Bronco Mendenhall is a year into his Virginia tenure, and at this point, the Cavaliers football coach isn’t universally beloved. While there isn’t actually a lot of polling data on the subject, it might even be safe to say his approval rating among Virginia fans is low.
But how fair is that given the situation the former BYU coach walked into?
It’s not as though Wahoos don’t have reason to be down on the football program. Virginia won just two games last season, and since Mendenhall’s arrival, there have been allegations of hazing and, more recently, self-reporting of minor NCAA violations.
Mendenhall had nothing but .500-plus seasons in 11 years leading BYU. However, he made some miscalculations in his move to the East Coast. Namely, he underestimated how much rebuilding needed to be done along both lines. He also didn’t understand just how badly a blowout loss to rival Virginia Tech could damage the Cavalier fanbase’s psyche.
Mendenhall may have felt there wasn’t much to lose heading into the last game of the 2016 season; that seemed to be the case when he employed a goofy quarterback rotation. In some ways, it may have made sense as a way to limit the hits on Kurt Benkert, who played much of the year with a bum shoulder.
But suffering a 52-10 loss to the Hokies really hurt Mendenhall’s popularity around Charlottesville. To many, last week’s announcement of NCAA violations was just another sign Mendenhall might not be the right fit.
However, those fans ought to pump the brakes a bit and see how Mendenhall has adjusted this season. Former coach Mike London left the program devoid of talent on the offensive and defensive lines — an issue Mendenhall quickly addressed in recruiting both freshmen and transfers. And the reporting of violations amounted to assistants taking photos with recruits during a period they were only allowed to say hello. That just shows the compliance department is doing its job.
Mendenhall took over an established program at BYU. Perhaps there was more to learn about actually rebuilding than he realized. But a coach doesn’t go to 11 straight bowl games by accident. All-ACC players Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding didn’t forgo the NFL Draft because they had no faith in the staff.
This would be the season to start judging Mendenhall’s performance more critically. Benkert is back and healthy, and offensive line help is on the way in the form of three graduate transfers. The systems are in place on both sides of the ball.
If there’s not significant improvement this season, then fans would be justified in their grumbling. But don’t be surprised if UVA fans change their tune this fall.
by Shane Mettlen
Friday April 14, 2017