Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall addressed the media on Sunday evening following the announcement that the Cavaliers would be playing in the inaugural Wasabi Fenway Bowl against SMU on December 29, 2021.
“I really like the idea of going to Boston and playing a football game in that stadium,” he said at the top. “It’s a historic stadium, a really good matchup, and it just seemed like a really good opportunity to grow and advance UVA’s football program, so it made a lot of sense to me and I was hopeful that this would be the game we were selected for.
As we know by now, this will be the last game with Mendenhall as head coach, announcing last week that he would be stepping down following the bowl game. He said he’ll be drawing on his experience from coaching his last bowl game at BYU as well, that it was challenging managing the emotions not just of his own, but also those of his staff and players. Emotions were more raw, the laughing, the crying, the anger — it all surfaced more easily, and so this time around, he hopes to be able to manage all of that across the board a little better.
When asked whether the players’ shock coming from his announcement would continue to be a distraction as they prepare for SMU, Mendenhall said that while “it will start that way, I don’t think it will continue once we focus on the opponent.”
Which makes sense - with over three weeks between now and the bowl game, and finals, the holidays, and re-conditioning in between, there’s a lot that will happen as the players get back into playing shape.
Since his announcement, a number of players have announced their decisions to enter the transfer portal. While Mendenhall’s policy has historically been that once a player chooses to go to the portal, they are no longer a part of the team and can no longer practice with the team.
However, this year is different. Because no one yet knows who will be taking over the reigns after Mendenhall leaves, he wants them to continue to train and hone their skills. It gives everyone an opportunity to make themselves available to land at a school that’s the best fit for them, without foreclosing the opportunity that the new coach may in fact be that best fit.
As far as the coaching staff, who also don’t know what’s in store for them in the future, Mendenhall says that, once preparation begins, nothing really changes in terms of assignments and responsibilities. The coaches will primarily be focused between now and the game on their individual responsibilities, in terms of self-study, scouting, and so forth. Mendenhall also says that some of the staff will still be out there recruiting.
While Mendenhall has input on who’s out there recruiting and who’s staying in to prepare the game, he says that this is now primarily being coordinated by athletics director Carla Williams.
Though he’s never been to Boston, much less inside of Fenway Park, Mendenhall has played in at least two other football games inside of baseball stadiums—the 2013 Fight Hunger Bowl in AT&T Park in San Francisco and the 2014 Miami Beach Bowl at Marlins Park. Because the only way to fit a football field inside a park is to do so at an angle, Mendenhall says that it takes a minute to get your bearings straight.
There’s a lot of time between now and kickoff on December 29, 2021 at 11:00 a.m., and we’ll be here with you all along the way.