’s about improving his organization, and with Bronco Mendenhall and the other coaches referenced, we’re all improving.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think it’s a relevant question. I serve on the AFC board of directors with Mark Richt and know him well, and I think it’s a — I look at hires in terms of the fit, and I think he fits well at Miami.
I also have had experience with Virginia Tech’s new coach and have had some crossover with David Cutcliffe at Duke, who I like a lot.
I like people that do unique things with their organizations, and that will happen here, and now in a more competitive, more unique, and a more visible division – I’m for that.
When asked regarding what bowl game I’d like to play in or what team we’d like to play, my team now espouses my answer before we can say it, we want to play the best there is. That’s what I want. I want to play the best that there is. In designing a schedule of independents, which BYU is independent, it’s who will play us, on what stage, how big can it get, and who are the best teams we can schedule. That’s where growth comes, not afraid. I love growth; I love challenge; I love opportunity, and this division and this conference is now trending in that direction and providing it.
Q. When you inherited the BYU job, obviously they were coming off some struggling seasons, as Virginia has. Can you talk a little bit from the football perspective as to your system and your beliefs and philosophy and how you turned that around, and will you implement that same system here, and your expectations?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: The question was football specific about taking over BYU. BYU had had three losing seasons prior to me being named head coach, and I was named the head coach and given that opportunity, having never been a head coach before, which was a huge advantage, because I wasn’t set in my ways. I had a growth mindset. I was interested in learning and developing for anyone that I thought could add value.
So we did a very simple study, and I shared this in the interview process, and you might find it interesting, you might not, but I’ll share it anyway.
I was just looking for what are the key predictors for success in college football, not only in college football but at BYU, so I went back to LaVell Edwards’ first year and we crunched every number predictors of success because I wanted success, not only for myself but the student-athletes and my guys back there now. I wanted to tell the men, if we do this, you’re going to win. I not only wanted to win there, I felt at BYU that to have LaVell be proud of me and to keep the tradition going at BYU, that was going to take probably 10 wins a year, high standard, and top-25 rankings and bowl games and all that.
So I just said, okay, what number predicts that, what stats predict that, and I said, man, if there’s a number, at least we have something to shoot for if there’s a statistic. So we went through all of this data, and a lot of time. I ended up finding the No. 1 predictor to whether you win a football game or not at BYU over about a 25-year period was how many points you score.
Just pause for a second because it’s fun to talk about everything else, and radio talk show and blogs and websites are filled because there’s all this time to fill, so it’s easy to go away from what actually wins. How many points you score wins.
Then we had this epiphany of, okay, what would be the next best predictor. Points you give up. Significant. I know you might want more.
So we added a third one in terms of an initial pillar, and that was do you hold onto the ball or not, and we found out plus one is a big thing.
So that then established pillars of our program, and we found an exact number at BYU that if we hit that number, if we scored that many, independently of how many we gave up, statistically, that we would win 85 percent of our games. 85 percent of our games was 10. If we win our bowl game versus Utah, that will be 10 wins this year. These are the same pillars, by the way, that have held, and that’s almost nine wins per year over that will be 100 wins in 11 years, so not quite 10, but that was my fault. The statistics were still right if we would have hit the number.
So I said, okay, what number then would be the same independent, so if we gave up how many defensively and if we scored how many offensively, was there a point where that number would match both sides, and there was. So my players know when we get to that number we’ve got a great chance to win the game.
It’s intentional, and if we hold onto the ball or take it away one more time than our opponent, that’s an 85 percent chance at BYU over that time.
Then we designed schemes and strategies to use the student-athletes that come to BYU, which are very unique and different, to make sure they had their best chance. Not anyone else’s chance but their best chance to win, and that’s how it’s been done, and it will be a similar approach here.
It does not mean identical but similar.
Q. I’m aware this past off-season you took your coaches to Duke and Northwestern to get a feel how they did their day-to-day things in an academic environment and blending football with it. Why did you do that, and what elements of that can you take and use for this job?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: The trips we took in the offseason, we had already had some crossover with Stanford, and when you have very, very high academic standards and want to play great football, then where are you going to go? Look at college football, the 128 Division I teams, and if you say not just academics but exceptional academics and exceptional football, not or, where do you go? And you might have your own list.
We strove — strived? Strove. Strove, thank you. That’s not going to go well, is it, that I just did that?
We worked really hard (laughter) to have a program that reflected that at BYU, and we go head to head at BYU against Stanford quite a bit on academics and the kids because we have good football, as well, and I was thinking, where else is there? It’s a small list, by the way. That might be offensive to some, but it’s realistic. Where else do you go?
What David was doing, Coach Cutcliffe was doing at Duke, got my attention. This is before I had any interest in this job, and I appreciated that and respected that, and we — I was very impressed.
These are all members of the board, on the AFC board, and Pat Fitzgerald sits next to me. They actually sit on both sides, and we started talking, and there were a lot of commonalities, until Pat’s team has just recently struggled, but overall have done really well, and this year included, and that made sense. So I went to both. It was like being home. I felt completely comfortable, as did they, and there was a lot of commonalities, and the thought that you can’t be fiercely academically driven and physically tough, that’s also not true. That’s an “and.” I want both – and the thought that they’re mutually exclusive, I don’t adhere to that a bit.
I think a lot of times young people that strive for high standards in any area, it applies to all areas, and I’d like us to play and go to school and live all in a very similar capacity. I think how you do one thing is how you do everything, and I think that becomes habitual, and I’m looking forward to developing that culture here.
Q. There have been a lot of empty seats in Scott Stadium the last couple years. How do you energize the fan base?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: First of all, it’s communication. How are you going to support something that you don’t understand what’s happening or why? Initially that’s what’s going to have to happen, and then the results will then end up filling the stands after that. There might be some that my message is endearing to them, and they understand what we’re trying to do and why, and they’ll come because of that. About half the seats in LaVell Edwards Stadium are people that support why I’m doing what I’m doing. The other half is coming because of what happens and the results that we’re getting. I think it’s about 50/50.
I expect something similar to happen. We have to win at home first. I’m talking about in our own stadium. That is a sequential thing. Then it works to within winning your own state in terms of the other teams you might play. Then it works to winning your own division, and then it works to winning your own conference, then it will expand nationally. It is sequential, but it starts with actually winning in our own facility and in our own classrooms, in our own practice fields.
That’s where we have to start, and I think what will happen, based on past experience, is when the players learn what we’re really doing and why and are exhausted beyond where they’ve ever been before and experiencing the growth that comes because of that, and those stories start to permeate whenever that happens, that will be up to them. It takes time.
I think support will come, and I think results will come. What will happen most is the players will determine the speed of that more than anyone else. In my first year at BYU we were 6-5. Wyoming turned the ball over five times in the rain in Laramie for us to get a winning season in my first year and then we lost to Cal in our first bowl game, a two-minute drive failed, so we finished 6-6, and then it went to some pretty remarkable success.
I had maliciously obedient players the first year, and after that when they actually — the rest of the team saw, ‘wait a second, this is going to work,’ it just exploded in terms of the momentum we gained, and what you can be sure is I remain undeterred. I’m very stubborn and uncompromising in terms of what it’s going to take, and eventually that will be supported not only within the team but also outside, and the seats will be full. And I can see it. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here. And I know what that’ll feel like, and I want our players to experience that, but I’d also love the community to have one other sport here that they couldn’t wait to come watch played.
It becomes just — you would never think about not going, and it’ll be a progression.
Q. You said something about wanting the players to do some working out over the break and stuff.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Except on Christmas. They have that day off.
Q. I’m sure you know this, but there’s kind of an escalating intensity in your voice when you talk about your standards and your program and stuff. When you were telling those guys this morning what you’re about and all that stuff, what did you see coming back to you?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, it changed. I’ll let the players — I came in and I was pretty nice to start, and conversational, and I was reading body language, and it shifted toward the end to train and be ready. That was just from what I saw. I believe in the language of body language, and I see even in this room those already fiercely committed and can’t wait to come and support and see how this goes, and others are skeptical. I get it. I will outlast you. (Laughter.)
And it’s all normal. I saw the same from my players this morning, and I cannot wait for the first day of workouts, and I believe in actions more than words. I’ve talked a lot today. They’ll know more about me, and I will certainly know more about them when I see what they’re willing to do, and it will be will over skill to start.
Q. I suspect you were literally steamed when you left here in 2013 and have not been back. I assume —
BRONCO MENDENHALL: That was the rain, yeah. The rain game? I remember that. I didn’t like that game very much.
Q. I assume you have not been here in the last week. How do you find out about the facilities and all that?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I just walked around today for a little bit, and that was —
Q. That was not a factor?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: No. It is now. Because I have a clear idea of what needs to be done. If we are serious, and I am, about not taking a backseat to anybody, then a new facility for football specifically is paramount, as a visible and tangible sign that we are serious. It’s not necessary to win. I’ll be working like crazy along the way, but if we truly want this to be exceptional and uncompromised, that would be a huge help.
Again, just from what I saw today, that was the takeaway for me.
Q. You were saying earlier in talking to your players that you already have an idea of what they need to move forward. What’s your early assessment on what this program needs?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Accountability, discipline and effort. Those were the three words that came to me when I left the team meeting today. I didn’t share that with the team, but as soon as I shook the last guy’s hand and was walking down the hallway, that’s where we’re starting. You do what you’re supposed to do and what you say you’re going to do and you do it as hard as you can do every time. Discipline is how long will you do it, and what does that life look like, and again, I already told you, you have an effort coach. I’ll run our defense here, and that’s one of the best ways for guys to see what I am serious about, if they can make it through practice.
My voice escalated there, didn’t it? I felt it. I need to work on that so I’m not as readable and transparent.
Q. Can you talk about surfing and your other off-field activities?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So I don’t know what the waves are like, but I’m closer now than I was at Utah. I love solitude and renewal, and yeah, coaching is high pressure and high visibility, especially for an introvert, and so, yeah, this takes a lot out of me to be on stage, so to speak, and so I renew privately, and waves do it for me. I don’t know where I’m going to go and what the surfing looks like here, but I’ll find out in a short amount of time. I love to exercise, mountain bike, ride a Harley. Chrome and asphalt and no one can talk to me with the pipes and the noise. Fly fishing, anything that is solitude specific, that’s usually where I’ll be. I build an hour and a half into my day every day for that, and there will be times you won’t find me, and if you come looking for me, I’ll be upset with you, and that’s for renewal. That was a joke, by the way. You got all serious right there. We don’t know each other well yet.
But that’s paramount to pushing the pace the way we need to, and without daily renewal, I don’t think it’s possible.
Q. There was talk earlier of competing for an ACC division title and overall championship. The last five or six seasons, the number, BYU has operated as an independent. How much allure was it for you to leave behind the hassles of scheduling and consistent television access and all that conference affiliation does to ease those concerns?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I would say it was minimal in terms of my motive. Just put the most dynamic and fascinating schedule — this year was the most difficult schedule in BYU history. Next year is even better. The following year is even better in terms of difficulty. My wife called this particular schedule that’s coming up that we’re leaving awful because of how difficult it was. Different perspectives because dropping kids off at school and if a teacher doesn’t like how we’re playing, Holly will hear it or something, and I’m not as approachable in that setting.
But man, if you look at BYU’s 2016 schedule – that was a masterpiece in terms of intrigue and challenge. So it was just getting good.
And I had a huge hand with our athletic director in helping design that, and again, I like challenge, and what’s happening here and looking at our conference, I really like — it does appeal to me at some level to when you’re done you know where you finished, at least in relation to a conference. So I would say that had some effect, but that wasn’t certainly primary by any means.
Q. Obviously with your defensive background, you just said you’ll run the defense, what impact have you made on the other side of the ball, and what are your plans kind of for your offensive staff?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So we have — I want whatever system scores enough points to win. We have a very good system at BYU that is specific to the players at BYU, and the system changes each year based on who we have. So for instance, the system we started with Taysom Hill this year, who’s a phenomenal player, a dual-threat quarterback, that lasted for three quarters, and then a true freshman just coming off a mission against the University of Nebraska comes in and now is freshman of the year, and he’s a pocket passer.
I love adaptability. I love flexibility. I love innovation. And I love whatever maximizes the current resources that are available in a program on any given day versus any given opponent, and that is the philosophy, and so based on what I see that we have here, yeah, there are core plays, but really I can’t tell you what that’s going to look like until I see what we have. So we’ll start with the core basic part of our offense, which is very difficult to defend and challenging, which is about 50/50 run-pass, and then based on who we have at quarterback, who we have at running back, who we have on the offensive line, who we have at receiver, it will morph from there to give those kids their best chance to score enough points to win a football game. And that’s probably as clear as I can make it right now.
If you look at BYU’s model and look at who’s playing quarterback and who’s playing running back and who’s playing receiver, you’ll see significant, we produced the three all-time leading rushers in BYU’s history. We’ve also had very unique quarterback success. At the same time, this year we have four really tall receivers and we throw the ball downfield a lot.
Once I see and learn whom we really have here and who really wants to work, then it will be shaped to highlight those players. I hope that answers your question.
Q. Is there a story behind your name, and obviously you took it to heart with your three sons.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: There is a story. My dad and brothers, my mom was fiercely opposed, wanted to call me George because my birthday is February 21st – the presidents’ holiday, and no way was George happening to my dad and brothers. And so at my mom’s and grandma’s, to their chagrin, my dad named me, and his background was in the ranching business in Stockton, California, in the sheep business. But he got a passion for training and developing cutting horses, cow cutting. Along the way, we moved out, so he had that in mind, and then I was raised with that intent to where I was — I broke anywhere from — I would not say broke. That’s how it started. I ended up training and teaching 12 to 15 colts a year, and I was in boots and spurs from the time I was in fifth grade on and learned a great work ethic that way and learned how to do hard things, and I think my dad named me that intentionally knowing that he was going to become more involved in the horse business, would need help. My brothers were all older and I was going to be it.
Again, I’ve been challenged on that name quite a bit growing up, and yeah, you kind of have to make a stand at some point in your life as to who you really are, and I’ve learned that, and so my boys, whether they liked it or not, they got named pretty uniquely, and they’ve handled it really well.
Q. Craig, why go after a coach with such a defensive background?
CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: Best fit. I mean, when you look at everything that we had established, the characteristics, the values, it all is about fit, and we have, I think, a model that we would like to use in terms of any leader in any position in our department, but particularly for a head coach, and it is all about the fit and whether they understand the institution, whether they embrace the assets, the benefits, the resources of the institution to achieve success and achieve success at a very high level.
Everything that we saw on paper going into the interview and then everything that we heard during the interview affirmed that this was indeed the very best fit for the University of Virginia.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: If I could add, not only a defensive coach but one that cares about scoring points first, just to add that footnote.
Q. You mentioned your family several times. You brought them up on stage. I’m wondering what concerns you have, if any, moving them out of a place where you were constantly around the LDS church in Utah and coming to a completely different part of the country. I think I read a quote from you Friday that said the East Coast sounded like a foreign planet to your kids. Are there any concerns about that?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Certainly, just as there would be to a more mature adult changing jobs and coming across the country. I hope our family is received well, but I don’t think that that’s a passive thing. I think that we can play a role in that, and I think there’s kind of two types of people, those that act and those that are acted upon. So Holly and I’s message to our boys is this is not where we intend to be passive and just see how we’re treated. We actually intend to embrace the community, do everything we can to contribute. Again, we’re not entitlement driven, we’re contribution driven, and so our message to our boys has been give, contribute to your class, aid your teacher, reach out to friends, and for some personalities it’s easier than others of my three boys. It will take time and nurturing from Holly and I, but we love and care so much about education in our family. We want our boys to get a great education. But we also love well-roundedness, and in addition to faith specifically, at some point in everyone’s life, you choose what you believe, your own beliefs, not your family’s beliefs, not your parents’ beliefs, not your ancestors’ beliefs, but at some point you choose what your beliefs are, and we love that idea of — sometimes you can be surrounded by too much of one entity and you become a little bit more comfortable and complacent. And I think it’s a great opportunity for my boys and my family to learn and grow and discover who they really are independent of what the majority is.
I think that can be really helpful to them, and I expect some tears along the way and some hard things for all of us, but our family unit, Holly has done a great job expressing this, we are the same unit, and that is the one constant, and home is still going to be home. Our family is still our family. Our love is still our love for one another, and we can overcome anything anywhere, and we’re going to be together doing that. So that’s been kind of the sense of peace and hope for our little tribe, as we’re kind of on a nomadic path right now.
Q. When you get back to Provo, how will you balance the building a staff, the preparation for a bowl game, because obviously you want to give that your best, but talking to recruits here, you’re going to be wearing many, many hats, and you may not get that hour and a half every day to go be by yourself.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, the hour and a half is non-negotiable, so it’s happening.
Really no matter who likes it because it’s sustainability. How am I going to be a good dad and husband and good for my players if I’m tired? I’m not going to do that. So yeah, I’m going to have the renewable part because the organization is so efficient and so fast that that can accomplish — can be accomplished, and I am pretty single-minded, and right now the No. 1 focus is to help the team that I’m leading win their game.
Will 13 days be a deal breaker for any recruit? If they are, I don’t want them. I’ll do anything I can to make phone calls at night after the renewal and after I’ve helped our team and after I’ve game planned, and it might be 5:00 at night, something like that. I’ll work all the way through our current commitments, and if they can’t understand that, then again, that’s pretty shortsighted, and then we’ll start the 20th of December being single-minded about UVA.