That's the long and short of it right there.
If you're reading this, you probably already know what it's about, but just to maintain some pretense of journalistic integrity, here's what I'm talking about. So that being said, please do not take this post as an indictment of our new coach Tony Bennett. I'm not pissed off that we hired Tony Bennett. I welcome him with open arms to the UVA community and as a UVA fan, I wish him nothing but the very very best. ACC and national titles galore, all the money Paul Tudor Jones can shove at him, a statue on the Lawn next to Homer, and seven-foot tall recruits with 4.0 GPAs that fall all over themselves to come to Virginia and stay for four years - five, if the NCAA lets them.
If UVA does not make the NCAA tournament in 2010, Craig Littlepage must be fired.
I don't need to tell you that this is the ACC. Basketball is king. Football is great, and success in football is a must, but it's ultimately not what this conference is known for. You have to do well in basketball. I also don't need to tell you about our general suckitude in this area. But I will. Since I showed up on Grounds as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed first year, we have achieved precisely one victory in the NCAA tournament. This puts us even with Virginia Tech and Miami this decade, and that's unacceptable, which is why two coaches have been fired in that time frame. In that time we are 58-86 in regular season ACC play. Also terrible. Being hired at UVA is enough to get Bennett onto the front page of ESPN.com, right above the latest idiocy about Chad Johnson, so it's not like we're a Baylor or a Northwestern struggling to stay afloat in a league that keeps us only because it's tradition. There's visibility here, which is a nice way of saying the whole world can tell we suck. You absolutely cannot fail twice in ACC basketball when it comes to picking coaches.
But, you say, Bennett will have been on the job only a year. Not making the NCAA's in one year can hardly be considered failure. He'll have a team full of sophomores and as likely as not, no recruiting class. I expect this to be a common sentiment. If you feel this way, tell me: what would have been success for Dave Leitao? NCAA? NIT? Or a lesser tournament like the CBI? Myself, I expected that Leitao would have this team back to postseason play, likely in the NIT. Most of the team and pretty much all the important parts were returning. All would be a year older. A solid recruiting class was coming in. Most of the really good players in the ACC (Toney Douglas, Tyrese Rice, Jeff Teague, Tyler Hansbrough, etc.) would be gone, out of eligibility or to the draft early anyway. This was ours for the taking. I didn't agree with Leitao being fired because the results this season actually mildly outperformed expectations and because of this window of opportunity to succeed. The timing was wrong.
But Leitao is now gone, and this is not only the second coach Littlepage has hired but the second time he's gone off the beaten path for it. Hiring Tubby Smith or Jeff Capel would have been the easy route, the safe route, and the one that earned Littlepage a feather in his cap as far as the fanbase was concerned. That's not to scoff at the idea, it's to encourage it. There's a reason they were considered the slam dunk, home run hires. They're excellent coaches and they would have listened to our sales pitch. And they would have brought instant credibility. This is different. This is going to take some convincing. Littlepage is going to sit at that press conference tomorrow and tell us he hired the best coach for the job, just as he did four years ago. Nobody's going to believe it, because the folks considered the best for the job are still coaching at the places they coached at last week. The one person who will believe it, who has to believe it more than anyone else in the world, maybe even more so than Tony Bennett himself, is Craig Littlepage. (If he doesn't, then he's a puppet who needs to go anyway.) So the fate of this basketball team is on Craig Littlepage.
The window, however, is now poised to slam shut. How many transfers will there be? No offense to Tony Bennett, but this is a coaching change. There are always transfers and decommitments. If there are not, then hats off to Tony because he will have managed to pull off an unprecedented sales pitch. What kind of a team will we have next year? Who will wear the uniform? Nobody can say for sure right now. But Bennett no doubt was brought in, at least in large part, because he took a previously pathetic Washington State squad to a shock-the-world kind of tourney season. My baseline expectation for Leitao was the NIT, as mentioned above. If Bennett is not an improvement over that, then Littlepage should be fired for overseeing a full decade of basketball failure at UVA.
We're at a tipping point. The fans wanted Tubby. The fans wanted a splashy hire. They didn't get it. The fans also want a good basketball team. If they don't get that either, support will dry up. Nobody's going to drive an hour from Richmond or 90 minutes from DC or two hours from Hampton Roads or donate any money for a bad basketball team coached by a nobody. Bennett has to be a somebody or this team is going to be at least five years from relevance.
This means he needs to be all in. Not "all in" as in the cheesy motivational slogan employed by Dabo Swinney. Really all in, with a sprinting head start and a cannonball off the high dive. He needs to call the players. Tonight. He needs to call the recruits. Tonight. (Assuming, that is, he is officially no longer employed by Washington State.) He needs a whole wardrobe full of Virginia Cavaliers schwag. He needs to have the Good Ol' Song memorized by tomorrow's press conference. Orange and blue need to be his favorite colors, Thomas Jefferson his favorite President, and Edgar Allan Poe his favorite poet. Coach Bennett needs to be a 'Hoo, not just be employed by the University.
It's the only way to save Craig Littlepage's job.