CHARLOTTESVILLE — The opening of preseason practice Friday helped bring closure to Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall.
“My dad has been battling dementia, and I was able to spend the last five weeks with him,” said Mendenhall, whose father, Paul, died earlier in the week in Utah.
“I consider that to be an absolute blessing to have been able to serve him and my mom, and it allowed me to have a sense of peace that I wouldn’t have been able to have if I wasn’t there seeing it.”
Upon his return Friday, he was presented with seven different cards signed by multiple players.
“The outpouring of support has been truly special,” he said. “I addressed it with my team and tried to address what family means and what a healthy father-son relationship looks like.
“My dad was my best friend, and growing up, we worked side by side. I didn’t really ever have to look outside of his example to know how to conduct myself.”
Mendenhall flew into Charlottesville about an hour before a team meeting Friday.
“My healing will come through my team,” he said. “To be the recipient of advice and care-giving from young people is really humbling.”
Paul Mendenhall, described by his son as a “patriarch,” grew up on a farm in Stockton, California, before enrolling at Brigham Young, where he was on the football team in 1953-54.
He developed a whistle while tending the flock that “he took to every game, starting from Little League on,” Bronco said. “It really didn’t matter the size of the stadium. It only happened when I did something good, which was infrequent, I would say.
“It mattered to me to get my dad’s respect and it mattered to get his approval. I worked hard for that. The whistle let me know, at least for that moment, that I was on track.”
One of Bronco’s favorite anecdotes stemmed from the family’s move to the country when he was in the fifth grade.
“He threw me the keys to the truck to go feed 200 head of cattle and he never taught me to drive,” Bronco said. “I could either see or push the gas pedal. I couldn’t do both. I went and grabbed a stick from one of the close-by trees and I used that to push the gas.
“The expectation was that I would find a way, and I did. One of our guiding principles [is] of less drama, more work. He wasn’t much for drama. He liked results. I’m working to pass along all of those lessons.”
Paul Mendenhall did not make it to any UVa games in his son’s first three seasons as coach but watched on TV when he could.
“He would occasionally know that I was the coach of the team that was playing,” Bronco said. “It mattered to him how I treated other people, and I think he expected me to groom them the way he groomed me.”
Little is known or shared of Paul Mendenhall’s playing career.
“He said he dropped a touchdown pass in the first televised game of BYU versus Utah,” Bronco said. “Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. He would embellish on occasion.
“He wasn’t afraid of challenge. He wasn’t afraid to take on physical things and he certainly wasn’t backing down to anybody. I think he played the game of football like that, and that’s what he expected me to [do].”