Virginia gets its man: No leaks key to landing Bronco Mendenhall

bronco-littlepageThe great mystery to the news that Bronco Mendenhall is the new head football coach at the University of Virginia is … how the heck were they able to keep that state secret?

“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,” Mendenhall told reporters at his introductory press conference on Monday.

It is remarkable, as Mendenhall noted, “under today’s microscope of information and how quickly it travels,” that word didn’t somehow leak out.

And you can imagine that if it had, then maybe we wouldn’t have been sitting in JPJ with Mendenhall and his family. Because the response from BYU Nation has been so overwhelming that it’s hard to imagine that some sort of “Please, Bronco, Please” campaign wouldn’t have come about.

Remember when Mike Krzyzewski was going to leave Duke to coach the Los Angeles Lakers? When Frank Beamer was going to leave Virginia Tech for North Carolina? Funny things happen when word gets out that a coach is thinking of changing jobs.

Media speculation had Virginia interviewing another top candidate, former Georgia coach Mark Richt, last week. Multiple reports had Richt, with authority, in Charlottesville mid-week, though as it turns out he wasn’t, and that Virginia had already made contact with its top choice, Mendenhall.

Virginia athletics director Craig Littlepage said he interviewed Mendenhall on Monday, a day after the job formally came open with the resignation of Mike London.

The interview went so well that Littlepage left it convinced that he had found his man.

“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,” Littlepage said.

As the two sides came to an understanding on their future, one issue came to the table that was most important to Mendenhall: he wanted to be able to coach his BYU team for the Las Vegas Bowl.

“That would have been a deal breaker. I would not have come without being able to coach my team,” said Mendenhall, who is aiming for his 100th career coaching victory in the Dec. 19 bowl, against in-state rival Utah.

“I think college sport in general, football specifically, is moving down a direction of exposure, entertainment, commercialization, and obviously the monetary component,” Mendenhall said. “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.”

It won’t make his transition any easier, to say the least, but the move isn’t just sending a message to his BYU players, that he intends to see things through.

“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?” Mendenhall said.

“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,” Mendenhall said.

– Story by Chris Graham

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