CHARLOTTESVILLE — Less than a year ago, former Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall told the school’s board of visitors that UVa had the worst facilities in the ACC. Thursday, the school started the biggest part of its project to change that.
Virginia broke ground on its new yet-to-be-named football facility, an $80 million, 90,000-square foot building, adjacent to both the team’s outdoor grass practice fields and its indoor turf facility.
“It is not flashy,” athletic director Carla Williams said. “But it is exactly what we need to compete for championships.”
The new facility, which will replace the 32-year-old McCue Center, will include the team’s locker room, coaches’ offices, weight room, meeting rooms, player’s lounge, and a “recovery room for optimal performance,” according to UVa’s website. It’s expected to be ready in the spring of 2024.
“We will benefit from the efficiencies in an all-inclusive facility and cultivate stronger relationships with mentors, coaches and teammates,” All-ACC linebacker Nick Jackson said at the groundbreaking.
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Williams went out of her way not to give any examples of what she would consider flashy, but coach Tony Elliott’s former school, Clemson, certainly has a football facility that would fit that description. With everything from a golf simulator to a miniature golf course — even a slide that you can ride from the second floor to the first — the $55 million Reeves Complex, opened in 2017, has all the bells and whistles.
There’s a whiffle ball field and a basketball court, fountains and fire pits — think Sandals in South Carolina — outdoors, and a barbershop and bowling alley inside.
Those types of amenities fit neither UVa’s desires nor its culture, and Williams said the project is focused on functionality and efficiency.
“For us, a state-of-the-art sports medicine facility within this building is pretty flashy,” she said. “It’s no secret, when you look at what we have, and you think about where we’re going, it’s all flashy, right? But we have tried to focus on the need and meeting the need of our student-athletes.”
Of course, facilities play a key role in recruiting. Former Virginia linebacker Noah Taylor, who transferred to North Carolina this offseason, said he was blown away by the facilities at his new school — and that they were far ahead of what he had at UVa.
The building is the second phase of the university’s athletics master plan, approved four years ago, which began with the demolition of University Hall and the construction of the practice fields in 2021.
Mendenhall, who coached the Cavaliers from 2016-21 before abruptly resigning after this past season, played a large role in conceptualizing the new facility, perhaps one of the reasons there is such an emphasis on efficiency.
“Everything is right there,” Williams said. “You’ve got the indoor that opens to the natural grass practice fields. Then you’ll have the facility with the weight room that opens to the natural grass practice field, next door to the indoor. Everything that they need will be in one place. I think if you look around the country, that isn’t always the case.”
Williams has kept in touch with Mendenhall, updating on the progress with facility and staff enhancements, “because he cares.” His fingerprints are evident, especially when scrolling through artist renderings of the new building, still adorned with many of his mottos and mantras.
But the Cavaliers’ new coach, Elliott, has had a chance to weigh in on the new building, as well. Williams said among the adjustments Elliott pushed for was increased space for athlete nutrition. Williams said that, during the job interview process with Elliott, she was upfront of the school’s facility woes, but that she also told him improvements were on the way.
“We don’t promise, but we did talk about the fact that the new facility was coming,” she said. “For him, the facility is important, obviously coming from where he came from with the beautiful grand facility. But there are so many other things that appealed to him about the University of Virginia. The addition of the facility is a bonus that’s going to be very helpful.”
Elliott said he’s pleased with the message the building will send.
He said: “There’s nothing like walking into a facility and knowing that you’ve got the full support of all those who are investing in you, providing you the resources you need to grow and develop in all areas of your life so you can become the best version of yourself.”