If you are a fan of Virginia Cavalier football, you no doubt watched the first quarter of Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl with your hands over your eyes. And who could blame you? Your future head coach’s team was down 35-0 without it seems a shred of pride. But his Cougars fought back to only lose by seven, and that spirit may be needed in a difficult ACC Coastal division.
It may not even be the fight back that has Cavalier fans optimistic. The little details of how Bronco Mendenhall operates could give the Hoos an edge. For starters, there was no charter plane flight from Provo to Las Vegas for the Cougars. Instead, the team took a six hour bus ride.
“It’s financial. We came up with the idea. We’re expanding our weight room and we can save — amazingly enough — around or over $300,000.”
Six of Mendenhall’s BYU coaching staff, including his offensive and defensive coordinator, a four other assistants, are making the trek from Provo to Charlottesville. A large majority then of his BYU staff was doing two jobs at once: prepping BYU for a re-installment of the Holy War against Utah, and trying to recruit for the Cavs.
“It’s just a matter of compartmentalizing,” Mendenhall said of the on-going balancing act. “Part of the day is absolutely BYU and being BYU only. And we don’t move on to the other part of the day until that’s exactly as it needs to be.” needs to be.
“Yeah, I’m doing two jobs at once right now.”
“Bronco Mendenhall has definitely changed over the years,” said Ben Criddle, a former BYU cornerback and current sports radio host in Provo. “I wouldn’t say he’s the best recruiter, especially in the entitlement era in which we live in with student-athletes. It’s a business mind. The proof is in what I’ve done. I’m bringing you my résumé. He’ll show you a video of a game or a practice and the entire defense is just going 150 percent to the ball. Just that fanatical effort, relentless effort, self-sacrificing mentality, jumping on a grenade type of mentality to sacrifice for your team. He’ll show that and he’ll ask you: ‘Do you want to be a part of this or not?’”
What makes Mendenhall’s relative successes at BYU even more impressive are the restrictions he had to recruit under. The school’s strict adherence to LDS Church rules would mean that many high school athletes of a high pedigree would be turned off. Most of his players also take two year church missions, meaning the rate of churn at BYU is even higher than at other schools. Still, he amassed a 99-42 record in Provo during his 11 seasons there.
“He’s gotten job offers before that he’s turned down,” said BYU senior WR Mitch Matthews. “I remember a few years ago UCLA wanted him and he turned it down and continued to coach at BYU. So the fact that that happened, when he told us he was leaving, none of us thought ‘Oh, he’s ditching us, he’s leaving us’ because he’s had the opportunity to do that before and he didn’t leave.”
Virginia was always on Mendenhall’s mind from December 4th, when the school announced him as their next head coach, and even during the first quarter debacle of his BYU finale. But now, he can focus his undivided attention on his new team, and if his full focus is double his divided focus on his new home, then maybe the Cavs can break through at long last.