Friday, December 6, 2013

coaching position paper

You know by now how I feel about the current football regime.  It stinks.  I'm not 100% sure when Mike London lost me, but I think it was a combination of two things.  The first was his comment following the Clemson game (which I hate to mention again because I feel like I've done so several times already.)  For the forgetful or those who've missed it, London was asked after that game how he felt about his team's effort and intensity, and he said early on it was great and that Clemson played four quarters.  The second thing was his idiotic decision to accept the holding penalty against North Carolina that gave them a second crack at scoring a touchdown, which of course they did.  I finally hit my breaking point for terrible game management.

Anyway, all that is stuff I've railed on before.  You know all about London's game management; everyone does.  The one thing he does well is motivate players, and if he's losing even that ability, it's over, that's all there is to it.  But I thought it was necessary to pull all my opinions into one post and then move the hell on.  I probably won't bother with a full seasonal review, because most grades would just be D or F, but I'm tossing around the idea of a "bright spots" post.  And I'm sure most of you just went right ahead and made the "well that'll be a short post" joke in your heads.

So, the coaches.  Individually I think most of the coaches probably do a fair job, but they're all taking their direction from someone who is just in over his head.  The difference between good coaching and bad coaching is often small and not easily noticeable, and the players probably can't tell the difference at all.  Technique is technique - there's a right way and a wrong way to do a lot of things.  But the devil is in the details, and it's the things the coaches never think to say that makes the difference. 

Such as, why did Anthony Harris - a junior - not know to bat down a deep fourth-down pass?  Why did Mark Hall down a punt that would've rolled at least another 10 yards?  Why does Dominique Terrell always make the wrongest decision possible when catching punts?  Why was Kyle McCartin allowed to keep playing as if nothing had happened when his bonehead-ass penalty cost his team three points - the very week Mike London had made noise about accountability for boneheadedness?  Why did Tim Harris fall hook line and sinker for a double-move well short of the sticks on 3rd-and-15 - do you really care if Clemson gains ten yards from their own 4?  Tim Harris is not a veteran player, but the rest are, and when veteran players make silly mistakes, it means they're not being coached not to.

Accountability and details are two things this program lacks, severely.  London is extremely slow to bench players.  No, they shouldn't have to worry about being one mistake away from the pine, but they should worry about being five or six mistakes from it.  London never benches anyone until the media starts asking about problem areas, as in, "Coach, this is the third week in a row the receivers have dropped all the Watford passes that actually make it within a catchable radius of their body, what do you think the problem is?"

London is also long past excuse-making time.  "Well, it's a tough schedule."  And it's gonna be one next year, too.  Too bad - he burned up all his goodwill capital, in his fifth season (which it will be next year) your program should be able to handle difficult schedules.  "Well, we had a lot of injuries."  Yes, there's no doubt that losing Sean Cascarano, Brent Urban, Demetrious Nicholson and Maurice Canady lowered the achievable ceiling for this team.  (Not to mention Chris Brathwaite's academics.)  But 1) everyone has injuries, 2) at 2-10, what was the ceiling with those players, 4-8? and 3) it's the coaching staff's job to develop replacements.  Virginia Tech also lost two cornerbacks, Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum.  They still had a good defense.

All this said, however, I'm utterly resigned to another year of this staff, as you might guess by the clock.  (And as you might also guess by the clock, only one more year, as I've got little faith in their abilities to turn it around.)  That means the whole staff.  You hear a lot of calls to fire Steve Fairchild, for example, which is a foolish idea even considering the many legitimate criticisms.  (Which in a nutshell are foolish play-calling at critical times, apparent inability to get David Watford to improve any, and apparent tendency to put a huge bearing rein on Watford's decision-making.)

Let's face it: is this team just one assistant coach away from respectability?  Come on, man.  Here's the result of firing Fairchild: the quarterbacks and the offense get their third coach in three years.  That's entirely the hallmark of a bad team.  Marc Verica also had that situation and anyone who thinks that played no part in his development (or general lack thereof) is being willfully ignorant.  And it's worse than that, really, because another continuity break would put another big hole in this sinking ship and make it even more likely the whole staff is broomed out next year - which in turn means a fourth OC and QB coach in four years.  Terrible situation if you're trying to develop Greyson Lambert, Matt Johns, and Brendan Marshall.  Calls to fire Fairchild come out of a short-sighted desire to make someone pay rather than a reasoned look at the situation.

Besides, the kind of OC we'd get if we tried would have to be either really dumb or really desperate to take a job in a regime that's one step away from the chopping block.  Either way it wouldn't be an improvement.  "But Tom O'Brien could do it," you might say.  TOB was supposed to come onboard and fix London's game management.  Any day now.  TOB is a former Marine, which is to say, chain of command is everything, and I doubt he's given London much unsolicited advice.

So it's got to be the same staff, and London will sink or swim with them.  Eight wins needs to be the barest minimum.  You showed no progress this year; in fact you regressed miserably.  Therefore it needs to be made up next year.  What I'm afraid of is that we'll win six or seven games, go to some fourth-rate bowl, and Craig Littlepage will call it a joyous occasion and extend the whole staff in the name of Making Progress.  Dave Leitao did not even get a fifth year, so why London should get a sixth unless he takes the team to a really, really nice bowl is beyond me.  And in point of fact, October really ought to be the drop-dead date for progress.  If we're sitting at 3-3, or 2-4, or what have you, then London ought to go right then and there and TOB named the interim head coach.  Literally the only argument I've ever heard against this approach is "we've never done it that way, it's not the Virginia way," whatever the Virginia way is, and that argument is a pile of bullshit seven feet high.

I don't think Littlepage will have the guts to do it, though, which is why the countdown clock goes til Thanksgiving weekend.  But as long as we're talking succession, here's some more things I don't want to see out of the next staff:

-- Any holdovers.  At all.  Fresh start.  There was much concern last time whether Anthony Poindexter would be retained.  Hopefully not this time; nobody from a 2-10 staff is so damn important they can't be replaced.  He's a great recruiter; fine.  He's not the only one in the world.

-- Whatever the conventional wisdom says.  I've come to decide that the conventional message board wisdom is really, really dumb.  The CW wanted Mike London ("it HAS to be London" was a phrase I saw more than once), it wanted Tubby Smith and was furious (for varying lengths of time, given the individual) about Tony Bennett, it wanted a "hyper-aggressive" defensive coordinator to replace Jim Reid, it thought Phillip Sims would march right in and take over at quarterback and that would fix everything, it thought Keith Payne was going to make everyone forget about Tiki Barber, it thinks a lot of things and most of them turn out wrong.  If the CW wants Pete Lembo, I want Dave Clawson.  If the CW wants a MAC coach, I want a coordinator.  If the CW wants Nick Saban, I want Greg Robinson.

-- Anyone previously connected with UVA.  When I say fresh start, I'm not kidding.  Nothing against UVA alums Tenuta, O'Brien, Poindexter, and Hagans.  The latter two, though, have not proven themselves; they're just here because we like them.  Hagans, in my opinion, has done an absolutely brutal job as receivers coach.  Let's find some coaches who have proven themselves at other stops for once.  Tenuta and TOB, at least, have a resume and were last here long enough ago that almost everything has changed.  I'd still rather, when it's time to build the next staff, have it full of people who aren't stuck in our own rut.  I don't want any of that voice on the staff.

Mostly, though, I'm just looking forward to seeing a new-coach press conference in which a different face shows up behind the podium and promises better days or at least some on-field discipline.  And then maybe even deliver them.  London's promises ring hollow as a drum these days.


Anonymous said...

Damn, you resisted flipping but when you flip you flip decisively and firmly. I.e, not flippantly. Ha!
No seriously, this whole situation sucks.

Chief Wahoo said...

I think the best argument against a mid-season firing is, what does it get us?

The only thing I can imagine it getting us is preventing the temptation to keep ML after a 6-6 season. I don't think it helps with the coaching market or the fans.

Additionally, I think its fair to say that most of us think 8 wins next season is impossible. And an unsure September is likely. Which means a midseason firing under your rubric is all but guaranteed. So why wait? Because the administration clearly isn't firing him now. OK, but if we are going to sink another into ML, why make it so hard to keep him? I would want to see what his 6-6 or 7-5 season looks like and hold the decision until after the season.

Anyway, great analysis as always. This is going to be a tough year, which know...unusual.

Brendan said...

I think what it would get us is a half-season relief from lame-duck coaching. How can London be effective (or, coach to the best of his potential) if everyone thinks he'll be gone anyway? Recruits will tune him out, players may or may not do the same, and the fan atmosphere will be hideously ugly. I think you head off a lot of boos and a major ugly situation in November. And the remaining staff can recruit honestly, and whatever commitments we can scratch out under that situation will know what they're getting into and be easier to keep. That's worth it.

Anonymous said...

Your an idiot...
Have you ever played football a day in your life???? Doubt it. It's losers like you that post this kind of shit. These coaches have, wives and you have NO life. Are you married? Children? Hope so b/c I can't wait to tell them what a fool their father is.
Please go back to being a Michigan "fan"....
Do you really think that you have any influence over this program?! must be a very lonely man, I mean BOY.

Anonymous said...

And btw...ALL of the recruits will go elsewhere if you fire ML. Maybe Michigan has some walk-ons that you can borrow...or maybe YOU can put some pads on rather than sit behind a computer like than MOUSE that you are.

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to defend Brendan for a second. This anon above me doesn't have any more right to have an opinion than you do. The purpose of a blog is to give your opinion; if anon wants a professional's opinion on the matter, then he should probably go to a professional's blog. I, on the other hand, really enjoy reading Brendan's thoughts on things, as they usually mirror my own. It's sort of cliche now, but I'll say it anyway: "If you don't like this blog, then maybe you should stop reading it". I wouldn't put much into this one person's opinion. He's likely still in middle school, as he hasn't learned grammar yet. If you're going to say "Your an idiot", you probably shouldn't make yourself sound like one in the same sentence.

P.S. It's "you're".

Brendan, continue to do what you're doing. I, for one, really enjoy reading your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Virginia Tech fan and alum and love what Brendan says on here. I'm not from Virginia so I view the VT/UVA rivalry very differently. I have a habit of reading this site to get a better idea of the feelings of UVA fans - or at least one fan. The feeling/pulse on here is typically a lot more honest and realistic than you see other place.

This site - and posts like this - are why I keep coming back on here. The anonymous poster blasting him is a guy who is likely a blind ML supporter. Someone who listens to ML explain why to accept a holding penalty and comes away thinking, "yea.. that's right! he knows what he's doing!"

For next season.. I don't see where the team comes up with 8 wins. 6 might be a stretch. If the team wins 6, you might as well reset the clock for Thanksgiving 2015 because ML won't be going anywhere.

ML coaches like a fan and not a head coach. Seeing the look on his face as the opportunity to take that last first half timeout slipped away during VT/UVA game this year reminded me of that. As the clock was ticking I'm sure players and other coaches were thinking, "he's going to take a time out.. right? right?" and then it's too late.

Bostonhoo said...

I think Brendan does a great job with this blog. I have no sense that any of what he says is personal or ill informed. Just the opposite. Of course, the coaches have wives, children, and mortgages. And by all accounts Mike London is one of the nicest guys around. But if they are not doing their jobs they are subject to termination just like the rest of us. I think London and his staff get one more year to get it right, which is probably one more year than they deserve. I certainly hope they turn it around, but there is not much evidence to suggest that they will. London who has the second highest salary in the ACC needs to produce at a much higher level to continue his employment as HC at UVa.

Anonymous said...

Let's analyze Anonymous's exceptionally cogent argument against Brendan's case for letting London go. He makes several great points. According to him, Brendan is wrong because:

1) He has never played football, and therefore cannot possibly analyze football. This explains why almost every sports journalist is a former football player. Brendan is wrong.

2) Coaches have wives and children, which means two things: first that you cannot fire them, and second that they have a life. Brendan, who may or may not have a wife and children, is therefore wrong.

3) Brendan writes a blog and has no influence on the UVA administration. He is therefore wrong.

4) If Mike London is fired, every single one of the recruits will immediately depart the program, leaving the Cavaliers unable to field a full team. The administration, over whom Brendan has no influence, will contact Brendan to see if he can arrange for walk-on players from Michigan to transfer to UVA to fill out the roster. Brendan has influence on Michigan athletics because his a "fan," making him more influential than fans without quotation marks. Brendan, therefore, is wrong.

I don't know about you guys, but I'm convinced. Mike London, Coach for Life!

(Or at least as long as he has a wife and kids. If he were single and/or childless, well, don't let the door hit you on the way out.)

Brendan said...

Well, I see someone needs a hug. And a name.

Whiskey said...

Re Mid-season firings

Look at USC, firing Kiffin revitalized the team and gave them real hope for next year. Instead of going into the off-season on losing streak, they have some wins and a sense of genuine optimism.

Get the pain out of the way early, take those extra months to reach out to recruits, and finally - get some wins. Change the narrative in Charlottesville.