Mendenhall High on Coaching Peers (July 21, 3:15 p.m.)
Bronco Mendenhall spent the previous 11 seasons at BYU, but Virginia’s new head coach isn’t a stranger to his Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division counterparts. He was impressed before he set foot in Charlottesville, and remains so as he prepares for the upcoming season.
“I think we're skilled,” Mendenhall said of the group that met the media during day one of the ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte. “I think the Coastal Division is skilled. I had an existing relationship with (Duke’s) 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.”
But it doesn’t end there.
“I have coached against Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech twice,” said Mendenhall, who posted a 99-43 record at BYU. “(I) already knew about him. I had become friends with (Miami’s) Mark Richt through Nike in earlier days. I followed and had coaches coach with and against Larry Fedora at North Carolina. I had one matchup with (Virginia Tech first-year head coach) Justin Fuente at Memphis, but also when he was defensive coordinator at TCU.”
And Mendenhall has exchanged ideas with Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi, who was regarded as one of the nation’s top defensive assistant coaches at Michigan State before taking the helm for the Panthers last season.
“That only happens when you think someone else is skilled at what they're doing,” Mendenhall said. “I think we have a good division with good people as coaches, but also good coaches. And those sometimes are different. There are good people that aren't good coaches and there are good coaches that aren't good people. From what I've seen in my short time in the league, it looks like we have both. It's challenging, which is great.”
Mendenhall faces a challenge in reviving the fortunes of a Virginia program that has endured four straight losing seasons, but he believes great progress has already been made.
“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,” he said. “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.”
2015 In Review
The record will read that Virginia finished 4-8 in 2015, 3-5 in the ACC and head coach Mike London resigned after sixth season at the helm of the Wahoos...It just won’t tell the entire story...Virginia was very close last year to having an impressive campaign...A heartbreaking last-second loss to Notre Dame in the season’s second game turned into a portent of things to come...Virginia would lose five games by seven or fewer points...As it is, after London’s departure, UVA went out and brought in former BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall to Charlottesville to jump start the program George Welsh made nationally prominent ...Mendenhall has averaged nine wins in his 11-year career and his next coaching win will be his 100th career victory, while Virginia has won nine games just twice since 1998...QB Matt Johns led the 2015 Cavaliers, completing 61.3 percent of his passes for 2,810 yards and 20 TDs, but he also threw 17 interceptions...RB Taquan Mizzell totalled 1,392 rushing and receiving yards, making 75 catches, one short of the ACC record by a running back...LB Micah Kiser led the ACC, averaging 9.8 tackles a game, just ahead of S Quin Blanding, who averaged 9.6...Blanding earned second-team All-America honors , while he and Kiser were first-team All-ACC selections...WR Canaan Severin, who had 54 catches for 8 TDs, was a second-team All-ACC choice and Mizzell and G Ross Burbank were third-team honorees.
Virginia loses 11 starters, four on offense, six on defense and PK Ian Frye...Offensively the Cavs will miss Severin, Burbank, G Jay Whitmire and TE Charlie Hopkins...Defensively, the entire starting front four departs in DEs Mike Moore and Trent Corney, DTs David Dean and Kwontie Moore as well as CBs Demetrious Nicholson and Maurice Canady.
Virginia will face nine teams that went to bowl games in 2015, including non-conference road tests at Oregon and Connecticut, but three of the Coastal Division favorites-North Carolina, Pitt and Miami — all come to Charlottesville.
Mendenhall will welcome back 37 returning lettermen and 14 returning starters, seven on offense, six on defense and P Nicholas Conte...Johns leads the offensive returnees, but he will need to cut down on his turnovers this fall...He will also face competition for the starting job in the fall from East Carolina graduate transfer Kurt Benkert and last year’s backup, Connor Brewer...Rimington Trophy candidate Jackson Matteo anchors the offensive line from his center position, where he is joined by Ts Jack English and Eric Smith...Mizzell leads a running back corps that includes Daniel Hamm, Albert Reid and Jordan Ellis...Keeon Johnson returns to one WR position and he is joined by Andre Levrone, Olamide Zaccheaus and Doni Dowling...Evan Butts heads a TE group that includes Brendan Marshall and Richard Burney... and Defensively, UVA switches to a 3-4 front, with NT Donte Wilkins in the middle, flanked by Andrew Brown and Eli Hanback...Arizona State graduate transfer Jack Powers could also be a factor at DE in the fall...Kiser and Zach Bradshaw lead the defense from their LB posts....Cory Jones will compete for playing time at OLB..Four starters return in the second, led by Blanding at FS, but also including SS Kelvin Rainey and CBs Wilfred Wahee and Tim Harris...Juan Thornhill is one of several young players vying for playing time at CB.
Numbers & Notes
4.09 - The per-game average number of pass receptions by RB Taquan Mizzell. Mizzell is the only running back to rank among the NCAA’s Top 50 last season in career catches per game. He ranks 18th nationally among all active receivers in career catches per contest.
8 - Senior C Jackson Matteo is one of eight ACC pivotmen who were selected for the Rimington Trophy preseason watch list. The Rimington is given annually to the nation’s top center.
9.92 - The average number of tackles per game for Virginia junior safety Quin Blanding through his first two seasons of college football. Blanding is the leading career active returner in the nation in tackles per game. In 24 games, he has 238 career tackles. He also ranked 4th nationally in career solo tackles per game, averaging 5.33 solo hits a contest.
12th - Among active head coaches, with a minimum of five seasons experience, new Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall ranks 12th in winning percentage, having posted a 99-43-0 record, a .697 percentage. He is one of five current ACC head coaches ranked among the top 12 nationally in active career winning percentage. Mendenhall has averaged nine wins a year, in his 11 seasons as a head coach. Conversely, Virginia has only won nine games twice in the last 16 years.
75 - The number of pass receptions for Virginia RB Taquan Mizzell last fall. Mizzell came within one catch of tying the ACC single-season record for catches by a running back.