50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff: Bronco The CEO

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail to someoneGoogle+share on TumblrShare on Reddit
Virginia won eight games last season.
Bronco Mendenhall meets with the media at the ACC Kickoff Event. ~ Photo courtesy TechSideline.com

Four years ago, Bronco Mendenhall decided to pack up his family and move 2,000 miles across the country for a new job. After 11 years at BYU, he accepted the head coaching job for the Virginia football program. Many assistant coaches made the move with him to Charlottesville.

Since his arrival, however, Mendenhall’s role has changed a little bit. The “50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series keeps on rolling.

19 – Bronco The CEO

When Mendenhall first came to UVA, he had an idea of what approach to take as a head coach. Mendenhall also served as his own defensive coordinator, helping organize that side of the ball and calling plays on game day. That structure had served him well for most of his tenure with the Cougars and it led to 99 wins and 11 bowl appearances.

Initially, that’s the setup he put in place at Virginia too where he would try to lead the way in reviving the Cavaliers. Who could blame him? That model produced success and he needed to turn around a program that had floundered. Prior to Mendenhall’s arrival, the Hoos had just two winning seasons from 2006 to 2015. They hadn’t been in a bowl game since 2011 and hadn’t won one since 2005. Relying on a method that he trusted certainly made sense to lay the foundation for the rebuilding effort.

Since his arrival, however, things have shifted all around the program. The Wahoos added another full-time assistant coach to run the special teams in Ricky Brumfield. They expanded their strength and conditioning staff with four assistants dedicated exclusively to football. UVA also has a recruiting media specialist, a football analyst, and different development coaches in place as well.

The program also enlisted the help of an engineering class to create data systems. One model focuses on recruiting and creates a percentage that gauges the likelihood a prospect might choose Virginia based on approximately 30 criteria. In other words, things have expanded and grown over the last four years.

Meanwhile, the product on the field improved from 2-10 in 2016 to 6-7 with a bowl bid in 2017 to 8-5 with a bowl win in 2018. That represented the program’s first winning record in seven years and the first bowl victory in 13 years. Plus, the Hoos saw players selected in the NFL Draft in back-to-back seasons after a one-year hiatus.

With those changes and on-field success, Mendenhall saw the opportunity to adjust his role. Instead of being a hands on coach with the defense making calls on game day, he gave more control to Nick Howell as Defensive Coordinator and elevated Kelly Poppinga to Co-Defensive Coordinator. The special teams went to Brumfield. He already had long-time assistant Robert Anae in place as the Offensive Coordinator.

Mendenhall no longer calls the defense on game day. He now spends more time during the week working on spots around the team too. Plus, there’s time for all those other components associated with the program.

“My time is really now spread between advising the offense, advising the defense, advising the special teams, and much more involved in the selection of players,” Mendenhall said. “So there’s head coaching slash general manager slash just emphasis on a broader perspective with probably a wider reach and more depth than what there’s been. I think that’s going to accelerate our program.”

From Mendenhall’s perspective, that’s already happening. With more time to work around the program and focus added attention to the recruiting process, he is able to work closely with Justin Anderson (Director of Player Personnel), Blanda Wolfe (Director of High School Relations), Blaire Hodges (On-Campus Recruiting Coordinator), and others to determine which players to pursue the most heavily each year. He said he really likes what that’s produced in the 2019 class that joined the program in full this summer. Mendenhall indicated that the number of true freshmen to play this season could reach double digits.

“I really like this first-year class from top to bottom,” Mendenhall said. “The depth they’re adding, the athleticism, the physicality – we did a nice job in the selection process of this class. They’re all performing well. That doesn’t mean in the opener you’ll see an abundance of first years, but I would say before the season [ends] I wouldn’t be surprised for it to be double digits.”

50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail to someoneGoogle+share on TumblrShare on Reddit