Thursday, August 13, 2015

identity crisis

Football season is underway.  Could you tell?  Probably not from inside a UVA bubble.  There's little excitement, little buzz, and little attention being paid to the Hoos by anyone outside the state.  When attention is paid, it's almost always to the proverbial hot seat under Mike London's proverbial posterior.  UVA fans weren't alone in being incredulous that London was kept around after last season.  Grantland calls it "the utterly baffling phenomenon that is his continued employment by the Commonwealth of Virginia" as the grand finale to their hot-seat preview.  The only other theme you ever really see is "tough schedule"; ESPN's ACC power rankings have UVA 12th out of 14, on the premise of "gee, this team is talented but that schedule is so hard."  This more or less ignores their own player rankings which gave UVA exactly one player in the nation's top 100 and ACC's top 25.  (Quin Blanding.)

The truth is the schedule isn't that hard.  Sure, the nonconference schedule isn't piled high with weenies.  It's basically Three Men and a Baby William & Mary.  It's also two-thirds ACC.  The Coastal Conference is the most milquetoast division in all of college football.  If you think the conference schedule is overly challenging, there's a saying about suckers at the poker table, which applies here.

Sooner or later, and probably sooner but I've been burned by that assumption before, I'll write the obit for the London regime.  It'll say the words quarterbacks about a hundred times.  The list of things London has mismanaged is long and distinguished and - here's the scary part - mostly unfixable this year.  He could address a few things, like the crappy special teams and his nonsensical clock management, but truly fixing them - no, that would take a couple years.  In some cases because the issues are structural and in some cases because we need a couple years of evidence to call them fixed.

There is one place he can make tangible progress, though.  Besides winning, there's one absolutely huge, glaring difference between the football team and the other major programs at this school: Identity.  Basketball, baseball, lacrosse, you've seen what they've built and the reputations they have.  A program's identity and its relationship to success is a little bit of a chicken-or-egg question, but a coach has gotta know what he stands for, and I don't mean getting his players to go to class.  That's what drives your recruiting and your teaching and your coaching.

I know Mike London is a man of character and he wants his players to be great guys and hard-working and all that, but that's not really it.  That doesn't translate into coaching and to the extent that it's translated into recruiting, it hasn't driven the on-field direction of the team.  Tony Bennett recruits players of tremendous character, not just for the sake of it but because his incredibly successful system requires a ton of selflessness and trust in your teammates.  Brian O'Connor recruits only college-enthusiastic players because it means he doesn't have to sweat out the draft and because they see Omaha as more than just a place where scouts gather.

What's Mike London's philosophy?  Best I can tell, it's that athletes and speed make a football team and you can recruit a bunch of them and mold them into football players.  Besides the obvious roster-management problems with this (essentially, these guys can only play three positions - WR, CB, S) it's sort of telling: even the one thing that London can be said to be consistent about is essentially a scattershot lottery.  Take a decent-looking athlete and hope he develops.  Trent Corney has for years now tantalized with his immense raw talent, and played almost never.

There are hopeful glimmers.  They're not likely to be enough to save the regime, but they're out there, and all on defense, where the one truly credible name on the coaching staff resides.  In just a couple short years Jon Tenuta has established his identity on his side of the ball, and you saw it emerge last year.  Offense is a so-far hopeless cause; it's just kind of there and the coaches are still talking about changing its aims and goals.  Now we want to be a power-running team, right after spending years neglecting O-line recruiting.  That should work.  Defense, though, is Tenuta's blitzy-blitz scheme and his disruption, and you can actually tell what he's trying to do.

This is the challenge that awaits the football team this year: On offense, start developing some kind of identity.  Most successful football teams are known by what they do on offense.  If they're going to put their chips on the power running game, that means they can't go out to Pasadena and start going all screen-happy again.  The defense has to be able to keep up this year what they did last year, with almost entirely new front-seven personnel.

If London, Tenuta, and Steve Fairchild are successful in finally moving the football team toward a defined plan, an identity, a meaning, then they'll probably be at least somewhat successful in the one metric that matters, and they just might keep their jobs.  If they can't, they won't get another chance.


pezhoo said...

I think London has always wanted to be a power running team. I could be wrong, but I think that's been consistent. I totally agree that under-recruiting on the OL is a tactic that completely undermines that strategy which is one piece of evidence that London is in over his head.

But the problem I have with being a power running team is this: It's not the 1970s or 1980s. I guess Nebraska still hangs their hat on running the ball a ton and I know Wisconsin does. But that might be the list of power running teams. I think every year since 1992 the National Champion has thrown the ball more than run it. I think offensively, London is about 25 years behind the curve. Defensively I think he's pretty good, all our good players are on the defensive side. Kevin Parks was really good, and would have been a world beater with a real offensive line, but he was a Groh recruit.

Jeepers, we're a mess. It's going to take like 5 years to undo this damage. So sad.

Anonymous said...

I think Archer is Tenuta's right hand man and equally knowledgable, and both will develop defensive talent at linebacker specifically. Offensively, our identity is a joke, but i expect improved o-line play with Borbely IF the play calling is decent.

Stuart said...

I desperately want for this team to have success. Both for the sake any 4 year senior players who have never seen a bowl game, and for the sake of Mike London, who I genuinely like as a human being.

That said, I don't think that the offense will be able to do anything with the close games the defense should give them. I think we get a surprising early win against one of the strong OOC teams on the schedule, then limp along to a less surprising 4-8 record, and London is asked to leave.

If that happens, I hope that the new regime will want to hold on to Tenuta, because I think his scheme is effective, and I know it is damn fun to watch.