College Football: If not Groh, then how ’bout Littlepage?

Column by Chris Graham
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And JMU felt bad putting the ball on the turf a couple of times in a 31-7 season-opening loss at Duke that the top-ranked team in I-AA thought it might be able to pull out.

Virginia is somewhere in the area of where James Madison is right now, but the Cavs would be looking up at the Dukes after the six-turnover embarrassment in Durham today in a 31-3 loss that marks either the beginning of the end of the Al Groh Era in Charlottesville or the beginning of the end of both the Groh Era and the Craig Littlepage Era as well.

Not since the late 1960s have the fortunes for Virginia sports been at this lowly a point – with a football team at 1-3 that has been outscored 144-20 in its three games against I-A competition and a men’s basketball program that is underachieving to say the least under fourth-year coach Dave Leitao.

The alums didn’t spend $300 million to build the John Paul Jones Arena and add 20,000 seats to Scott Stadium to get the doors blown off against Duke and lose top basketball recruits to North Carolina en route to season-ending appearances in something called the CBI, the NIT for teams not good enough to qualify for the NIT.

And it all comes down to the man who is the director of athletics at the school, Littlepage, an assistant basketball coach during the Ralph Sampson years who by all accounts is a nice-enough guy. But the proof of an AD is in the pudding, and for all the success in men’s lacrosse and the resurgence in women’s basketball under long-time coach Debbie Ryan, an AD is judged for how the football and men’s basketball teams are doing.

Try two losing seasons in the last three in football, an almost certainty for a 1-3 squad that could only manage three points against a team that hadn’t won an ACC game in five years, and two NCAA appearances in the last 10 for the men’s basketball program, and even with the promise that the ’08-’09 season seems to hold in the eyes of the faithful, I don’t know, I’m just not seeing it this year, with the loss of Sean Singletary to the NBA and the youth and lack of serviceable depth on Dave Leitao’s roster.

I’ve been saying for going on three years now that Littlepage’s inability to pull the plug on the Groh Era was a sign that he and others in the administration had given up on football in Charlottesville, which is immensely sad to those of us who remember the hard work of guys like George Welsh and Jim Dombrowski and Don Majkowski and Shawn and Herman Moore and Terry Kirby and Chris Slade and Tiki and Ronde Barber and James Farrior and Jamie Sharper and Aaron Brooks and Thomas Jones and Matt Schaub and Heath Miller to take the program from doormat to perennial ACC contender.

We could be on the verge of the same in men’s hoops – hell, we’re already there, with those two NCAA appearances in 10 years coming on the heels of a run of 12 NCAAs in 15 years spanning the Terry Holland and Jeff Jones eras.

Fairly or unfairly, the buck has to stop somewhere, and if it’s not with Groh, and not with Pete Gillen, who was given two more years than he rightly deserved to get the basketball program moving forward, and not with Leitao, who is certainly facing a make-it-or-break-it year this go-round, then it has to stop with Littlepage.

Who, again, comes across as a super-nice guy, but until John Casteen gets his wish and convinces the Board of Visitors to approve a move back to Division III, it ain’t about whether you’re a nice guy or not.

uva basketball team of destiny
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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