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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)

 

No ground rules were established prior to a meeting Friday between first-year Virginia athletic director Carla Williams and UVa beat reporters.

It didn't take long for the conversation to turn to UVa's football program, and Williams was quick to express her admiration for head coach Bronco Mendenhall.

"My first day was Dec. 11, and I had a two-hour meeting with Bronco," said Williams, previously a top administrator at Georgia. "We talked about football top to bottom. We covered everything.

"I think it's remarkable that Bronco and his coaching staff and his team were able to win six games last year. We've got to continue to improve on that, and it all can't be on the coach.

"There's fundraising, there's facilities, there's marketing, there's promotions. We've had conversations from top to bottom."

Williams' first mission when she came to Charlottesville from Georgia was to take a tour of UVa's athletic facilities, including University Hall, best known as the home to Cavaliers basketball from 1965-2016, but now in a rapid state of deterioration.

The university has decided to tear down the facility and redevelop the property. Demolition will take about a year complete because hazardous materials - primarily asbestos - must be safely removed first.

"I was surprised by the condition of it," Williams said, "and I think everyone here already knew that. What I didn't realize was, there are 10 teams [and] over 400 student-athletes still in U-Hall."

On top of that, there were locker rooms and offices for approximately 60 staff members at U-Hall and Onesty Hall, which was UVa's first natatorium.

All those people will be moved to temporary units in the adjoining parking lots.

As for football, Williams feels that program is understaffed, has some facility issues and is underfunded.

"We had three strength-and-conditioning coaches," Williams said. "Now, we have five. The NCAA allows programs to have analysts. I've seen how beneficial those analysts can be because your coaches can coach and you have analysts to go through film."

UVa had three analysts; now it has six.

"If you've got a four-star recruit and they've narrowed their choices to Virginia, Notre Dame, Stanford, Michigan and they take visits to those places," Williams said, "they're going to choose the schools that they think are making an investment in their futures."

Average attendance at UVa home games last year at Scott Stadium (capacity 61,500) was 39,398.

"Optics matters," Williams said. People don't come to see a bad product.

"... We know, in order to get people in the stands, the product on the field has to be attractive. How do you do that? You have to be able to attract better players."

As to whether Virginia might one day approve beer sales at games, Williams replied, "I haven't gotten to that yet."

Williams would like to see Virginia add a natural-grass practice field for football, one of several initiatives not currently budgeted.

"I knew before we ever put a shovel in the ground that we had serious deficiencies that we had to address now," Williams said emphatically.

UVa raised $500,000 as part of a short-term emergency fund and is hoping to add $500,000 to the budget during each of the next five years.

"When we started to talk to donors and explain it to them, after just a few weeks, we were well over a million, so we'll have what we need for the short term," she said.

One of the tasks assigned to Williams at Georgia was to work at getting former Bulldog players to remain connected with the program.

"I've talked to a lot of former Virginia football players, and what was striking was, so many of them were NFL guys or are retired NFL guys," she said. "What we're going to do [is] be very intentional.

"We're going to pick weekends and have players back and have something meaningful for them to do. We've got to engage with them while they're here.

"We don't only need their help financially, the NCAA allows them to talk to prospects while they're on campus. We're trying to create a sense of family."

She contends that Mendenhall is on the same wavelength.

"I think he's hilarious," said Williams, who has joined Mendenhall on several trips to meet with boosters. "I've seen him with a wide array of prospects and parents from different backgrounds and he is awesome. He's really good.

"I've been around a lot of coaches and he has everything it takes. Since I've been here, he's said, 'I'll go wherever I need to go.' The answer is always yes."

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May 13, 2018
 
 
 

 

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