JMU football is playoff bound: UVA could learn a lesson there

UVaHelmet_1JMU football won its sixth straight on Saturday, blasting then-#14 Richmond, 55-20, putting the Dukes on a clear and present path toward an FCS playoff berth.

There’s a lesson relative to UVA football here that I don’t folks to miss out on.

I wrote this time last year when JMU was in the throes of the decision to let long-time coach mickey matthews go that there was plenty of talent in the program, and that Matthews’ problem wasn’t that he hadn’t done his job stocking the cupboard, but in the results on the field, that one playoff appearance in five seasons just wasn’t going to cut it, not at a school that had just spent big money adding significantly to its stadium complex.

Then I asked every player, assistant coach and then the new head coach, Everett Withers, at football media day in August about whether they thought the program could get back on track enough this year, year one post-Matthews, to get back to the FCS playoffs.

To their credit, the assembled Dukes downplayed my nonsense, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only person in the room who saw that a playoff run wasn’t at the least a possibility.

So the headline that I attached to this story has to do with a lesson for UVA football from the JMU experience. Yes, of course, UVA’s results, and those for any other school in a similar situation, will vary from what Withers, his staff and his players were able to pull together this fall in Harrisonburg. It hasn’t been that long, maybe a couple of weeks ago, even, that JMU was a playoff afterthought, but the Dukes are peaking.

That being the case, UVA. There is talent there, and more on the way. Rivals has the incoming 2015 class ranked in the Top 30 in FBS. A review of the accumulated talent from the past four recruiting classes has UVA in the top tier of the ACC. All that, and the Cavs are sitting at 4-6 with two games to go in 2014, headed toward an almost-certain seventh losing season in the program’s last nine.

Is the problem at UVA lack of talent on the roster? The recruiting numbers would suggest, as they did at this time last year with respect to JMU, no. So if it’s not the talent base, is it possible that a change in administration can bring about a reversal of fortunes on the field?

Again, results will vary, but we’ve seen how a fresh approach from the top can energize a program with talent on the roster that just needed a shakeup to get them to wake up.

Lots of things have to go right whichever way you go. Stick with London and his staff, and you have to hope that the classic definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, isn’t your hindrance. Dump London to find your Everett Withers, and you have to get the right guy who can in turn bring in a lot more right guys to run the units, coach positions and teach kids, and get it done quickly.

From what I’m hearing right now, this is something that the higher-ups in UVA athletics, most notably among the well-heeled alums who raise the money to keep the athletics machine moving forward, are already working to put into place.

I’m suggesting here that following a blueprint from what JMU has been able to do in an astoundingly short term could be instructive.

– Column by Chris Graham

         
 

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