Virginia Preview 2016: The Cavaliers made a bold hire in Bronco Mendenhall. Will it all work out?
Welcome to C’ville, Bronco.
Virginia fans admittedly knew very little about Bronco Mendenhall when he was hired away from BYU last December. So, this entire offseason up to this point has been one giant meet and greet of sorts … for both the coach and those locals curious about the new guy in charge.
Mendenhall and his staff have a sizable task ahead of them, squeezing more juice from an underperforming program whose talent pool and talent base have not matched the results for the better part of a decade. Since 2006, the midpoint of the Al Groh era, the Cavaliers have enjoyed just two winning seasons, with the last one coming five years ago.
However, Mendenhall’s predecessor, Mike London, was a deft recruiter, so the new staff has more than the usual number of producers for a squad that’s finished below .500 four years running.
After London was unable to generate on-field success in six years, UVA was pining for a new direction at the top. In Mendenhall, the program has the leader of a cultural overhaul in which everything, even jersey numbers must be earned.
There’s a new “will before skill” mindset coursing through the football facilities, and it’s been enthusiastically embraced by Cav players who’ve tired of losing.
No position has better encapsulated the Hoos’ decade-long futility than quarterback, a revolving door of ineptitude. London couldn’t find an answer, and now it’s up to Mendenhall, coordinator Robert Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck to maximize the abilities of holdover seniors Matt Johns and Connor Brewer and East Carolina import Kurt Benkert. As the eventual starter goes, so goes the Virginia offense this fall.
Defense is actually an area where the Cavaliers have a chance to take a quantum leap in 2016. London left behind a lot of talent, like LB Micah Kiser, DE Andrew Brown and FS Quin Blanding, that was not properly employed. Mendenhall, with help from coordinator Nick Howell and former ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill, are halfway to installing a 3-4 D that consistently produced positive results in Provo.
And if some of the young kids, like LB C.J. Stalker and CB Juan Thornhill, flourish under the new leadership, the defense has the tools and the mentors to be one of this year’s big surprises in the ACC.
Mendenhall is about to serve his first Mormon mission—transforming a Virginia football program that’s been unable to escape mediocrity for the past 10 years. The coach has made the improbable journey from the comfort and familiarity of Utah to the unknown landscape of the East Coast.
Having found the formula for success at BYU, averaging nine wins over 11 years, Mendenhall is now planning to spread the word and the brand to a campus hungry for a new gospel.