CHARLOTTE, NC - For the fifth straight year, I was in Charlotte on Friday for the ACC Championship Press Conference. Dabo and Bronco discussed tomorrow night's big game, and I'll have the full videos with transcripts for you below in a bit!
All right. Appreciate everybody being here. We're excited to be back. This is a blast, man. This is so much fun.
I was telling our guys this morning just how much fun it is to be a part of championship football. I don't care if it is the 95-pound peewee league, your middle school team.
I asked how many of you won a state championship? Some raised their hands, others. It is just when you know that you're going to be ready to go play a game and there is finality to it like you have 14 teams that have been battling all year for the privilege to play in this game, its special.
I know we have been here several times now. Let me just tell you, it is such a blessing. We're just grateful to have the opportunity. It is a privilege to be here and just so proud of our team and our staff for all the have work that's been put in to get back to this point.
You know, we're super excited to represent the Atlantic, and a great venue, Charlotte, just doing an amazing job up here. Got a chance to walk out on the field. The field looks great. I know it will be an awesome crowd.
Good to see Bronco. I mean, he's as good as it gets. I did not know him at all prior to him joining the league. Just being around him, being in meetings with him, very easy to see why he and his team is here. He just has done a fantastic job building a culture the right way, building a team based on belief and effort and obviously just well coached, but having a group of guys that have a special will to win. They're a champion as well, representing the Coastal.
There will be two champions on the field tomorrow night and one team holding up the trophy, and that's what it is all about. We're just really -- for us again, honored to be here, and this is a combination of a lot of work.
There's not many games -- if you play this particular weekend, that means you had a really special season, and that's certainly the case for us. Our guys are traveling up here, we'll walk through in a little bit, kind of get on with our Friday routine. We look forward to a great day here in Charlotte tomorrow night.
Q. Dabo, are there any kind of last-minute injuries, anybody left off the roster, anything like that coming in?
DABO: Not unless something happened since I left this morning.
No, everything is good.
We get to travel more. I appreciate that, I'm not sure how that all -- I know it is something that we lobbied for a while -- but we travel 85 for this game which I think is great. It is great to be able to bring extra guys for both teams to be able to get this experience. And we'll have 85 coming up, and will be a great, memorable experience for both teams.
Q. Dabo, Bronco made the remark earlier that his team is ranked 11th in the league in pass defense and you may as well put next to it because we don't have Bryce Hall anymore. In watching Virginia on tape this year, what impact have you seen that Bryce Hall's absence has made?
DABO: I think the biggest thing is just consistency. They have had to be creative. They have had to move some people around. You know, they still are getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback though.
They've got 43 sacks I believe to our 35. They have done a good job. They have had different people wearing different hats, and they have taken 11 and 14, they have had to ask them to cover and do some different things. I think they have done an awesome job. I mean, they're one of the best teams in the country, and they have given up some things in the passing game but I think it is just some adjustments that they have had to make, but they get off the field. They get off the field. They bend a little bit, but they don't break a lot. They have given up some yards but they have done a great job on third down, and they have done a great job on third down offensively so they stay on the field and they get off the field.
And then when you look at them, 12 games, they have only had two teams with over 400 yards on them. They have had one team rush for 200. There's strengths and weaknesses and things that have happened, but they have still been very good defensively.
Q. Let's talk about you're two wins away from tying Florida State back in 2014, 27 overall wins. What's that mean for you if you tie that, and what Florida State established back then?
DABO: I would like to break it because that means we would be 30 in a row, and that's probably what it will take for us to achieve the ultimate goal I guess.
I mean, it is just to be where we are right now. I don't even really think about it to be honest with you. It is just a border.
You just get so busy, you know, working and just on to the next game and starting over every week and it is just hard for me to even think back 27 games. You know, we just have a process we believe in and our guys, you know, and our culture I think helps cultivate and nurture that mindset of man. Just being excited to have a chance to go win again and not getting bored.
You know, it is -- every week is the biggest game of the year for us. That's really a mindset that we have, and it is just kind of a function of how we go about our business I believe. It has been an incredible run, no doubt about it. You know, to win -- what's tomorrow? 28? So if we can win 28 then we would get the opportunity to play I think on December 28th.
28 would be the one that I'm focused on, not 29. You can't win 29 until you win 28. That's all we're worried about, right now. It has been special and so much consistency and hard work put in by a lot of people.
Q. Dabo, Bronco tells us what went through his mind when walking out there at Bank of America Stadium. I wonder what goes through your mind when you go back out there?
DABO: As I said earlier, just joy. I'm happy. Just thankful to be able to be here. I'm excited to be able to walk out on the field and know that we're in this thing.
I get to see the Commissioner in the bridgeway, that means that we're here. It is just a great moment. It really is. It is just a lot of fun.
There's nothing better than championship football and to know that somebody is going to be the ACC champion tomorrow night and it is down to two teams and we're one of them.
Q. Dabo, Trevor mentioned this week that the 80 freshmen and sophomores, and said that he thinks that's actually enabled this team to be more focused because these are kids who are taking this ride, some of them really for the first time and that it has been able to keep them -- help them keep that focus, do you see that? Has that helped the team with all the youth?
DABO: I think so.
Last year's team, the polar opposite. Incredible experience, the most veteran team I have ever coached, most seniors I have ever had and we literally could have spotted the ball in spring practice of that year and played anybody. We were just that far along, that experienced. There's a challenge to coach that type of team too.
This team has been so much fun. We have this incredible leadership, a really strong group of seniors -- not a big class of seniors, but a really strong group of seniors and juniors and a few really strong sophomores like a Trevor, Justin, some of those guys.
But then you throw in the fact that you have got a little over 40 guys that were not even on the roster last year, every day is a new day to them. Then you have 80 freshman, sophomores, red shirt guys, so forth, there's just been this brand of leadership, experience, really good understanding of what it takes blended with a great energy and youthfulness. So bringing that together and creating -- that was one of the big challenges to me coming in, and what I challenge our team, I knew we were going to be talented, I knew they would put the work in, but could we develop the chemistry? You know, to me, that's one of the most underrated things on any team. It just has come together beautifully. This is a super fun team.
I think definitely the youth has brought a lot of energy to those older guys. It has been pretty cool to see that.
Q. I think Trevor had mentioned earlier that maybe some of the early season ups and downs were a product of him perhaps pressing a little bit in the wake of all of the attention he got following last year's championship. Is that something that you saw? How would you analyze how he handled the aftermath of a championship, and how he's kind of blossomed as the season progressed again this year?
DABO: He's been great. He really had just said, folks, it was all sugar for him last year, hardly made a mistake. You know, he won every game by 21 plus points, whatever, even the national -- all the way through the national championship game. He just -- I mean, I never had been in a fourth quarter with him. until we won 20 in a row, whatever it was. Then you're playing North Carolina and they're playing well, you haven't had as great of a day, you turned it over.
It was kind of good for me to see him in the fourth quarter have to make a meaningful pass to win a game and to see how he responded. Really, that's the only game a -- he played great. He's played great all year.
Even the games that he was portrayed as playing terrible, he made a couple of bad plays, but he made a lot of good ones. He made I think early on he just -- sometimes you can be too confident and sometimes you can be too knowledgeable to where you can take a few of the little things for granted. I think he was just trying to do too much and trying to make every play he and I think he just kind of settled in because he got burned.
You know, like you tell your kids, that stove is hot, sometimes they touch it anyway! You know, when they get burned, they usually learn. They don't usually go back that was great! Man! Let's do it again!
You know. I got my dog, we have dog fences, I hold up that little flag and he doesn't like that electric fence or whatever going around the yard.
I just think you have to experience things, and so he made a few bad plays. And the other thing, he hasn't had any criticism. It had all been sugar since he got here. Now all of a sudden, he's hearing on ESPN, he just played great, completed 65%, threw three touchdown passes, but he threw a dumb interception and so that's what gets talked about. In that role, that comes with the territory, and so him having to deal with that, it has been one of the best things for him because of how he's responded and learning that it doesn't matter either way and then really having that balance at that position and understanding what comes with it. It has been great for his growth.
He's so much better as a quarterback this year than he was last year. It is not even really close. I think that a lot of people have missed a beautiful season from this guy. He's amazing. He really is. I'm super proud of him.
What he's done with his legs has been special. That's probably the biggest improvement that he's made. He's a winner. He's become a great leader for us. We needed that from him and he's really become a great leader on both sides of ball.
Q. Is there a quarterback that you prepared for or coached in recent years that you would compare to Perkins?
DABO: I mean, we have seen a lot of really good athletic quarterbacks. You know, I hate to throw them all up -- I hate to throw Lamar up there. Lamar throws the ball a little bit better but they both create, and this guy can run the football. He can throw the ball too. Lamar, first round draft pick thrower, there is a little difference there. I think just his will to win that you saw with Lamar, his creativity, what he means to his team, you know, how inspirational he is to the team, his toughness when he runs, he's -- he's a handful. You know, I don't want to really compare him to anybody but I just think he's his own guy. He's a super, super player and a humid factor in them getting here.
Q. You've played so many games here at this point. I know every stadium has idiosyncrasies. What are some of them at Bank of America Stadium either on the field, locker rooms, whatever? .
DABO: Pro locker room, it is a nice locker room that we get to be in. It is always a great crowd every time we have been here. It’s been great for us.
Obviously, you know, this is a geographically a good spot for ACC, but also great for Clemson. When we have been here, our fan base, we have a lot of fans up here in North Carolina, and certainly not a far drive from South Carolina. So as far as just the stadium itself really nothing that jumps out at me.
You know, they have a new field this year. Last year the field was a challenge and it rained the whole time. Looks great, man. It is a beautiful stadium. It is beautiful.
Probably coming in this day, every time, I always. come in, I get to the part where I see the pro player cars. It is always interesting to see what cars these guys are driving, trucks, whatever.
That's it. Just a pro stadium. I think it is unique that way.
Q. Bronco talked a little bit about what he wanted to build at Virginia starting with a sustainable model that he could continue to win, not just win here and there. This is obviously your fourth different coastal team played in this game in four years, seventh overall coastal game in seven years, there's not been as much consistency around the rest of the league. What, have you done with Clemson, what have been your priorities to allow your program to be not just good but sustainably good over time?
DABO: Keeping the main thing the main thing.
I know who we are. I know what my purpose as a man is. I know what the purpose of our program is. Just stay focused on that and be program driven, not team driven.
I think sometimes we make decisions on what's best for this particular team, but it is not so much what's best for the program. That's not good.
From day one, I have always been program driven. I think Bronco is the same way. When that's your focus, sometimes you have to make tough decisions and you'll have challenges along the way but you'll be better for if in the long run as opposed to looking for shortcuts, quick fixes, things like that.
We have a philosophy that we believe in. Again, we just keep the main thing the main thing. And you know, I focus on the relationships and the culture of everything that we do and always trying to get better. Always learning, always growing, always starting over. We don't carry anything over. We start over every single year. You know, that's where it starts for us.
There's the people. Obviously, whose coming in the door? Who are you recruiting? Whose on your staff? What's the discipline? What's the accountability? How do you respond to problems?
Everybody has problems sometimes, it is how you respond that separates you. It is not whether you have a problem or not, it is how you respond. Those are probably the main things for us.
Anyone really nurturing, developing leadership. That's a critical, critical factor in sustaining success. We could talk all day on that.
Q. This is your seventh time here in Charlotte -- I guess one was down in Orlando --
DABO: Tampa. Tampa. Then the other was in Orlando.
Q. They have all been prime time games for you. Curious on what your routine is like tomorrow? Do you try to watch some of the other championship games?
No different than any other gameday. Like I said, we have a had routine, we have a night game routine, we have a 3:30 routine, we have a had noon game routine. We don't really change that up regardless of who we play. I mean, we can be playing in the national championship, we still have a routine, what we do on Monday, what we do on Tuesday, that doesn't change regardless of who we play or where we play or the magnitude of the game. You know, we just stay focused on what we do, how we do it each week.
Q. Coach, you mentioned that the biggest progress that Trevor has made this season has been with his legs. Was that very intentional with you and the staff with him during the offseason? How much more difficult does that make you to defend?
DABO: Well, yes. Very intentional.
You know, every coach, we self-scout, evaluate, break ourselves down and try to chart a plan going into spring, what you want to do to get better, and you come out out of spring and you kind of give the guys individually a charge on what they need to do for the summer.
The biggest thing for Trevor from last year, he had to get bigger. He played as a freshman. He didn't get the opportunity to really grind in the weight room like he needed to, and he did. I mean, he's somewhere between 218, 2020, so he put on some really good weight. He got a lot stronger. Upper body and lower body. That was the first challenge to him.
The second thing was, okay, it is time for you to assert yourself as leader. Last year he was just in line trying to go do a job, prove himself, and different deal going into the spring last year when what we needed from him from a leadership standpoint.
The other thing, really studying him, he's so gifted, his arm talent, unbelievable, his mind, his mental capacity, ability to process things, how he thinks, it is off the charts.
One of the things that jumped out last year, he took a couple of sacks that he shouldn't have taken. There was numerous times where false start and 10, people playing coverage, you know he's very so confident in the arm, he would sit in there, sit in there, he's waiting to just rip it into that lens right there because he believes he can do that and he believes in his receivers that much or 2nd and 10, now it becomes 3rd and 10. We needed him on some of those plays to take those 5 yards with his legs and let's make it 3rd and 5. Be a little more efficient with his legs, and we needed him to create a little more, extend some plays, because some of our biggest explosives came off of plays that he's extended and managed the pocket well and got outside of the pocket and created scramble drills and things like that. He's done an unbelievable job.
We wanted to be purposeful in running him. So I just think that what has transpired this year, made us so much more tougher to defend because he's as confident now in his legs as he is in his arm and that's made him dangerous.
You know, even last week, first 3 and one he ran 15 yards, they played coverage. Last year, be he would sit in there and he would try to make a tight throw. Now he's just very confident in running the ball whether it is design run or scramble. He just has a good feel for it. That's been the biggest growth in him. Obviously, his strength and his leadership and just his knowledge and experience from last year. I mean, those are all huge areas that he's grown in. His legs have been the difference.
I think if you talk to coaches about -- who study us, break him down, you know, they all see their own talent but it is frustrating when you see this guy run. He can move. I know he looks like Ichabod Crane, a long, gangly guy running down there, this guy can move, man. He can run. He really can.
Q. You said earlier that you made decisions over the years not for the team but for the program. What is that distinction exactly and what are some examples of those types of decisions you have made?
DABO: Well, junior college player, 11 years as head coach. That's just -- there's nothing wrong with that. Just for me, having the coaches that I wanted to have, I want to -- I just wanted to try to focus on getting guys out of high school and develop them. You know, that's been an intentional thing for us. Discipline, how you discipline your team, how you respond. There's been some moments where I have had to make some discipline decisions that weren't necessarily the best for that team, for that moment but they were best for the long-term of our program so we just -- lots of things, staff, et cetera. We can go on and on.
Q. Dabo, as a fellow coach, do you have an appreciation for what Bronco has been able to do, bringing staff clear across the country, no roots, no ties to the East Coast and taking over a program that hadn't won in forever, and being here in only four years?
DABO: Unbelievable appreciation for that.
I mean, it’s so hard to win. It really is. It is so hard to win. You know, he came in with a very clear plan. I mean, just -- he wasn't afraid to lose, he wasn't afraid to fail. He knew what he wanted to do. He had a very clear vision of what he wanted. He was able to articulate that. Then build it, create that mindset, that belief. Get the right people in place. Put the work in.
He's done it step by step. I think whatever failure that they have had along the way, it has been great for him. It has helped him. I'm sure he would tell you the same thing. I have an unbelievable appreciation for what he's done and how hard it is to do that.
You know, especially nowadays, our appreciation for who they are at Virginia too, who the administration is, now they'll fire you after two years, some people, you don't even get a year and a half. I mean, you can take over a dumpster fire and you're supposed to wave the wand and they'll fire you in two years. I have a great appreciation for the people at Virginia too. How many did they win the first year? How many the second year? You know, I mean, you win eight games in two years, a lot of people wouldn't hang on to you.
I think you give them a great appreciation for their administration too because I think they believed in him and they supported him. I'm sure there was criticism and whatever when you win six games in the first two seasons. To see they made momentum last year, win the bowl game, it is just great. I mean, he's been just steadily building it and he's done it the right way. I'm sure he's had to make some difficult decisions along the way that were best for his program, maybe not best for the team but that's what it takes. I'm really happy for Virginia and I'm really happy for Bronco for the season that they have had and have great respect for who they are, their team, how we're going to have to play to have a chance to win the game.
Q. Dabo, back in '11, your first time, can you describe what that feeling was like for you then and winning your first championship and then comparing it to what maybe Bronco and guys will kind of go through tomorrow night as they try to get ready to do something they haven't done in a had long time?
DABO: It was amazing. It really was.
My first year in '09 we won the division and got to go down to Tampa and play and that was a tough night. Neither team punted. It is the only game I have ever been a part of where not one team punted. We couldn't stop them, they couldn't stop us. We lose down there. It was a tough night. It cost us the chance at the Orange Bowl. My first year, I'm like we're going to win the ACC, this is the greatest thing ever! We got beat. Then in '10 we didn't have a great season, my second year.
To come back in '11 and to be able to win ten games, to win the league, to beat a top ten Virginia Tech was amazing, it really was. Especially, again it had been 20 years since that time since Clemson had won an ACC championship. It was a magical moment. I talked to Eric MacLaine about it earlier today on the field. It was a special, special moment to celebrate with our team. We got back that night. Probably 5,000 fans were out there waiting on us. It was just -- there was this hunger and we didn't play well in the bowl game that year. I didn't let that distract us from what we had accomplished. I mean, we had accomplished some landmark things, ten wins and winning the ACC in just our third year playing for the second time. It was -- and having lost in Tampa to get there and win was really, really special. It was a special, special moment, something I'll never forget. In fact, I showed video of that to the team before I came up here. You know, I think it is always good to remember how you got here.
Welcome, everyone. It is amazing to be here representing the University of Virginia.
It's been four years of diligent, hard, methodical, intentional, progressional work to develop a quality football program. It is gratifying to see sequential changes, a pattern of unbroken growth and smiles on a daily basis at our football facility.
I'm really proud to be associated with this team, this group of young people and what they have accomplished and what they have overcome to reach this stage. While this stage is not the end, by any means, it certainly is a different chapter, a different opportunity and a different setting for us to continue to grow, learn and expand our program.
We are thrilled to be able to measure and compete against one of the premier programs in college football. I think Coach Swinney has done a remarkable job not only reaching the pinnacle but remaining there. I think what I understand -- maybe not, maybe it hasn't been documented quite enough -- how hard it is to stay once you're there. Clemson has done a really nice job maintaining when they have reached a certain level of achievement.
I look forward to everything about this game. I have enjoyed the preparation as it has advanced our program.
Again, I'm thrilled to be the head coach at the University of Virginia, all that it represents, the academic focus, the type of young people that we bring, and the ability to demonstrate what kind of football we're able to play.
Q. Have you ever had a quarterback who had as many touches as Perkins does in terms of obviously rushing attempts and passes?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: We ran a trajectory similar when I was the coach at Brigham Young University with Taysom Hill. Taysom's season became shortened because of injury, it didn't come to fruition, the same volume we would have hoped it would.
Q. Bronco, according to the status, Jowon Briggs didn't play against Virginia Tech. Was there a reason for that, and do you expect him back this week?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: He'll play.
Probably the stats were off. So there wasn't any reason that he shouldn't have been listed, and there's no issues with him.
Q. Coach Dabo was complimentary of you this week and almost seemed to think that the two programs from a culture standpoint kind of mirror each other and said he could see that in you from the beginning. How important is that to not only have the football aspect of it but the culture aspect, and do you see the similarity between the two programs?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So addressing the question, maybe with most relevance first: I believe that culture precedes performance.
We spend an entire year our first year, our 2-10 season, of doing nothing other than trying to establish a culture that would gain some kind of traction. An analogy of planting seeds is fairly accurate, but really trying to push roots to gain something to build from which really had little to do with football.
We'll put it this way, I have no interest in building a program nor being involved with college football period unless it represents something more than football. And with that genuine and authentic belief, then it becomes something more than football which is cultural, and then there's relationships that can be formed based on depth and principle that yield a much different level of satisfaction, happiness, when success on the field actually does catch up to it.
I believe that each coach within his own principles and his own personality -- yeah, if they do it really well and intentionally and authentically, then there becomes an identity formed with that. And it seems to me that Clemson has done that as well.
In comparing the two programs, I can't say they're similar, but the focus culturally has been emphasized similarly and has manifested similarly other than Clemson is certainly further ahead and reaching a different level in terms of exposure and sustainability while we're becoming, I would say that we're in a different stage.
Q. Wanted to ask you about Isaiah Simmons. When you turn on the film, your first thoughts of him, and how different is he compared to most defenders you go up against?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, when I turn on Clemson film there's a lot of players that are really good.
Just the sheer volume of capability by number is something Clemson has done a really nice job of, the talent selection process, certainly the metrics they're looking for. But then the ability to attract that many and maintain that many, keeping those kind of players happy.
Playing is more fun than watching. When you become an elite player as he is, then schematically there are things you have to do to account, but there are enough other quality players on the field where if you put undue attention on any one player, the trade-off really doesn't warrant it because someone else is very capable and I have been impressed.
Q. How often have teams been ready Perkins this year, and do you expect Clemson to do a degree with that tomorrow?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: With the volume of offense he's accounted for, it is almost every week, and rightly so.
Most teams approach is to have someone else be responsible for touchdowns, yardage than him. Our intent is just the opposite.
So we have been able to have enough success, especially the last five, six weeks of the season as our offense has gained its footing, has yielded different points, yardage and production.
Finishing really in the ACC second in scoring, but first in time of possession, and that's a really unique -- those are two statistics -- to lead in scoring but second in possession. Most of the time it is one or the other. You hold on to the ball and the scoring is minimal, or you can score a lot but the defense is on the field a lot because the tempo is so fast.
Bryce isn't all that we have, and the nature of offense is quite different in that way, but a hold on to the football a lot of time and score it, which is ideal for our program at this time.
Q. You used the term unbroken progression. That's not often how it works. How have you guys been able to keep the arc going, trending up?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, it has been the intent from the minute wheels touchdown in Charlottesville when my family and I arrived is to build a program that was not only rising to the top level of the ACC, but remain there meaning consistent and sustainable, and there are all kinds of temptations to take shortcuts along the way in the talent selection, and just in the daily ethical operations of the program. I think we see that through college sport and professional sport or maybe any business, anything that's competitive. I don't have any interest in that.
I just wanted something foundational that then could be built upon and measured. Easily in my job and in the world of college athletics, wins is the way it happens. It is not the only thing that's sustainable, but that's the way it is usually measured. And to go from two, and the next year's team was just framed what would you do to add upon the two and they made it to post season just barely, and then the next team was -- had the same framing from me. What would you do to add upon that? And then there were eight wins and a bowl victory, and the next team had the same framing from me, what will you do to add upon that?
So now this year we have beaten a few ACC opponents that we hadn't beaten yet. We're at the ACC championship game in year four. I think that's fairly remarkable.
There are very few programs that may have climbed to a conference title sooner than that, I'm not sure they have done it as methodically and consistently and in thoughts of sustaining and as intentionally. So I have been proud of them for that, knowing that we don't view just arriving here as the finish. We have come to compete and play our best football, and so this class and this program still would like to accomplish more in framing what it would be like for the next team to raise the bar even to a higher level.
We do expect each successive group to do something that the others haven't done, and as the air starts to be squeezed out, sqozen out, squeezed out -- someone that's an English major could help me with that -- it becomes more challenging but more fulfilling. And that's really fun as a head coach.
Q. None of your guys has ever played against Clemson, but most of your team was here in the stadium for the Belt Bowl last year. All things being equal, would you rather compete in a setting you're familiar with or does that not matter in a game like this?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think it does matter because it is a long-term memory that's facilitated by a number of things, one of them is a significant emotional experience.
I just walked out on the field and I felt good because it was associated with our win over South Carolina, and that's a positive thing. And it's a -- it has a level of confidence and takes away some of the unpredictability.
Now, we weren't playing Clemson. It is a different opponent. I haven't coached against Clemson nor has our team played, but the setting is at least one less unknown before we play the game and that's a good starting point.
Q. Not having your bio handy, have you had teams in conference championships before?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So man, back in the days when I was in the Mountain West Conference, there wasn't a conference championship. The conference wasn't big enough, the different realignments hadn't happened.
And so the six years together with the other two top teams which were the University of Utah and TCU at Brigham Young we won twice, Utah won twice and TCU won twice in that six- year span and they split off and went off to different conferences and then we were independent and obviously there was no conference championship.
This is my first conference championship game, not my first conference championship. And I lack the format, and wow, do I like the extra practice. That one week extra, we'll take every one of those days we can get in terms of building a program. And that kind of caught me off-guard as to how valuable that would be and how much fun it is to be with my team one more week.
Q. When did you know you had a great team this year? After the two losses, won against Miami? Did you know after Louisville you had a great team that could rally around to get back together?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: That's a great question.
I think greatness is defined in a lot of different ways.
I knew I had a great team, and I have known I had a great team just by being with them every morning. We practice early. Most of our players are in the building between 5:30 and 5:45. Their resilience, their continence, their body language on a daily basis and resilience let me know they could be great on the field. I already knew they were great off.
I think everybody else is just starting to see and I'm not even quite sure truly understand what it has been like over four years of building a program at the University of Virginia. I'm not sure that's quite -- that coverage is quite deep enough yet. It has been very challenging, and they have been part of that.
I would have considered them great even before they played this year. They're just happening to play in a manner now that represents how difficult the challenge they have overcome has been.
Q. Bronco, after that first year of when you realized things were a little more challenging than you expected, did you think you could possibly get this far in this short of time span? How far ahead of schedule are you? How much did Bryce Perkins advance that?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: When I was hired as the coach of the University of Virginia Craig Littlepage and John Oliver were the athletic administration at that time.
At that point I remember making a statement that the fastest I thought it could be done was four years, and it be sustainable and consistent and have a chance to be lasting.
I had hoped it could be done in three. I didn't say that. Internally, I had hoped.
After seeing year one, I knew it wasn't going to be three, it would be a minimum of four, and I just -- someone else I'm sure of can do it faster or better, but in measuring my own capability, my staff's capability, what I saw as the existing metrics and points of reference in that program, that's what I thought.
Bryce Perkins: We're not here without Bryce Perkins in this timeframe.
Now, that was an intentional choice. We knew we had to have a quarterback that was dynamic, that could run and throw to make up for a talent deficit elsewhere. If we had been conventional, every other player would have to perform at a conventional level in comparison to components. We needed at least one player that was capable of helping others raise their play on what the demands of their job was. Thank goodness, but intentionally we found Bryce.
And he needed us, not many were interested in him, and we needed him. So it's been a great fit.
Q. Coach, Bryce Hall is loving every minute of this run that you have had, but it has to be tough for him to watch from the sidelines tomorrow night. How tough was it to overcome his loss, and how much does he remain an influence for your team in the secondary both on and off the field?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: The statistics play out really clearly.
We were at the top of the league in almost every category defensively prior to him getting hurt and our pass defense currently ranks 11th in the ACC, you could just put because of Bryce Hall next to that.
We have had to adapt, overcome and adjust schematically and leadership wise to account for him, and we won't ever be able to compensate fully for him. However, he's become unofficially titled our assistant secondary coach.
He's responsible for developing every new player that's out there. Our entire backup group of five defensive backs are all first years which he's basically in charge of.
He gives the speech, the pregame speech, every week as well before the game. He certainly can do that better than I, and it is a way as a team captain, someone that cares so much about the program that he can contribute and he does a masterful job with that. Our success is still tied to him.
Q. Coach, when you look at Clemson on the page, on film, they're dynamically offensively, but what schematically steps off the page offensively when you look at them?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I would say simplicity.
I think the most masterful coaches are the ones that keep asking the question what don't we need?
It is really easy based on hours to keep adding things and to keep adding things and let's do this, let's do that, let's do this. I think the very best coaches are the ones that we don't need this, we don't need this, but they have enough to complement which means as a defensive coach if you defend this you already know the trade-off you're making and you're giving up something else, and if within the scheme they have a complement to that trade are-off they make you pay. And Clemson does just that.
As soon as you shift balance to a different player, a different play, a different formation, they're going to make you pay immediately and they have the players to had do it. I think simplicity is -- it is refreshing to see, but they have the players and the coaching and the execution to make those trade-offs so clear that you know and you just hope they don't see it when you adjust.
Q. I know you probably have seen this scenario before maybe from both sides, they're not only a very talented team but a very experienced team. They have been through this, the roster has been through this. You guys are the newcomers. Has there been a mental challenge for you and the staff this week to try to make sure that your guys don't walk in the stadium like you did and maybe be wide eyed and kind of coach them to this moment, so to speak?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: They're so full of optimism and hope and excitement. I'm not getting in the way of that. This is a moment they have earned. I don't intend to taper it.
I intend to have them channeled into their assignments and position mastery.
Their mindset is so pure in relationship to excitement to play a college football game in a conference championship format it is so refreshing. In this day and age where conference championships in many cases are just now a warm-up for something else to come.
Conference championships are why you play in my opinion. Anything else comes after that. It is just refreshing. I think it is healthy for college football.
Q. Bronco, you were very open after last season's disappointment against Virginia Tech that maybe you had gone conservatively in that game were there lessons learned there that you then used. This season in terms of your offensive scheme?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Sure. Not only offensive scheme but just game management strategy.
Conventional wisdom is not -- conventional metrics is not what allowed us to get to the conference championship, nor is it rarely what happens with under-resourced, under-funded businesses, armies, sports teams. Convention with lack of resources or under-funded resources you rarely match.
Unconventional, usually atypical, innovative, that's the path that usually matches when you don't have as much. And so we have simply made an intent to do that more. We're not perfect, but we did learn from that.
And we fell into tradition and what and how maybe close games should be managed, what the book says. The book isn't coaching at Virginia and hasn't spent the last four years building, and so we have acknowledged the book and we're just trying to write our own chapter.
Q. Coach, can you give a couple of specific examples about that sort of unconventionality, whether it is going more often on fourth down, what are you speaking of exactly besides Bryce Perkins?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Bryce Perkins, it is hard to eliminate him because most everything goes through him.
The number of attempts or possibly when we go for it on it fourth down, possibly the number of either fake punts or fake field goals, possibly the use of personnel or atypical personnel in relation to situations, really anything we can do that would break a trend that we have either had through the course of the year or what the trend of that moment or situational football might mean, we just simply acknowledge that and try to do the opposite as a starting point rather than the adjustment.
To continue reading, you must be a CUTigers subscriber.