CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. — Bronco Mendenhall doesn't believe success in the classroom and on the football field are mutually exclusive.
It's not just a theory of his.
Mendenhall said Monday his teams proved it can be done it in 11 years at BYU and he plans to continue that now that he is coaching at Virginia.
The 49-year-old Mendenhall laid out his plans Monday, saying he would effect change by leaning on his strengths as a teacher.
"I love challenge. After visiting with the team today, it became very clear that that's what this team needs, and I think for the most part, wants," he said during a press conference that was at times intense and at times emotional. "We'll find that out once the challenge starts, but I think that's what they do want. I think they're hungry for success and I believe I specialize in accountability and discipline and effort.
"I'm an effort-based coach. I love more than anything guys that try hard."
The meeting left a good impression with players, quarterback Matt Johns said.
"It was great. I think everything he touched on is exactly right. We need challenge. We need growth and he's definitely going to bring that to us," said the rising senior, who started every game this year. "He's very forward with how he feels, and I think it's a great fit."
The coach, meantime, said meeting the players was the best part of his trip, and gave him a better idea of what he'll be working with in his new surroundings. He also encouraged the players to train over their winter break and be ready to work harder than ever when he returns.
Mendenhall has compiled a 99-42 record at BYU, and has guided the Cougars to a bowl game each year. The Cougars are one of just 11 programs to have a bowl streak that long. He replaces Mike London, who resigned after six seasons with a 27-46 record that included just one bowl appearance.
Mendenhall, who agreed to a five-year contract at Virginia that starts at $3.25 million per year, won't immediately turn his full-time attention to the Cavaliers until after he coaches BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl against archrival Utah on Dec. 19.
He said had Virginia not been willing to let him finish the season coaching the Cougars in the bowl game, it would have been a "deal-breaker" because "what message would that send?"
Mendenhall inherits a Virginia team that was 4-8, its fourth consecutive losing season. But the Cavaliers have demonstrated they have the support system to win. The university won the men's Capital One Cup last season by having the best overall record in the nation. Virginia won national championships in soccer, tennis and baseball.
"When I look at all the other sports and how well they do, I don't think it's a valid argument to say it can't be done or won't continue to be done at that level in football," Mendenhall said. "That was intriguing to me."
Mendenhall said the Cavaliers' improvement will have to include upgrades in the program infrastructure, including the addition of a football specific building as a "tangible form of announcing our presence that we don't intend to be taking a back seat to anybody."
Mendenhall has minimal experience recruiting on the eastern half of the United States, but is confident that a coach presenting a recruit and his family an opportunity to succeed in football and academically at a highly regarded university will be well-received.
He also said he has added some assistant coaches to his staff, but is not ready to disclose any of that information just yet.
Virginia is one of the few schools Mendenhall and his wife would have left Provo, Utah, for, he said. The importance they place on education for their three boys helped make the opportunity attractive, and Virginia is routinely ranked among the top public institutions in the country.
"Where else would you go, especially when you can consider your growth and opportunity and a challenge?" he asked.