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Nov. 20, 2017

Virginia Football Media Conference

Monday Nov. 20, 2017
Bronco Mendenhall

COACH MENDENHALL: I think our program and our team improved this past week. I think we’re continually making strides in different parts of the program toward increased performance. Consistency is something we continue to work on week-to-week and venue-to-venue.

I thought our team played exceptionally hard and with real heart and belief and confidence and I would say until about the sixth minute and 38 second mark when we chose to go for it and I chose to go for it on fourth down, we didn’t get that. It wasn’t really until then that I saw any kind of a demeanor or disappointment, but man, we actually might not pull this off.

Until then I thought the team actually believed and thought we were going to win the football game. But I liked their aggressive nature. I liked their confidence. I liked their mindset. I liked their performance and it gives us another thing to frame which is finishing on that stage against good opponents on the road, which is the next, one of the next steps for the program.

Q. Do you have a better understanding of the Virginia Tech game then you did going into it last year?
COACH MENDENHALL: I have a better understanding for almost everything about our program than I did a year ago and I can’t say I have a perfect understanding of this game and the rivalry. But it’s very important to me and our team and I understand the implications of that now that I framed that and know how important it is we really is everything we can possibly do to help our team prepare well and have their best chance to perform the way they can.

That part has some consistency to it but the framing of the game certainly very — it’s one of the cool things about college football is rivalry weekend.

And there’s always something to play for. And it’s really been fun with this team to have so many really meaningful games in this month against really good teams.

And significant tests and I really like that part as the season goes on to keep stretching and straining and have something really significant to be, to play football for.

Q. Before the Georgia Tech game, you kind of addressed the elephant in the room. Becoming bowl eligible, what about the losing streak to Virginia Tech, and how much would you talk about that?
COACH MENDENHALL: I’ve talked about it all that I intended to to the team this morning, just the brutal fact it’s been a long time. Now that I’ve said that, there’s plenty of reason that is out of this current team’s control that have contributed to that.

Once you acknowledge that I simply framed what can you control and that is their preparation, that is their mindset. That’s their work that we put in for this particular game.

And to claim or have part of any of those previous years that’s really nothing that they can do about that of what’s happened in the past. They can’t control today’s practice and they control tomorrow’s practice and they control the next one.

That’s really where I’m having them place their focus.

Q. You talked before about not looking at the things that happened before you, whether it was the road losing streak or this but this team beat you soundly last year, as a coaching staff that’s something you grab on a little more because of this group?
COACH MENDENHALL: Anytime there’s a significant setback in our program or our life, you work really hard from there to say, okay, how come, what can we do to address that how much of those things were us and how much was it just our opponent and some of those matchups then you take all that information and do the best you can after. So as hard as it was to watch from a year ago we watched, we’ve watched that game and studied it and I think the things that we can improve on, now the key is practicing and executing those things well enough to address it. So it shows improvement.

Q. That Georgia Tech game, the first time you defended the option and it didn’t go well, is that game against Virginia Tech any kind of a thing like that?
COACH MENDENHALL: Not necessarily. Just simply because there’s history of defending and going against the scheme before and so Virginia Tech has a good staff. They do a nice job. But there weren’t many things in that particular game that were new or different.

There were a lot of things that we did not do well on our side of the contest, on all three phases. And so the score and the way that game played out reflected all of that.

Q. After the because game, you felt like disappointment of how that might carry over to the next week. What was your sense today with the team about how they felt about playing so well for close to this weekend?
COACH MENDENHALL: I’ve never seen this team as disappointed, also the two years I’ve been here, and this is a pretty big statement: I’ve never seen our team as disappointed as they were after that game.

That was immediately in the locker room after. I think they knew they had control of the game and we didn’t finish it. And I think they all knew what, immediately after what that could have meant for them and the program. However, now that they’ve had and what they look like today, they look positive, optimistic and more confident maybe than they did before that game.

And so the exact opposite of kind of the hangover that we saw from because to Louisville, the way practice was today and the mindset after that game was fiercely capable, just not consistent enough yet. And I think they’re anxious to show they can be.

Q. In your experience, there’s a lot of times, when you go into a Senior Day, when players on the team talk about winning for the seniors. How effective a motivation is that? Because a lot of times it doesn’t go that well?
COACH MENDENHALL: I’ve never said that. Players usually say that. What I found is just the more that it can be on our task at hand, especially against a good opponent, the better chance we have to honor our seniors, as soon as it starts moving away or the motivation is supposed to shift, I usually, in my experience it gets in the way and it doesn’t end up going in our way. And it’s just another thing to think about that gets in the way of what we’re doing on our assignments and our concentration and so while I’ll have a huge appreciation for what our seniors have done after the game and the more I put that on the front end, the more it kind of gets in the way of their best chance to have the outcome I think they would like.

Q. What are the challenges in slowing down Josh Jackson?
COACH MENDENHALL: It’s not only Josh Jackson, the offensive scheme is really good. And it’s diverse and it’s capable and it stretches you in different ways and they take what they give you based on the different alignments that you’re in and so it’s just multiple and it’s effective and that’s what’s led to winning football and Coach Fuente’s career.

And so Josh is just inherited and now being part of a really good scheme. And he’s kind of the next version of a good quarterback in the system.

Q. One of the early season games, Charles Snowden got thrown out at the end of the game made a game saving sack made a very athletic play the other day on the blocked punt how has he developed over the scenes over the course of the season and what is his ceiling do you think as a college linebacker?
COACH MENDENHALL: Hard to say what his ceiling is because he’s so tall and long. It will be interesting to see what his body looks like by the time he’s a fourth or fifth year, because it’s just all arms and legs and elbows and knees and he looks like a skinny power forward right now but he’s very athletic. He’s really mature. He’s assignment-sound. He works really hard. He’s unselfish, a good teammate and he’s exactly at this point through year one what we like in terms of size, length and play making for outside linebackers.

And so he was a wide receiver in high school. Not highly sought-after. And probably had more attention as a basketball player. But again when you know exactly what you’re looking for, and you know it when you see it. It just has been a good fit for us. So maybe one of the least acclaimed but one of the most productive in this first year.

Q. Defensive line, the coach like you are, how much do you admire, probably not the word, Virginia Tech’s defense and what makes them so special?
COACH MENDENHALL: I acknowledge and appreciate any coach or any system that’s been sustainable and successful over time. And sometimes personnel will come and go and you can have spikes in a good year and an off year and in between years.

And so any system or any coach that as a head coach or coordinator that has sustainability for multiple years is noteworthy to me. And so in terms of the emphasis, there’s a unique version and kind of an innovative approach and a very aggressive approach in what Virginia Tech does. And I think they know exactly what their identity is, why it is that way. And the calls and the scheme fit that and it’s been really developed over a long time. And so they deserve credit for what they’ve built.

Q. How long after getting the Virginia job were you made aware of Virginia’s struggles, and is it something that alumni and people mentioned right off the plane?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, getting on the plane, even. Man, there were some crazy comments. I’m not even sure how many are appropriate to tell you. One of the first — kind of the first sentiment was we don’t care if you win any other game other than that game, which has to be an exaggeration. But maybe it’s not. Okay.

I heard it right off the bat, you could win one game and if it was that one, that would be a successful season. So I heard that right off the bat. Which that was hard to frame in my own mind how that might work. And there are others that are far less appropriate. I don’t even think I should share. But there’s a couple that stick out to me and I was like wow, okay, I’ll just leave it there.

Q. Your voice is a little scratchy off, was that from yelling?
COACH MENDENHALL: Not sure. Yeah. Not sure.

Q. They’ve struggled offensively since their left tackle was out. Have you seen them change what they’re doing in protection or are they playing the same way and just sort of getting beat?
COACH MENDENHALL: They’re playing the same way, and I don’t think it has as much to do with maybe the tackle as what is maybe being emphasized. Sometimes — man, it’s a long season — and there are good teams out there and there are good coaches who do a nice job and get up and prepare for any given week.

And so one or two plays here or there and some of the scoring and point potential looks different. But there’s been some defenses that have done really nice jobs recently. But they’ve also won a lot of games.

So this league is good. The coaches are good. The talent is good. And it’s good every single week. And I appreciate that and I like that. There’s nothing easy about it but I like that.

Q. You don’t talk a lot about the officiating, but have you asked the conference for an explanation on the lack of a call on the fourth down pass to Olamide near the goal line?
COACH MENDENHALL: We send in clips every week. And so I’ll just frame this the best way that I can. So there’s no question by definition it’s pass interference. Not every time. Not sometimes — 20 out of 20, 30 out of 30, 100 out of 100. It’s not disputable. All that happens is we send in the clips of plays per game — not play, but plays per game that we think were missed.

And that goes to the head of officials. And then they review or he reviews those calls and they send us back their opinion and then there’s a certain percentage. So each call, it’s yes, I agree we missed it or no this wasn’t a foul.

And whatever that percentage is, it might be 80 percent misses. It might be 10 percent. But that is the one play that could have really helped us.

There’s no outcome change. There’s no apology. There’s nothing other than that then goes on to that official’s scorecard. And if that reaches a point to where they’re not effective or to our standard in the ACC, then they’re removed.

So the process is worth doing as the head coach but it doesn’t make me feel any better when I get the feedback back as to, yeah, we missed it, and I’m not saying — I don’t have the information back from that call, nor do I need to see it, because I know exactly what it looked like.

Q. You mentioned the sentiments from the outside about this rivalry game and having been in a previous one yourself with Utah. Do you talk to the guys during the week about embracing what this is, or do you try to make this just another game, or another normal game?
COACH MENDENHALL: I don’t think it’s either/or. I think as you’ve heard me say “and.” It is a special game. They ought to prepare like it is a special game. It is for, in my opinion, the state championship, which is an awesome thing to play for.

And that deserves our very best preparation and intent and practice habits and work ethic, everything we can possibly do.

So once you acknowledge that, then you say preparation-wise how different is that from playing Miami who is No. 2 in wherever we just played them. And man, the work ethic and the mindset is similar but not identical.

So we’re playing for something that we still want to win the football game but there’s a deeper value to this game because of what it represents.

And so I embrace and acknowledge that and I want our players to, then I want the preparation to be as similar to the best preparation we’ve ever had to look like that but better. And so we’re greater than, not equal to what we’ve already done. I want it to be our best week. I want it to be our best rep.

I want it to be better than, again not equal, to anything we’ve done to this point. And that’s how it’s been framed.

Q. You don’t seem to be a guy that would entertain complaining about that non-call with your team. How do you kind of frame that after the fact, do you acknowledge it to them or is that something completely separate and private that’s not shared with them?
COACH MENDENHALL: I don’t acknowledge it to my staff or to my team. I’ve never seen a call changed by a coach complaining. And maybe that makes the coach feel better that he’s done that, but it’s never changed the outcome. And so I control what I can control.

And in my opinion the more my team sees me go off on something the more distracted they become and the less they think they can control. So that’s just my approach. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but that’s how I do it.

Q. Have you ever seen something you consider a makeup call that you earned by complaining?
COACH MENDENHALL: I’ve seen all kinds of calls. What the motive is, I don’t know. And I’m sure the coaches that maybe are more demonstrative and theatrical, maybe that’s what they think they’ll get. They look foolish to me when they do it.

Q. Would it be safe for us not to bother with the Bronco-to-Oregon State rumor?
COACH MENDENHALL: It would be safe.

Q. In the time you’ve been here, have you seen much UVA basketball? If so what do you think of Tony Bennett‘s defense?
COACH MENDENHALL: Wow. I haven’t seen any games this year. I think I’ve seen — my first year as the coach I saw the ACC tournament. I saw one game in the tournament.

And I think I’ve seen one other. I’ve had a lot going on. But I’m very well aware of the style of play and so kindred spirits. And at some point I look to have not only our program but our defense specifically to rival that and to be complementary to where UVA is known just whatever sport they’re playing, holy cow, you’re going to get that.

And so we’re more of a work in progress right now, but I will say that it’s nice to have another of the major sports that’s doing exceptionally well and that has — there’s a template that can be done and I think that’s solace for anyone that once the commitment is made — so again I believe that organizations are perfectly designed for the results they get. When you have a streak versus an opponent, that’s not an accident. It just usually means that one of the two sides, there’s an advantage that they have leverage, created, supported or designed because of its value.

And so when Tony was hired, man, I’m sure there were changes in things that he then contributed to but also that were supported to build a really, really strong basketball program.

And I believe with the choice of a brand new coach and new AD and new president, that there are things aligning that would say that UVA is sincerely interested in creating and valuing a very strong college football program. And that’s what I’m hopeful for.

Q. Just to expand a little bit. If Oregon State were to contact you after the bowl game, how would you respond, I guess?
COACH MENDENHALL: That I’m not interested. That job came open a number of years ago. And there will be rumors that are accurate that I was a finalist or the short list and that I was contacted.

And so I’ve moved on since then. And this is exactly where I want to be and, man, it’s just getting fun. We’re just starting to do some cool stuff.

I haven’t seen this to fruition yet or even close I’m anxious and excited to do that.

Q. I don’t know that we’ve seen anybody as fearless catching punts as Daniel Hamm, almost rarely calls for a fair catch. What did you see the other day? What kind of instructions do you have when you send him out there?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, it was — Daniel did exactly what he was supposed to do. We had one of our hold-up blockers that was completely focused on the player that he was holding up and had done a nice job and was between his defender and the ball carrier. And that’s when he last looked. So our hold-up player looked. When he was about ten yards from him looked at where Dan was and looked back to finish his block. During that time when he looked back the ball drifted and it drifted about ten yards to the left. And so our hold-up guy at that point thought he was okay but he wasn’t because the ball had drifted.

And so Dan’s job, he did exactly what he was supposed to do. Our hold-up player needs to peek one more time and get out of the way.

Q. Do you cringe when he doesn’t call for a fair catch?
COACH MENDENHALL: Man, that’s a hard question to answer. I like it when he catches the ball. I’ll just put it that way.

Q. With the Friday night game, how does that change your game week day to day?
COACH MENDENHALL: It’s really challenging. So we have a great Friday night model that has been developed over a long time. That model was used when we played Boise this year.

The main difference was whomever we played the week before Boise we played at home. It was a 12:00 game. So the coaches, in our preparation, we just left the game and came right to the office and started on the next opponent.

So we worked Saturday until I don’t know however late it was, late, to ensure that because we don’t work Sundays. And so we worked well enough to get Monday’s practice ready, because we practice Monday morning, there’s no time Monday before practice because it’s so early.

This was different, because we were playing at Miami. By the time we got back to McCue, the coaches came in we reviewed the Miami game that night, but by then there’s no more time.

So this was the only time since I’ve been a head coach that we came in, the coaches and their families, we went to church Sunday morning, and then we all came in at 1:30 on Sunday and worked that afternoon just because travel occupied our normal preparation window. And I didn’t like it at all. It’s something I do everything possible to make sure the coaches can have that day but just as it worked out for the first time in my career that as a head coach we couldn’t pull that off.

So Monday — the backstory — Monday is basically a Tuesday. And we had to be ready for Tuesday’s practice today and each day is one day accelerated.

Q. Unrelated note obviously you can’t talk specifics but you did pick up a nice commitment today. In terms of your 2018 class you now have multiple quarterbacks. Where do you feel like you are at that position given your current depth on the roster?
COACH MENDENHALL: We’re beginning to get a succession plan that makes sense. There is and within the rules I’m just very, very excited about the way this class and the interest — it’s amazing how much that game on Saturday sparked interest in our program.

And how we’re viewed has been increasing weekly through this season, and that was just now it sent this other wave of, wait, this is real, what’s happening.

And I think that had a huge impact on the last commitment. There’s a great chance there will be a transfer quarterback as well. And once that happens, then I’ll feel comfortable going into next season in terms of how we’ve staffed that position, which is the number one priority for our program in terms of personnel going forward, is trying to get that position to where we can play, grow and develop players all at the same time.

Q. I don’t remember what you did last year for Senior Day, but what are the kind of plans this year, I guess it’s before the game and what’s your involvement in that and what do you do maybe to temper some of the guys that are going to be recognized or some of the best players that have been here in a long time?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, I don’t have much to do with it. We have a dinner after the season is over that honors those players, and I kind of reserve my sentiment and so you probably won’t see me getting emotional and acting any different, because we’re still working and they’re still working. A year ago the only decision I remember, because of the way we have players have to earn their fifth year, you’ll probably see fourth and fifth years recognized. And some might come back.

So at this stage of the program, there could be some players acknowledged that might be back for another year. And others as we already know this will be their fifth year. So philosophically that’s probably the only thing you might see that would be different from what’s happened at other places.

Q. Brandon Pertile, we saw him in here last week if I’m reading this correctly he did not play, what was his status? He did play. Okay. Glaser started?
COACH MENDENHALL: I don’t remember, to be honest with you. I’m not sure. I should know but I don’t.

Q. Quarterback succession plan and whatnot, when you see transfer, are you talking graduate transfer or junior college transfer?
COACH MENDENHALL: Could be either.

Q. It’s not a specific?
COACH MENDENHALL: I would prefer if I’m choosing I would prefer a junior college player, most of those guys were Division I player bounced back to a JC. But that would be ideal because that would give us a mid to upper tier player in terms of eligibility with then younger players and so that would be my ideal. If we can’t find who we wanted as a transfer with multiple years then we’d go grad transfer and that’s just where the program and where our needs are.

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