Building a program, and new culture, at UVa.

It’s not easy rebuilding a culture.

“I make the joke that I’ve spoken to the Boys Club, the Girls Club, the Rotary Club, the Hair Club for Men, I’ve done all those things, from Rhode Island to Florida. But that’s necessary, I think, when there’s change,” said Mike London, the new football coach at the University of Virginia, fresh off a pair of playoff runs at I-AA Richmond.

From those playoff runs, including the 2008 I-AA national title, London inherits from his former mentor, Al Groh, a team picked by the writers at the 2010 ACC Football Kickoff to finish dead last in the six-team ACC Coastal, with the general consensus among the cognoscenti that UVa. might be fortunate to win three games in 2010.

“I don’t think I need to use that as a motivating factor for our team. We are what people think we are,” London said at the Kickoff. “All I’m worried about is what we think about ourselves and how we do on the field. So far what I think about my players – my thoughts are positive thoughts about where we are, what we’re doing. The season starts pretty soon, and we’ll talk again, I would assume, after the season is over.”

The good news, if there’s any good news, is that London has at quarterback a fifth-year senior in Marc Verica who was among the hotter quarterbacks in the country for a stretch in 2008. The not-so-good news with Verica – Bill Lazor will be his third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, and the previous two, Mike Groh and Gregg Brandon, didn’t exactly part ways with Verica thinking he was the solution at QB.

“We’re definitely looking forward to this season. We’re very hungry. We want to do it. We want to get this out on the right track,” Verica told reporters at the Kickoff, signaling something of a change in the approach in Charlottesville that has been attributed to London.

“Coach London is a guy who believes in relationships – relationships with his staff, with his players, relationships with the academic circles of our university, relationships within the community,” Verica said by way of explaining the way of London, a stark contrast to the top-down mentality that was instilled in the program under Groh.

“He understands that building those strong relationships with people is important, especially in a transition like this. You have to get everybody on board with what you’re doing, and you’ve got to get everybody to conform to the new culture that you’re trying to establish. From the get-go, he’s made it very clear to us that we need to start forging stronger bonds – everywhere, with the school, with the community, everything. When you do those things, it kind of gets the ball rolling. Winning will take care of itself eventually. It’s just important to establish that new culture,” Verica said.

And even in the face of the conventional wisdom that UVa. will be lucky to beat the two I-AA opponents and weak I-A Eastern Michigan on its 2010 schedule, London has his players believing that a lot more is possible.

“One thing he said was we need to bring respectability back to the program,” said senior cornerback Ras-I Dowling. “I know in the past, Virginia was a powerhouse. Even my first year, it was a powerhouse. The last two years, we lacked that. That’s one thing we want to bring back to this program. Everybody on this team wants to bring that back.”

Dowling revealed more in his response to a question on how he would define a successful 2010 season. “A successful season? Going to a bowl game. Any bowl game,” he said. “I feel like we can go anywhere from the national championship on down. I feel like anybody should believe that. If you have any doubt, I don’t know what you’re playing the game for.

“Things aren’t going to change overnight. You have to work to it. That’s something we’ve been doing since January – just working. We’re working each and every day God gives us the opportunity to go out there and work. So why not work?” Dowling said.
 
 

Story by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at freepress2@ntelos.net.



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Team of Destiny: Inside UVA Basketball's improbable run

Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25.

The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.



 
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