Thursday night marked the 17th and final event on the Virginia Athletics Foundation's spring social tour. After four months that had seen programs from Manhattan to Georgia, VAF director Dirk Katstra promised the crowd in Darden's Abbott Auditorium an evening that was all about football.
And Bronco Mendenhall did not disappoint. Some of the night's highlights:
- The tight-knit camaraderie among the staff is no secret at this point, but it's still amazing to see in person. Mendenhall went down the line, introducing a dozen or more assistants and staff, rattling off each one's wife's name and how many kids they have (and in the case of Shane Hunter, even when the next one's birthday is). Twelve families packed up and moved from Provo to Charlottesville to keep this staff together, and their easy, joking relationships with one another are abundantly evident.
- Mendenhall's favorite stat seems to be the number of kids among his staff. As of today, 48: the most in the country according to Mendenhall. With defensive line coach Vic So'oto expecting a baby girl over the weekend, the staff's 49 children will give them a two-child lead on the Michigan staff.
- Q&A started with perhaps the most stereotypical booster/fan question a football coach can get: "How do you feel about your quarterbacks?" Mendenhall and Jason Beck responded with a deft dodge of the real question—"Who's gonna start?"—but seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the competition that's coming. In reciting the strengths of each, Mendenhall said the coach's like Johns's "leadership," Brewer's "accuracy," and "the run/pass threat" of Benkert.
- Mendenhall was asked whether he had developed a mission statement for the program the way he had at BYU, and told the crowd he had just circulated the most recent version among the coaches that afternoon. As best I can remember, it currently stands as, "We will identify and develop smart, tough, talented young people with character who will win ACC Championships and change the world." Yes, please.
- Out-of-conference scheduling came up, and specifically Mendenhall's philosophy on it. He emphasized the American Football Coaches Association's goal of continuing to have Power 5 conference programs play FCS opponents so the smaller schools can remain financially viable, and said he hoped to have one FCS opponent each season. After that, the goal is one "intriguing" Power 5 opponent, one "middle level" opponent, "and then one team we just destroy."
- The star of the night, at least for me, was offensive coordinator Robert Anae. Asked about the offensive philosophy: "We're gonna go fast and we're gonna go hard. We're either gonna throw the ball or we're gonna run the ball. When we throw it, we're gonna try to complete it. And when we run it, we're gonna try and run it as far as we can." After the laughter died down, Mendenhall added even more music to my ears: "The pace of our game is designed to exhaust our opponent. The style of play is designed to break their will."