Virginia coach conflicted over students returning


Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall has lost sleep over the return of students to campus in a few weeks, adding that he is conflicted about the possibility of the entire instructional model shifting to online only.

During a video call with reporters Friday, Mendenhall was asked about his concerns once students return to Charlottesville, given what has happened at several ACC schools that have already welcomed students back. North Carolina and NC State have gone to remote instruction because of rising coronavirus cases shortly after beginning fall classes. Notre Dame also shifted to remote instruction for two weeks for the same reason.

Virginia will begin remote learning next week, with in-person instruction beginning after Labor Day. Mendenhall said that once that happens, the bubble players have been living in will essentially be broken. He also said the only positive coronavirus cases on the football team had happened when the team first arrived back to campus, noting that those positives were a result of infection that occurred before players’ arrival.

As for the idea that the fall semester could end up with full-time remote instruction, Mendenhall said, “It’s very difficult for me to reconcile having football players on [campus] and no other students on [campus] from a philosophical perspective. Now I look at my team and see how much they want to play and they want me to coach them and they want me to keep them safe and I want to keep them safe. It’s tricky because philosophically and morally I have a strong thought, and then I have these relationships with my team and they want to play. They want me to coach them and they want to be safe at the same time, and I think I can help them do that. So yeah, I’m conflicted, and that’s the best way I can put it.”

Despite that conflict, Mendenhall said he has never wavered in his message to the team.

“My message to them is they are my priority, so that conflict we just talked about, that conflict shifts toward me caring for them, and that is what I’ll do,” he said. “I’ll give them the best chance they can to play the game and be safe and give them the leadership and development and the direction that they need regardless of an internal conflict, and that’s what I’ve told them is they are my priority. That decision has already been made for me internally.”

Mendenhall also feels conflicted for another reason. While the ACC has chosen to try to play in the fall, Mendenhall’s son, Breaker, plays at Utah State in the Mountain West, which has already postponed the fall season.

“Fracture might even be an understatement — the gulf and the divisions are huge,” Mendenhall said. “I would love consistency; I would love standardized protocols. I would love leadership, and I would love more continuity. My son went to Utah and their dates were pushed back a number of days and by the time it was time to report, the Mountain West got canceled, and I understand every reason why it did. As a father, it’s made me more compassionate and holistic in my approach. I’ve never run a practice structure like we’re currently running. There’s nothing about our program that looks the same. I’ve erred really far on the side of caution and safety.”

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