Chris Graham: Forget Mike London, change needs to come in the culture at UVa.
Daily Press columnist David Teel asked Craig Littlepage point blank the question that legions of UVa. fans want answered.
What is going on with your football program?
The answer was unsettling.
“I don’t have an answer right now,” Littlepage told Teel, “but it would be my goal to figure out what that answer might be. All I know is that we have tried very hard to provide the necessary resources in terms of everything that we do here (with) facilities, personnel.
“I don’t have the answer, but there has to be something that we’re not doing or we could be doing differently.”
Some would say that the answer is Mike London, but a deep read of Teel’s column shows that the problem isn’t London as much as it is Littlepage.
Teel asked Littlepage about the trigger-happy extension that he gave to London after UVa.’s 8-5 season in 2011 that came on the heels of similarly head-scratching extensions given to London’s predecessor and former boss, Al Groh, and former men’s basketball coach Pete Gillen, both of whom ended up being fired.
“There were some situations that were brewing in terms of some openings,” Littlepage said. “There was some bona fide interest. But as much as anything, (it was) the kind of season that we had. … I still feel as though that was a good decision, that it will bear fruit.”
Teel also asked Littlepage about what I’ve termed “interesting math” regarding sagging attendance at Scott Stadium. UVa. has averaged 45,452 fans a game in 2013, more than 16,000 below capacity. Teel pointed out that the team is drawing 41,271 a game over its past five (after the two marquee early-season games against BYU and Oregon).
Some of my critics on message boards have questioned my “interesting math” suggesting that the average fan spends $40 on a ticket and concessions; Teel went with $50 a ticket to guesstimate that Virginia has dropped $5 million in lost revenue over the past five, basically $1 million per Saturday.
Let’s go with Teel’s version of my “interesting math,” for craps and giggles.
Littlepage on the math: “I have not gotten to the point of trying to put pencil to paper and figure out what the cost implications are. It’s always a consideration, but it’s not going to be a factor that’s going to tip the scales. I think it’s all about whether there’s a belief that Mike will get the job done, which I (have).”
But telling, isn’t it? We’re losing money hand over fist, we’re overpaying the guy responsible for it because we were afraid for some reason that we might lose him, and for the life of any of us, we can’t figure out what the heck is going on that has us losing all these football games.
And then Littlepage tells Teel that it’s not the amount of money that would come with firing London and his staff that is at issue. Another head-scratcher, that one, because he’s saying there that he could pull the hammer back if he wanted to, no questions asked about money.
So it’s not the buyout. It’s not pressure from the administration, one way or the other: Littlepage said neither the UVa. Board of Visitors nor President Teresa Sullivan has pushed him one way or the other.
The decision is his and his alone.
And his take on Mike London seems about as firm as the word firm would suggest.
“I firmly believe that Mike London is going to be successful here at the University of Virginia,” Littlepage told Teel.
And misdirected anger from the fan base. Mike London is just doing the job that he is paid to do, which isn’t to win football games. Littlepage described to Teel his evaluation of the football team.
“I don’t look at it just in terms of what happens in the game,” Littlepage said, “but what is it that’s happening on the practice field? What is it that’s happening in the meeting room? What is it that’s happening in the video/film sessions?”
That’s what UVa.’s $2.5 million pays for. Not Ws, but practice, meetings, video and film sessions.
Process. Over substance.
I’m a UVa. alum, and this sounds vaguely familiar in terms of the culture that is so endearing of life on Grounds at Mr. Jefferson’s Academical Village, which is teeming with various eggheads fighting amongst themselves to set detailed agendas that may or may not accomplish anything, but damn, it all looks good on paper, doesn’t it?
Keep trying to figure it out, Craig. One day the answer will hit you in the head like the proverbial bag of bricks.
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