UVA football coach Bronco Mendenhall talks Liberty: ACC Teleconference
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s good to be with you. Anxious to play football again, prepare and improve our team for the homestretch of this season. I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen in practice. I like my team. I like the chances for us to finish strong this year. Anxious to celebrate Senior Day this upcoming Saturday and pay tribute to these kids that I really care for and admire and have been so helpful in building our program.
With those comments, I’ll take whatever questions there might be.
Q. You mentioned the admiration that you have for this group of seniors. As you came to Virginia, even in your first two years there, what did experience tell you is the challenge of getting the veterans to embrace a new culture?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, that’s an insightful question that could take a long time to answer.
There’s a fantastic book called Change Your Dye. It talks about the psychology of change, some of the things that are necessary. Ultimately the existing players have to believe in the new leader, and that has to be established over time. That’s point one. But point number two is they also have to believe in the methodology and the strategy to deliver the leader’s vision. Those two things are separate and distinct. They need constant care and nurturing and tending to.
We meet every morning as a team and basically keep addressing those things. Our seniors over time have just chosen to embrace and support me as their coach, which that’s a choice they get to make, which I’m very grateful that they’ve done that.
They also then have to endorse and support what we do and how we’re doing it. They’ve done that as well. The progress we’ve made over the past number of years would not have happened without them. I’m very appreciative of that group.
Q. On the few occasions where you have not gotten Olamide the touches you would like, has that been opponent’s scheme, route running, pass protection, a combination of all?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think I’ll go even further to kind of acknowledge maybe the point behind the question. When we don’t get him the ball, we don’t win, or our chances are significantly reduced. That’s just a matter of fact, real thing. The more touches he has, the more chances we have to win the football game.
When he doesn’t have touches, I would say yes, it is a combination, but mostly it’s what the opponents do, how they might be playing him to take away that one particular component, which then shifts some of that work elsewhere.
Right now, other than Bryce Perkins, there’s a pretty significant dropoff after those two as to where the production might come from. What my charge to our offensive staff is to find more ways to make it more difficult to eliminate him, knowing the importance he has to our team.
Q. When you talk about winning over the seniors, you mention it’s an ongoing thing. Do you find it easier now because it’s somewhat ingrained in the older guys to bring the younger guys into a belief in your system or is still a week-to-week challenge?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s much easier now. Just time and consistency of our culture with the results that have come with it, the progress that everyone has seen, those things add credibility. Results equals credibility in the world in general.
But I think also how the players are cared for, how they’re talked to, how they’re taught, all those things lend to really positive relationships to where now, when the on-boarding process starts with new players, new classes coming into our program, the influence of our existing team lightens the work from me significantly as well as perpetuates the ongoing commitment significantly.
I certainly never step away from that role that I have and what I think needs to happen re our nurturing, building, caring for our culture. But our current team does that as well because it is their belief now. They then certainly help with how the rest of our team behaves and acts.
Q. Specifically one of the seniors, Malcolm Cook, you mentioned he’s battling some pain with his injury, a week-to-week kind of guy. What have you seen from him as he goes through that? What do you think his teammates see?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s a perfect segue into an announcement. I was going to announce this on Monday and forgot. I talked to Malcolm that morning. Malcolm was not recovered fully from the injury that he currently has, nor does it look like he will for this season.
Malcolm and I sat down. He’s decided to retire from football. He won’t be playing any more this season. Basically just is going to have the surgery required to get his body healthy again. We had a long and really hard conversation for someone that’s gone through so much so many times.
He doesn’t have a great understanding yet as to how come he’s had this many challenges. What he does have a good understanding of is how to deal with adversity, how to recover, and how to move forward. That has given him great preparation for his life and for his future.
I probably have never worked with a player that’s had more challenges and setbacks and recoveries. So it’s a difficult thing to have his playing career close for UVA without him being on the field. I think his teammates certainly see that and recognize it, as well as all of us on the coaching staff.
This last injury just has proven to be lingering, long-lasting and not recoverable enough to get him back on the field within the timeframe needed. Again, his surgery will happen. He won’t be playing any more this season. So, yeah, bittersweet in terms of how he finishes, ‘sweet’ meaning just the preparation he’s received for life.
Q. Can you tell me what that injury was?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: The nickname, you’ll have to verify this with your medical staff as well, the nickname is a sports hernia. But it’s more significant than that.
Q. When I was at Liberty’s press conference yesterday, Turner Gill spoke of the many conversations you and him have had since Liberty announced it’s going independent. From your time at BYU, being independent, your relationship with the athletic director, making sure you have a good schedule lined up, there’s not too many road games, the schedule plays out to where you can be bowl eligible each year, what are the conversations you’ve had with Turner making sure he can keep that program steady and get it to the point where it was when you were at BYU?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think I’ll start by saying independence at BYU wasn’t my entire 11 years, but it was toward the end. When we left the Mountain West Conference, then became independent. There were some immediate challenges that I underestimated, the first of which and is and will always remain scheduling for an independent.
I personally don’t believe that independence is sustainable from a scheduling standpoint, from an identity standpoint, and from basically just a program well-being standpoint. That’s my personal philosophy after now seeing it.
I think it can last for a while. It can be a nice segue into conference affiliation, and probably a necessary segue. But the scheduling, the challenges simply with that, most of the really strong opponents, Power 5 opponents or nationally reputable teams, would love to play an independent, especially early in the season.
After about week four, very few have any interest in considering an independent after that as they go into their conference races kind of the momentum challenge that it provides as a break from their league play, shifting in and out of that mindset. We found it very difficult to schedule national opponents or Power 5 opponents or members of a Power 5 conference or significant other conferences late in the season.
We found ourselves being at least one year I remember the third most traveled team in college football. We found ourselves having to go anywhere to play football games. The number of games where we were crossing time zones or sometimes two time zones, losing some of the natural rivalries or regional rivalries, that became a challenge, as well.
They all are over-comeable, but those are some of the things we talked about in relation to having and scheduling as an independent and having a great relationship with your athletic director to do the best you can if you choose to be an independent either short or long-term.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.