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Gerry Capone: Guy who can find a bus, a plane, now trying to find money

uva footballIt’s 2007, Virginia football in in Wyoming, getting ready for the season opener, and Gerry Capone is on the side of the road, trying to figure out how to get Craig Littlepage to Laramie.

“We’ve got all the non-essential personnel on the third bus,” said Capone, the associate athletics director for football administration at UVA for 35 years, before moving up this year to a new role in development.

All told, Capone has been at Virginia for 39 years, dating back to 1982, when he was hired by coach George Welsh to serve as a part-time assistant.

Which is to say, he has seen it all, literally, over the years, including a bus full of people, including Littlepage, then the athletics director, plus the radio crew, security staff and operations staffers, sitting on the side of the road, an hour away from the stadium, and no busses to be had anywhere in the state of Wyoming.

“So I get out of the bus and, I’m making phone calls after phone calls, and all that I’m looking for, school buses, I’m looking for any type of bus to pick us up and take us, and the way that community works, for Wyoming football games, they used every bus in the state to transport people to the stadium and back, pre- and post-game, so there were no buses to be had,” Capone said in an interview for “The Jerry Ratcliffe Show” podcast last week.

The head of campus security, Mike Sheffield, got out of the bus with Capone and asked him, what are you going to do?

“I said, I’m going to stick my thumb out and get a car to pull over, and we’ll put a couple people in each car, and we’ll get them to the to the stadium,” Capone said.

As they talked, Capone saw what he had to think was a mirage.

“Lo and behold, a school bus is coming, and I said, I’m going to flag this guy down,” Capone said. “And as he’s getting closer, I can see that there’s nobody in the bus, and I’m jumping up and down, and I’m almost in the road, and the guy pulls over, thankfully, and he had an empty bus.

“This is a true story,” Capone said, for emphasis.

“He pulled over, and he was taking the bus from Texas, a brand new school bus. He was delivering it to somewhere beyond past the stadium. And he said, I’ll be happy to take you, but I’ve got to get approval. And dispatch said, if there’s a police officer there that would verify you all, you can take them. So we happened to have a uniformed officer that was one of our security guys from Charlottesville, from UVA, on the bus. So we got, you know, 30 people on that bus and got to the game 10 minutes before it started.

“That was pure luck, and somebody was looking, otherwise we’d still be there,” Capone said.

This is why Gerry Capone is the perfect guy in a development role helping lead the effort to raise money for the new $180 million football and Olympic sports operations center.

A guy who can find an empty school bus in the middle of nowhere Wyoming should have no problem finding $180 million among the well-heeled Virginia donor base.

The working goal now is to get the football operations center online by 2023, to allow for work for transforming the McCue Center, the existing home to the football program, into a temporary home for the school’s Olympic sports programs, which are currently operating out of a group of trailers.

“We need to get this thing done, not only for football, for everyone, but there’s a lot of work to do,” Capone said. “We’ve got to get it done. For the staffs, for the student-athletes, especially for the student-athletes. They do so much and give so much of themselves. We’ve got to give back to them and help them to be the best that they can be. And that’s the ultimate goal for football and for all our student-athletes.”

Capone is the connection to the beginnings of modern Virginia football, which also, as circumstances would have it, began operating out of a set of trailers that Capone said the staff referred to as the “trailer park.”

“Those ‘90 classes that we had that great year in 1990, those guys were recruited out of construction trailers that sat between the Cage and U Hall,” Capone said. “We started out with one trailer, and that served as the staff meeting room. Then that evolved to having three other trailers. One was our recruiting room where we would meet with to talk about recruiting. We had a recruiting board there. And then we had our offense and defensive staffs met in the each of those trailers.

“George and the staff, like what’s going on today, really did a lot more with less,” Capone said. “Kids came early on because they believed in the staff and believed in what they were trying to do, and they believed in the University of Virginia. And I think that is pretty similar today. And there’s no question that when we got out of the trailers and went into a new building, the whole complexion of what we were trying to do at that time changed. It became a lot easier.

“That same will happen when this building is done,” Capone said. “There will be a transformation that people will see, especially everyone in the state, because we’re a lot more visible in the state, and we’ll become a lot more competitive as a result.”

Think, Capone suggests, of the transformation that we’ve seen in Virginia basketball since the John Paul Jones Arena opened in 2006.

“People need to realize that their stadiums are also their operations centers, so when they report to those buildings, everything, their weight room, their training facilities, their practice facilities, everything is right there,” Capone said. “It’s like one-stop shop, they come in, get their work done, they get out. They do it, and the efficiency of what they do, and the amount of time, it helps with their academics, and helps them grow as students as students and athletes.

“That will do the same for football and eventually for all the Olympic sports,” Capone said. “So, these are exciting times, and I’m really excited to be part of this and to watch this grow and to unfold. And I think everyone, when it’s complete, will be very, very satisfied and very pleased with the results.”

The old football coach is in his element with the new job.

“We have a lot of work to do. A lot of phone calls to make, and a lot of visits. We’ve got to hit the road. This is like recruiting, Jerry, all over again,” Capone said. “When I started out coaching, the similarities are, you have to go out and refine your recruit, cultivate your recruit, every relationship with your recruit, so your recruits see things and you have them believe in what you’re doing. So that’s where we are.”

The guy who can find an empty bus in Wyoming can also find an airplane in the middle of the night, as it turns out.

Time for another story? Good.

“We played Clemson, it was in late ‘80s. And we showed up, and the plane, back then we didn’t have cell phones, so we didn’t know what was going on until we got to the airport, and the private plane, the charter that we were flying, didn’t look good,” Capone said. “We pulled up right onto the tarmac, and it was dark, it was late at night, and we saw about five or six guys under the belly of the plane with flashlights, and everything was open.

“I said, Boy, this doesn’t look good. Sure enough, the mechanic came on board and said, Coach, your plane is down, and we don’t have another plane that can get in. I said, Oh, my God, we’re going to drive home for eight hours.

“As we’re driving out of the airport, George said, Go to the counter, and let’s pull over here and go right inside, go to the counter, and see if they’ve got a plane,” Capone said. “And this is like a 10 o’clock at night, maybe later. I get up out of the bus, and I’m walking to the terminal, a terminal about the size in Charlottesville, you know, it wasn’t a big terminal. I walked in, and there wasn’t anybody there. It was a ghost town. I walked up to US Air, walked up to their counter, and you ring a bell, and there wasn’t anybody in the airport.

“So, I rang this bell, hoping that somebody would come out, and this woman came out and she said, What can I do to help you? I said, I’m with the football team, and you wouldn’t happen to have a plane that we could take the team back to Charlottesville on, would you?

“I figured she was going to look at me and say, What, are you crazy?” Capone said. “She said, Give me a minute. She went back and came back five minutes later and said, Yeah, we can be ready in 20 minutes, and I couldn’t believe it. So that was my greatest story as an operations guy that would never happen today.

“I didn’t save the day, but while I got a lot of credit for it, but I’ve got to give George the credit to at least say, Hey, let’s give it a shot. I remember, Tom Sherman walked out with me because he didn’t know why the buses stopped. And he saw me get out and walked with me. We both looked at each other and said, Who’s going to ask if there’s a plane?”

Story by Chris Graham

Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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