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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)


If Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall thinks that there are 27 ACC-caliber players on his team, what are the other 75 or so to think?

Mendenhall gave that assessment Friday at a scheduled meeting of UVa's board of visitors, where he accompanied first-year athletic director Carla Williams.

The Mendenhall appearance was not publicized, although the BOV meetings are open to the public. In more than 40 years of covering UVa athletics, never have I attended a board meeting and I don't know another sportswriter who has.

In fact, it appears that reporter Sam Blum, whose beats for the Charlottesville Daily Progress include football and men's basketball, got his information from a fellow reporter, Ruth Serven, who covers higher education for the paper.

There was enough material for four stories — one on the gloomy introduction he had to the players upon arriving in Charlottesville, one on Mendenhall's perception of the talent, one on the "likely" chance that UVa will play in a bowl in 2018 and one on his plan to schedule the worst Power-5 team he can find.

The Cavaliers did play in a bowl this past season but finished with a losing record, 6-7, after being thrashed by host Navy in the Military Bowl 49-7. After a 6-3 start, UVa lost its final four games and scored one offensive touchdown in its final 10 quarters.

If more than half of Virginia's players are not of ACC-caliber, what can be said of their coach? Do the Cavaliers have an ACC-caliber head coach? Does he have ACC-caliber assistants?

My criticism of Mendenhall from the start was with his decision to bring his former Brigham Young coaches across the country to an area in which they had almost no contacts and were time zones away from their old recruiting haunts.

The only coach retained by Mendenhall off the staff of predecessor Mike London was former UVa quarterback Marques Hagans. Hagans played at Hampton High School and knows the Tidewater area, but the new staff has not enjoyed much success there.

Safety Quin Blanding, named first-team All-ACC for the third time this year, is from Tidewater. So is defensive end Andrew Brown, a fifth-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Both were signed by the staff of Mendenhall's successor, Mike London, who was from the Hampton area and had served as an assistant to his predecessor as UVa head coach, Al Groh.

To this day, I'm convinced that the most important factor in landing a recruit is the coach who is doing the recruiting. Look at the players from Southwest Virginia whom UVa landed when Danny Wilmer was a Cavaliers assistant: Shawn Moore, Thomas Jones, Tiki and Ronde Barber, Heath Miller, Shannon Taylor and others.

You could argue that the talent in Southwest Virginia has dried up since then, but the premise remains the same.

When Mendenhall took the job in 2015, three of the assistant coaches on the market were Bryan Stinespring at Virginia Tech, Chris Beatty at UVa and Robert Prunty at Cincinnati. All three were from Virginia and each has confirmed to me they would have gone to UVa — or, in Beatty's case, stayed.

All are outstanding recruiters, from what I can tell. None of them got a sniff from UVa, as far as I can determine.

When the NCAA agreed to let Division I football staffs add another full-time assistant, Mendenhall turned to Texas-San Antonio aide Ricky Brumfield. Brumfield didn't play or coach at BYU, but he played at Utah State.

New director of football development and performance Shawn Griswold also has Utah State ties.

That might be a good way to build a program in the Rockies, and three Hawaiians in the 2018 recruiting class should give the Cavaliers a toe-hold in the islands. But will that get the job done in the ACC over the long term?

In all likelihood, Mendenhall was unaware of the reporter taking notes at the BOV meeting. If so, maybe he would have been a little more tempered in his comments. Maybe the players outside the top 27 will accept the challenge, if only they knew who they are.

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June 12, 2018


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