CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — It took six weeks for Bronco Mendenhall’s first Virginia football team to learn how to properly warm up before a practice. That was the second sign that his rebuilding plan here might take longer than expected. The first sign came during his initial team meeting in January 2016 when players, slouched in their chairs and buried on their phones, rarely made eye contact with their new coach. There were other signs, too: a paltry budget, a shortage in staffing and facilities not nearly up to industry standards.

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A few weeks into his new gig, Mendenhall realized just what he’d gotten himself into. “There was just disrepair. It was clear that what I had hoped for Year 1 was going to be Year 2,” he says. Mendenhall is speaking while surrounded by a celebration he never envisioned would happen so soon. Music boomed from the Cavaliers’ locker room, players paraded through the bowels of Scott Stadium and fans poured from the bleachers, trampling the field underneath their feet. Virginia’s 39–30 win over Virginia Tech not only snapped the Hoos’ 15-game losing skid to their in-state rival, not only gave them their first conference or division title since 1995 but stood alone as a culmination of a rebuilding effort that few—even the rebuilder himself—saw coming so quickly.

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