There were three offseason head coaching replacements in the ACC’s coastal opinion. Bronco Mendenhall, Mark Richt and Justin Fuente each bring impressive resumes to their respective programs.
Mendenhall is an intriguing one. He is inheriting a Virginia Cavaliers program slated to finished dead last in the ACC after last week’s media vote.
Here is part of the conversation:
Coming across the country to take over at UVA was a huge jump, how are you feeling?
MENDENHALL: "It's a pleasure to be here representing the University of Virginia. I'm still getting used to saying that after 13 years at Brigham Young University. I'm excited, thrilled and encouraged after what I've seen so far. I like my team a lot. I like their work ethic, I like their diligence, their toughness. Holy cow, we've asked a lot of them.
"For those that haven't seen us practice, maybe those are just words to you right now. They're handling a work capacity in a very short time that I didn't think they'd be able to handle.
"Two of my leaders are with me. I couldn't think of two better representatives than our center Jackson Matteo and our middle linebacker Micah Kiser. I selected them to come, and I chose them not only because of how they play the game, but I like them by how they work and I like who they are. I like the toughness and resolve that they have in terms of leading our team.
"I would say at the University of Virginia, we're ahead of schedule in terms of the culture, with the execution to follow. We'll be working hard this fall camp to make sure, for the players that earn the right to come into fall camp with their conditioning, that they're ready and fit. But we have some football work to do.
"We are a football program that bases will before skill. We work from the inside out. Eventually we'll play good football. But we work on toughness and effort. We've made significant inroads in that regard. We think the football will catch up and catch up relatively quickly.
"I love my coaching staff, 14 members now, and families followed me across the country from the state of Utah. I only work with people that I like and I trust. So an entire group of people came across country to do that."
|ACC Coastal Standings: 2015|
What can you say about inheriting a team that's obviously gone through adversity? You have two guys saying they have bought in. What have you seen from the team that you walked in and saw a few months ago?
MENDENHALL: "I appreciate the question regarding indicators of buy-in from our team.
"It's been really rewarding to be here today and be able to sit in and listen to their interviews. They are authentic. They haven't been asked or schooled to say anything specifically by me. It's really been fun to listen to them. It's really been fun to watch our team work.
"Again, work to me is a literal term. Growing up, horse operation, what that entails. I remember my father sending me out, and a cousin. I think I was nine and my cousin was 11. He and my uncle pointed us to 40- acres of hay that had just been bailed and sent no one else out with us and told us to not to come back until it was done. That's two kids with that expectation.
"I learned really early on that people can accomplish much more than what they've been asked. Our team is doing what they're asked to do. I'm pushing them really hard. With that comes the ownership and responsibility of myself, that what I'm asking them to do will work. They're trusting me that it will.
"They're certainly doing their part to this point in terms of developing the work capacity. You cannot be neutral and you can't be gray in our program. There is no middle. Just simply to exist on a daily basis, you have to declare one way or the other. Not many players have left the program, it indicates that you really have to be all the way in just to survive a day in practice."
How do you feel the players have changed from when you first got there to now, mentally and physically?
MENDENHALL: "I remember the first team meeting that I had. I'm passionate about research based on truth and communication, what's been said without using words. The team that was in front of me when I arrived at UVA, their eyes would not make contact. Their heads were down. They looked right on the verge and acted right on the verge of despair.
"I remember changing what my message was to them, what I had prepared, when I saw that, working to inspire at that point.
"But really it's difficult to inspire without the work. So what's happened is our team's capability and how they carry themselves and the confidence that they are capable, that's been the biggest change. They actually believe they are now capable. That's a huge gift. It's a very powerful message.
"If you believe you're capable, you kind of are anxious to take on challenges rather than be hesitant or apprehensive about what might come. I think that's been the biggest change, is earned confidence through our preparation."
You're new to Virginia, but not new to head coaching. How much of a security is it to say, I did X, Y and Z at BYU, it worked, I can do it here and that will work, too, in building a program?
MENDENHALL: "I think there are core principles that you're insightful on in addressing. There are core principles of leadership and organizational design that I think are universal. Those are at the core of what I do in terms of preserve the core and then stimulate progress around it.
"So the core has come, the progress around that comes with now adapting that specifically to the talent, and the fit specifically of what kids will come to UVA and why they'll come.
"So I've brought the core principles, now I'm adapting and adjusting to the existing environment and what resources we have to make sure those things are highlighted to move forward.
"What the players know and already decided before I arrived is they believe it's going to work just by simply looking at the number of wins and the track record of myself as a head coach. It's not a guarantee. But they already decided they trust this is going to happen. They were willing to give it a shot knowing they'd already experienced losing seven of the last eight years and they don't want that. Now they're seeing the antithesis of that or the opposite of that and they believe it's going to work."
What strikes you about your fellow coaches in this division?
MENDENHALL: "I think we're skilled. I think the coastal division is skilled. I had an existing relationship with David Cutcliffe. On the AFC board of directors, he sits to my left and Pat Fitzgerald from Northwestern sits to my right, and we've developed a great relationship.
"I had tremendous respect for David already. I have coached against Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech twice. Already knew about him. I had become friends with Mark Richt through Nike in earlier days. I followed and had coaches coach with and against Larry Fedora at North Carolina. Had one matchup with Justin Fuente at Memphis, but also when he was defensive coordinator at TCU.
"I forgotten anybody? And Pittsburgh, Pat Narduzzi, already one of my favorite guys. He actually worked with the Dantonios at Michigan State, who I know really well, have exchanged defensive ideas with. That only happens when you think someone else is skilled at what they're doing."
Could you update us on your quarterback situation. Have you settled on one guy or will you go into fall camp with two or three competing for the job?
MENDENHALL: "We currently have three quarterbacks in contention that we will carry through fall fall camp before we make a decision.
"Matt Johns is one of our quarterbacks, which I love his leadership and his poise and his experience.
"Connor Brewer had a very good spring, much more efficient and effective than any of us expected. He was just grateful for a chance. But he made the most of it. He is in contention.
"And a transfer from East Carolina in Kurt Benkert. We're very intrigued by what we've seen from him with the upside that he has two years of eligibility. There is a nice bridge there that could be formed with the possibility of more experience.
"I won't know until fall camp is over. We'll have to do a masterful job of orchestrating fall camp to distribute the repetitions enough to be clear enough as to who is the uncontested leader, which is usually one of the biggest challenges in a relatively tight timeframe."
The Cavaliers open their season at home versus Richmond September 3 and begin their conference schedule October 1 at Duke.