College football Saturdays are back, so let's stop and ponder a journalism mystery linked to the new football coaching regime at the University of Virginia.
The feature at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville is pretty direct, starting with the headline: "Part of the Bronco way is no work on Sunday."
Bronco is not a reference to a mascot, in Wahoo land, but to the school's new head coach -- Bronco Mendenhall. Things are not off to a good start there, so times are a bit tense. Here is the overture:
The day after Virginia’s season-opening loss to Richmond, Ruffin McNeill, the team’s associate head coach and defensive line coach, did what he’s always done. He got up and went to work Sunday morning.
Problem was, when McNeill reached the McCue Center, home of Wahoo football, nobody was there. He went home, came back later, and nobody was there.
Cavaliers coach Bronco Mendenhall told everyone in the program that his philosophy has always been to take Sunday off during the season, and come back refreshed on Monday. McNeill didn’t believe it.
“Coach Ruff went back home and told his wife Erlene, they’re really not there,” Mendenhall chuckled during his weekly press conference on Monday. “He thought the BYU staff was just tricking him.”
So, gentle readers, why does this particular head coach not work on Sundays?
Did you catch that passing reference to "BYU"?
Yes, Mendenhall came to Virginia from Brigham Young University, which is not your normal, run-of-the-mill football power school.
OK, raise your hand if you know what is different about BYU and, thus, a head coach who hails from that particular campus. The story does offer a hint:
Mendenhall has always given his coaches and players Sundays off through the years, and it has worked well. Sunday is for family, to focus on a day of rest, and faith, something the coach believes is essential.
Most programs treat Sunday just like any other workday. Players come in and lift, watch film. Coaches do all their film work, and put the Saturday game to bed, and move on to the next opponent, introducing the next foe to the players. Normally, those players get Mondays off, but the coaches are working as hard as ever.
Now you need to read the whole piece. This "Sunday off" thing is framed in terms of rest and recovery, with players having a chance to get fresh legs under them before returning to class on Monday morning.
And, and ... As you read the piece, what is the essential fact that is missing here?
So we have a head coach, married with young children. He. Is. From. Brigham. Young. University. The odds are very good that he is doing what on Sunday? Might there be some reason -- perhaps linked to that word "faith" -- that leads to this twist in his professional life?
Yes, the word "Mormon" -- as in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- never appears in the feature.
While many religious groups have disciplines and rules about holy days and the Sabbath, the LDS is especially diligent about this. In fact, please see this Religion News Service piece about the fact that Mormon leaders have been making a special effort to stress observance of the Sabbath during this past year.
Here is my simple question for journalists thinking this over: Is this Mormon hook relevant information about the "Sundays off" policy put in place by the new head coach at Virginia, as in that coach from BYU?
The feature ends like this:
Mendenhall has a different philosophy. His players go home to their families at night. There are no cots in the offices. That doesn’t mean he and his staff are not working hard or that they don’t want to win.
“To have that day [Sunday] to meet the rigors of this profession, and to have any kind of sustainability … I wouldn’t be able to keep going, certainly not for 11 years, and hopefully for a long tenure here to lead to success,” Mendenhall said. “I wouldn’t be able to do that without [Sundays].”
It’s a different way of doing things in the coaching world. In fact, Mendenhall said that often at coaching conventions, his staff has been called liars when they tell other coaches that they don’t work on Sunday.
Somebody tell Ruffin it’s OK to sleep in on Sunday morning.
You see? It's all about football. There's nothing else going on here.