Bronco Mendenhall had a pretty good thing going at BYU. He won 99 games in 11 years and went to a bowl game every season. But after becoming the head football coach at the University of Virginia, he inherits a program that has gone 15-33 over the last four seasons.
Why make that move?
“I love a challenge, I love opportunity and I love growth,” Mendenhall said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “So when I considered where else in the country (I) might be able to do that with a program that’s based on principle and has really high standards, it started to make complete sense. At BYU, there are very unique standards – in all areas of a player’s life – with super-high expectations on the field as well. I consider myself someone who loves to build – not only young men, but programs. When I was considering the University of Virginia, there’s fantastic academic standards, there’s great potential, there’s an opportunity certainly to build and improve, and I think the recruiting pool (is good). It made complete sense.”
Mendenhall was extremely candid when discussing Tiki Barber’s alma mater, saying there needs to be more effort and accountability from the football program – and the athletic department in general.
“I’m an effort-based coach,” Mendenhall said, “and I think everyone in the entire department, and certainly within football, can try a heck of a lot harder than we’re currently trying. I think they certainly can be a lot more disciplined with the execution of scheme and strategy. I think I need to teach them to be a lot more accountable. That means taking ownership for what they can do and how they can help at a lot different level than currently is in place.
“I think expectations are risen by how much you ask,” Mendenhall continued. “I don’t think there’s many people on the planet that are going to ask as much as these kids as I am. If they can walk off the practice field after a workout or a session, it’ll be barely. Part of that is helping them feel invincible. Feeling invincible is through fierce preparation, and that comes through really high demand and consistency. And it won’t take long after you make it through (the) offseason that you pretty much believe you can do anything against anybody because of what you’ve just gone through.”
This isn’t your standard rebuild, either, as Mendenhall will have to adjust to a more secular campus culture. Remember: At BYU, students cannot drink, smoke, use drugs or have premarital sex.
“In addition to all that, 80 percent of my team stops their eligibility and goes off and serves a mission for the church,” Mendenhall said. “So 40 percent of my team changes every year. Forty-three players are married on my team every year. There isn’t a more unique program in the world of sports. But after I explain all that and what the advantages are and what that really looks like on a day-to-day basis, it’s amazing how parents and student-athletes that want that type of experience, they come – because they believe they fit. If you think about going to college, that’s one the best and most influential times in your life, so you want to do it at a place where you belong and where you fit and where you’ll thrive. So now if you transition that to the University of Virginia, I have quite a lot of experience with unique standards. It’s amazing how many kids want it when they truly know what they’re choosing.”
That said, Mendenhall understands that BYU is his past, while Virginia is his present and future.
“Each specific program is completely different,” Mendenhall said. “So my job now is to leverage the strengths of Virginia – not make it BYU. What I first and foremost need to do is make sure I have a great picture of what our situation looks like and what it will take for a young person to thrive there. I’m not only talking off the field; I’m talking on as well. We want great success. We want an exceptional program. I need to combine what it will look like to thrive on the field and off and then design the program and recruit specifically to that. I’m not intending to make a BYU East. I’m intending to make it specific and the one and only University of Virginia.”