Belk Bowl Football

Third-year Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall says he was pleased to be a fan and watch Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers basketball team win the national championship.

Question: We saw you in the stands at the national championship game. What was it like just to be a fan for a night pulling for Virginia basketball?

Answer: It was just a great way to recharge and also just appreciate and reflect on how lucky I am to be at Virginia. To celebrate not only the institution but to be a friend and supporter of Tony Bennett and his program and to just witness something that’s exceptional that’s been built with strong standards, morals and values and great people.

It was a dual purpose. It was reflection and renewal for me and my wife but also just in support of something that’s been done so, so well.

Question: Did you take away something from that team and what message did you tell your team?

Answer: There are so many parallels.

There’s always a danger when you compare teams because no situation is identical, but there are similarities, meaning, a year ago our basketball team lost to a 16 seed in the tournament, and we made it to the postseason and got annihilated in one of the first postseason appearances here in a while by Navy [in the Military Bowl]. Both programs were coming off really hard losses.

I think, then both programs used that as a framing, intent and motivation, but also discovery of what has to happen to be better for those things not to happen again, and we were able to shut out an SEC team and play well in our [Belk Bowl] game finishing on a high note in our third season and coach Bennett, in Season 10, so they’re further down the road, but the way that they finished with a national championship, it was a completely different tone and note then a year ago. I think both programs, if you were to ask what’s comparable, went from a hard setback to a significantly different result in a year’s time. That, and all the learning that came from it, I think is a relatively easy point to talk and teach from to my team.

Question: Last year, it made headlines when you said you thought there were only 27 ACC-caliber players on the roster. As you look at the program and roster heading into Year 4, what do you see?

Answer: Our depth continues to improve. The position mastery, the execution, and the confidence, all of those things are indicative of the next year in our program and being together.

The message, too, that kind of gets lost sometimes is how transparent I am with my team. Anything that I say in public is not something that hasn’t been said and isn’t known or clearly understood by everyone in the program. One of the ways we make progress is by addressing the brutal facts, so that means we have to do more with less on our way to doing more with more over time. There’s just different stages. When everyone understands that and they understand and they recognize the cultural differences that have to be strong, the intent, the effort, and all the smaller things, we are just at the next step of progress.

However, with that has come some unique circumstances where we still have 14 contributors that are out from our bowl game, so the more you play in the postseason and the later you play, that also can become an issue for spring practice and your team’s development. Our team will still look significantly different in the fall than it looks this spring, but we are getting deeper and we are getting healthier. We are an improved program.

Question: We’ve discussed your interests away from football such as motorcycles, horses and surfing. Anything new this year?

Answer: Two of my younger sons, besides the horses, they’ve become specifically into team roping: a header and a healer like you’d see at rodeos. That means their dad has to become a roper and a team roper as well and (one) that’s better than their son, so if I have a break you’ll find me out practicing with my kids.

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