Friday, January 21, 2022

Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall resigns: How Cavaliers will move forward after unexpected departure

Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall announced his resignation Thursday after six seasons leading the Cavaliers. He has committed to lead the program through its bowl game, which will be announced Sunday. Mendenhall owns a 36-38 (22-27 ACC) record since arriving for the 2016 season after 11 seasons as BYU’s head coach.

“I’ve been a head coach for 17 years in a row. I was an assistant 11 before then, and I was a graduate assistant two years before then,” said Mendenhall in a press conference. “That’s 31 years straight of football. My wife and I will have been married 25 years in March. All we’ve known together is the rhythm of a football season. That’s all my kids have known, and this January, all three will be gone. Holly and I are empty nesters. And all they’ve known is the rhythm and cycle of football. We know what that looks like really, really well.”

Mendenhall, 55, did not rule out a return to coaching in the future but said that, “I need to step back from college football and reassess, renew, reframe and reinvent with my wife as a partner our future and the next chapter of our lives.”

The Cavaliers have been eligible to play in bowl games over each of the last five seasons after not previously making a bowl since 2011. Mendenhall’s most successful campaign came in 2019 when Virginia finished 9-5 (6-2 ACC), won the Coastal division and played in the program’s first New Year’s Six bowl game.

“It has been a privilege to have Bronco Mendenhall direct the Virginia football team over the past six seasons,” said Virginia athletics director Carla Williams in a statement. “He has done an exceptional job of not just transforming the program, but elevating the expectations for the program. He has established the necessary foundation to propel our football team upward. He is more than a football coach and the impact he has had on these young men will be a positive influence for the rest of their lives. … I have been blessed to have been able to work with him these last four years  and I wish he and Holly the very best in their next chapter.”

Mendenhall guided the Cavaliers to a 34-28 mark over his final five season and appearances in the AP Top 25 during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. 

As for where Virginia might look next, Mendenhall said he plans to be available to assist Williams in the search, though he is uncertain about his role in recruiting. 

“My trust and partnership with her is off the charts. I’ve already made myself available to vet or advise, if needed. We are so aligned. We visited today about all the things the next head coach should have here,” said Mendenhall. “We see it exactly the same way. … I’m certain that, whoever is chosen for our program, will be exceptional.”

Here are the takeaways from his resignation announcement.

End of a stable run

Virginia had seven losing seasons in eight years when Mendenhall arrived following the 2015 campaign. After a 2-10 debut season in 2016, Mendenhall elevated the Cavaliers .500 or better in the regular season for the final five seasons of his tenure. It was an excellent stabilizing effort in a conference where he had never worked before. Before his time at BYU, Mendenhall was an assistant at New Mexico, Louisiana Tech and Oregon State, among others.

The success of the next coach will be a mystery, obviously, but given that Mendenhall was asked to stay, it’s safe to say Virginia enjoyed the stability he provided. That’s not nothing in today’s climate of trigger-happy administrations and coaches. 

Mendenhall showed UVA’s potential

Consistency was the hallmark of his tenure, but Mendenhall had an impressive plateau as well. Virginia played in the Orange Bowl just two seasons ago after the Cavaliers won the ACC Coastal for the first time ever. Their 6-2 league record in 2019 was their best since 2007 and a reminder that, despite its limitations, UVA is a program that can cycle up to competing for championships every so often. Virginia lost the Orange Bowl 36-28 against Florida that year, but it was the program’s most prestigious postseason appearance since it played in the Peach Bowl after the 1995 season under George Welsh.

A tough finish in 2021

Virginia started the 2021 season 6-2, a mark that included impressive road wins over Miami and Louisville. But the final stretch of the season was not kind to the Cavaliers, which dropped four straight, including a 29-24 home game against Virginia Tech on Nov. 27. Mendenhall’s lone victory over the Hokies came during the 2019 season, but it was a significant one. The victory snapped a 15-game losing streak for the program against its in-state rival. Mendenhall noted Thursday that the program’s expectation is now to “win the state.” 

Mendenhall’s decision to step down means that both of the state’s power conference programs will be going through coaching changes in the same year. Virginia Tech announced the hiring of Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry this week to replace Justin Fuente. Coincidentally, the tenures of both Fuente and Mendenhall each lasted six seasons.

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