Monday, December 7, 2009

begin the London era

So I didn't really expect to have writer's block on the day a new head coach was announced, but now that I think about it, it makes sense. We spent the whole time after Leitao was fired assuming Tubby Smith or maybe Jeff Capel would be our next basketball coach. That was three weeks. We've probably spent three years assuming Mike London would be our next football coach, and voila. It seems very odd that nine days ago, Al Groh was preparing to coach a football game the same way he always has - that is to say, as if he's coached a million of these things before and will coach a million more before it's over. Then boom, he's fired, and barely a week later his replacement is hired, and in between we're basically deprived of most of the fun times and lunacy that typically accompanies a head coach search in the 21st century.

Now, the fact is that if you'd told me before the season in a vacuum that this is how it would have gone down, I'd have been mightily disappointed. I was never entirely against the idea of hiring London, but I wasn't sold on it either - you'll never convince me that the best way to conduct a coaching search is to limit it to within a 70-mile radius outside your school. And London is probably not the best coach on the list of ostensible candidates - or if he is, he hasn't yet proven it. So to fire Groh and then forgo a nationwide search to make the easy call just down the road to a guy you already know, dangle the big bucks, and call it a day - that was my nightmare scenario. And if this goes badly, that's probably how we'll all end up remembering how it played out.

But calling it that is to ignore that the search probably began two months ago. When Littlepage said, "we'll evaluate Groh's status at the end of the season," that is AD-speak for "bye-bye." So basically, one of two things happened here:

- Either Littlepage made the decision to fire Groh except in case of a miracle, and then spent the next couple months evaluating potential replacements, having his people send out feelers to agent-types, weighing ideas against one another, finding out the availability of various coaches on his list (and their appeal to the higher-up administration and the boosters), and having settled on the man who best fit his criteria, was likely to be available, and appealed to the money folks, made his move as soon as he professionally could, or -

- he threw up his hands, said, screw it, I just dealt with this shit like eight months ago, I'm too old for this, and decided not to bother with anything that would be too difficult like prying Jim Grobe out of Winston-Salem and took the path of least resistance to the guy that he knew would keep fans and boosters off his back for a while.

The athletic department having demonstrated a relatively high degree of competence in most of their other recent coaching hires, I choose to believe option 1.

So we might not have ended up with the actual best coach on the list, but we do have the best fit. Often, "a good fit" is something you say when you don't really feel like going into detail on your choice, or something recruits say when they mean "this school has the hottest cheerleaders." In coaching, though, it means something - you wouldn't hire, say, good ol' boy Steve Spurrier to coach at a buttoned-down place like BYU. And at UVA, you can't hire a Bobby Bowden clone - that is, I Neither Know Nor Care What My Players Are Up To In The Classroom. There is no magical know-how-to-win-at-UVA handbook that Mike London happens to have, but he does have the qualities you need - understanding of the academic expectations, connections in the state, and it helps also that he's already coached and even recruited a bunch of the current roster anyway. Hell, he coached here so recently that all the pictures handily show him already in UVA garb, coaching UVA.

What I already know about London is this stuff: He's an apple right off the Groh coaching tree - but not a Groh apostle - and both are good news. We won't have to go down the list of top in-state recruits and mark off two-thirds of them as Hokies right off the bat. We'll see a switch to the 4-3 defense - about the only concrete actual on-field detail London mentioned in his press conference. He'll have the stadium full and the checks to the VAF flowing again. The alumni all love him.

All good stuff. All you can ask for from a head coach the day he's hired. The downside: we don't really know if he can be a head coach. Two years at Richmond doesn't tell us enough. I don't even think you have to be a cynic to point out that his national championship came on the extant foundation laid by Dave Clawson. Just a realist. He didn't screw it up, though, which is definitely a start. But I think we're like the crappy NFL team that drafts a quarterback in the first round. We've found out everything we can find out and we know the guy has all the tools he needs. Now we need to see if it plays out on the field like it should. Got the talent, but does he have the ability? There's absolutely no reason not to be optimistic here. But there's a lot of wait-and-see, too.


Anonymous said...

They did hire a search firm too, so as far as covering bases on looking at candidates, there's not much to nitpick over.

Anonymous said...

I still just wonder how much of an appeal was made to someone like Charlie Strong. He's interviewing at Louisville. I have to think we are a much attractive job than Louisville.

Also, was Jeff Jagodizinski (whatever) ever considered?