Thursday, November 14, 2013

the situation

Big trouble in little Charlottesville requires that I chime in with something resembling an official position on the football team and its direction.  Not one to mince words, I, so here's the foundation of that official-ish position: this team sucks far worse than my most wildly pessimistic preseason estimates.  And what's worse, it appears to be quitting on its coach.  Is there any way to know that for sure?  No.  And I make it absolutely a point to never question the team's effort unless given very, very good reason to.  London gave me very good reason to in the way he answered the question about effort during the Clemson game.  When they follow that up by not being remotely competitive during any minute from 1 to 60 against UNC, I have a tough time ignoring the obvious.

Mike London's strength as a coach is motivation.  He can't manage a game for shit.  His roster management is pretty lame.  What he can do is motivate the heck out of just about anyone he meets, which is the source of his recruiting skills.  If Mike London can't motivate a team, there's nothing left.

The shit state of the football team has fans calling for various firings.  From just a totally unscientific reading of message boards, I would say that about half want London gone at the end of this year.  Those who would call for his firing right now but have resigned themselves to one more year of this based on the two-year contracts for the new set of assistants probably account for another one-quarter to one-third.  30% to 40% want Craig Littlepage fired.  And 95% want Jon Oliver fired; the other 5% are weird.

You might be wondering where I stand on all this and what I'd do if I were king.  Glad you asked.

-- First, I'd bench David Watford.  At this point there is no possible way of avoiding a quarterback competition that starts the moment the offseason begins.  So this is less about benching Watford and more about giving us (and the coaching staff) some data points by which to evaluate Greyson Lambert.  A little bit more of a level playing field for the competition, in other words.  We've already seen how quarterbacks can play better or worse depending on how they're used; simply letting Lambert mess around a little in garbage time isn't an evaluation.

-- I'd give London his one more year, based on the idea that just maybe it takes a little while for the new coordinators to get their systems settled in.  Plus it's not like the defense has sucked all year.  Losing Brent Urban and both starting cornerbacks pretty much killed it.  Now, should the defense be so dependent on these three players that it turns to soppy mush when they leave?  No.  Not one bit.  But the smallest of benefits of the doubt will be given here, and London should be kept around long enough to see if he can engineer a quick turnaround.

-- That leash, however, should be mightily short.  This team needs eight or nine wins next year.  And it needs to pile them up early; a 1-3, 2-4 type of start, or 3-3 even, should be the end of the road.  We have a great interim-coach candidate in Tom O'Brien.  And I am, by the way, fucking sick of hearing, "that's not how Virginia does business."  In reference to midseason firings, that is.  That has always been the end of the argument, too, as if that's a reason.  It's a trash argument.  Not one iota of harm to UVA's reputation would result from it.  USC fired Lane Kiffin midseason, Texas fired their DC midseason (and both saved their seasons in doing so) and not one human being on this planet called them sleazy for doing it.  I'm all for holding ourselves to a higher pedestal of behavior; shunning midseason firings does not qualify and does not make anyone think, gee, there's a school that does things the right way.

The only context in which this argument makes sense (and it has not always been presented in this context) is, "It's not realistic to think it'll happen, so we need to let London go now in order to avoid the painful lame duckery that next season will inevitably become."  Fine.  Just stop telling me we shouldn't do any midseason firings.  We damn well should if we keep London and still suck next year.

-- Lastly, whatever Jon Oliver's duties are outside football, reassign him to those.  I doubt he'll be fired outright.  In fact, I have this ugly suspicion he's being groomed for the AD job.  I don't know how capable an administrator he is behind the scenes; he must be doing something right somewhere or he wouldn't have lasted this long.  But he makes football worse.  Actually, I doubt anything at all will happen to his job and he'll continue to be allowed to make decisions for the football program that belong to the head coach, but we can dream.

On the plus side, at least the Oregon game didn't cost us a bowl trip, right?

There's certainly no one thing that can be done to fix anything.  The fact is, firing Oliver wouldn't make the program better.  The only thing that can make a program good or bad is the coaching staff.  Players win games, and coaches select and teach the players.  If Oliver is perceived as a meddlesome influence, it might reduce the chances of hiring a decent coach, but you still might get a good coach - and you still might get a bad one without him.

I think the above represents more patience with the leadership than the average UVA fan has right now.  That could change if the last two games are disasters.  I'm fully expecting a 2-10 season, but if the journey there involves two more pathetic blowouts, I can't promise I won't write a burn-it-down post charged with emotion and not rationality.


Anonymous said...

I keep thinking that the one job Mike London might be very good at is something like being an AD. He schmoozes, he builds relationships, and he can lead a pep rally.

Can he lead a football team? So far, the evidence is largely against. Even his best football successes (rebuilding our 757 recruiting capabilities and running a slightly tighter ship) is more a sign of his managerial capabilities than a sign of his coaching abilities.

Leaving all that aside for a moment, I believe it's time for the university to move on. At some point, there has to be a recognition that the longer he stays, the more damage he does to the UVA "brand". At some point, the struggles will lead to recruiting weakness, and the football dollars will suffer.

For all of Coach Groh's faults, the one thing he could do is coach up kids that tried. Really, the major failure of the final Groh years was the inability to develop a QB, and the problem has proceeded, albeit for different reasons.

I think the argument to keep London around can only be made if you believe he can improve something in regards to coaching, but I'm not confident in that regards. What I am worried about is a decent year that changes folks minds because he's such a good guy. And ... there is a chance of a decent year in 2014-2015. The defense should be strong, particularly if Brathwaite returns (and outside of Blanding/Brown, no defensive freshman should play unless there's a massive spate of injuries). On paper, you hope the offense can improve with so much experience returning.


The one thing they need to do, whoever the coach is, is to solidify the OL next year.

Anonymous said...

The next two games suddenly look a lot more winnable than they did at the beginning of the season.

Miami is in a full-on free-fall, and VT is revealing itself to be a team that just isn't that good.

I'm a hopeless optimist, and I think if the Hoos can get some key guys back from injury, particularly on defense, they just might have a shot.

I don't even care about the Miami game as much as I do about VT. Ensuring the Hokies don't make the ACCCG and avoiding 10 straight effing years of losses would be a nice way to end an otherwise awful season.

Anonymous said...

It's ironic that despite how godawful we are this year, I feel better about our chances against VT than I have in most years during this losing streak to them.

Still, not going to get my hopes up for this particular UVA team. I've moved on to Bennett Ball.

BostonHoo said...

I am of the let's give him one more year school of thought. It may be things will come together next year; if not, there can be no easier decision made than to fire London. QB is a major part of the problem and has been since Groh. London made it a lot worse with the Rocco debacle last year. There really is no reason why UVa can't recruit and develop competent quarterbacks. BC and Dook can put competitive teams on the field with their high academic standards so there is no reason that we cannot do so. In fact, my guess is that BC and Dook are doing it with recruiting classes significantly inferior to what we have in Charlottesville right now. I also have my doubts about Littlepage but he did bring us Bennett. It is truly a sad state of affairs. And what will be the effect of a win or two in the next two weeks, especially a W with you know who? Does that change anything?

Anonymous said...

BostonHoo, I think beating Miami and/or VT absolutely makes a difference (VT more so than Miami). It would tell us two things: 1) that London has not, in fact, totally lost this team; and 2) that there's reason to believe they can be competitive in the ACC next year.

If London beats VT, I'm all in on giving him one more year. Lose out and I'm assuming next year is a wash as we wait for a new coach to take over in 2015.

If you look at the totality of UVA athletics, I think Littlepage is doing a great job. The athletics program is, by and large, successful, well-managed and profitable. It's just that the football team sucks, but ousting Littlepage isn't going to fix that.