CHARLOTTESVILLE — Bronco Mendenhall wants it all at Virginia. When the former BYU coach actually arrives to begin rebuilding the Cavaliers, he has promised changes that will be immediate and palpable.
Mendenhall, introduced as Virginia’s next coach on Dec. 7, returned to BYU to coach the Cougars in the Las Vegas Bowl against Utah. The Utes forced five first-quarter turnovers on Saturday, took a 35-point lead and held on, 35-28.
With his BYU duties nearing an end, Mendenhall will return to Charlottesville after spending Christmas with his family. The 49-year-old filled his coaching staff at Virginia while preparing for the bowl game. Kalani Sitake, formerly Oregon State’s defensive coordinator, was introduced by BYU as Mendenhall’s replacement on Monday afternoon.
Mendenhall said the days of coaches routinely working into the wee hours and connecting with their families only in passing are gone. Mendenhall added that also gone is any notion that high academic standards and football success can’t go hand in hand.
“I want my coaches to have a life,” he said, glancing toward his wife and three boys when he was introduced at a press conference.
As he spoke earlier this month, his eyes began to well up.
“There’s nothing that matters more to me than being a dad for Cutter, Breaker and Raeder and a husband to Holly,” he said, “and you can do both. A cot will not be in my office. I won’t be sleeping there.”
He won’t even be all football all the time during daylight hours.
Every day — and Mendenhall said this point was non-negotiable — he spends 90 minutes away from football, family and obligations to replenish his ability go full bore the rest of the time. That might mean some fly fishing or pawing the throttle of his Harley Davidson.
“Chrome and asphalt and no one can talk to me with the pipes and the noise,” he said. “Fly fishing. Anything that is solitude specific, that’s usually where I’ll be. I build an hour and a half into my day every day for that.”
One of his first tasks at Virginia will be instilling in his players the level of effort he expects.
“Very few people try as hard as they can at any one moment of their life,” he said, “and when you do, you recognize it when it happens, and first and foremost, we will develop the will of our student-athletes. Skill will come along, the position mastery will come along, the execution will come along, but only after they learn to try hard. I don’t know how long that will take. Hard to me is as hard as you can go.”
He made that point clear in his first meeting with his new team.
“He kept a smile on his face, but you could definitely sense the urgency,” offensive tackle Eric Smith said after the coach was introduced. “He knows what he wants, which is good for us. He knows what he wants very early. I feel like … he’s going to come attack his task here at Virginia.”
The approach has worked for Mendenhall.
At BYU, he was 99-43 and guided the Cougars to 11 consecutive bowl games, the 11th-best active streak in the nation.
The task of putting Virginia on a similar track begins in earnest in a few days.
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