On the eve of the meltdown against Duke Saturday, UVa. athletics director Craig Littlepage was telling the Washington Post that beleaguered football coach Mike London will return in 2014 no matter how the rest of the 2013 season plays out.
Considering that Virginia is likely to be underdogs the rest of the way after a 2-5 start, that means that a 2-10 London team in his fourth rebuilding year, three of which would have ended in losing seasons, will bring the coach back.
“I support him, and I have supported him. Nothing has changed in that regard. . . . If there was uncertainty, it isn’t because of anything other than somebody might have an agenda. I’ve been very clear,” Littlepage told the Post.
Uh, huh. In the interview, Littlepage cited what London has done to step up recruiting efforts from his predecessor, Al Groh, and the fact that London was named the 2011 ACC coach of the year after an 8-5 campaign that to this point is the only winning season in his tenure in Charlottesville.
Littlepage also mentioned London’s national championship at I-AA Richmond, without mentioning that London won that title with players recruited by his predecessor, Dave Clawson, or that the Richmond program has regressed since London’s tenure as the talent base has thinned.
It would cost Virginia $8.06 million to buy out the three remaining years of London’s contract. He was inexplicably signed to a two-year extension of his original five-year deal after that middling 8-5 season in 2011.
A question to be asked is, how much does it cost to keep London on staff? For the second consecutive home game, Virginia failed to draw 40,000 fans for the Duke game. With early-season games against BYU and Oregon drawing more than 50,000 fans each, the average attendance through five home games in 2013 is 45,855, nearly 16,000 below capacity.
Putting the average ticket price at $30 per just for math sake, we’re talking about $480,000 a game to lost ticket sales. Tack on another conservatively estimated $10 per fan for concessions and memorabilia, that’s another $160,000 a game left on the table.
Add it up – $640,000 a game times eight games this year is $5 million. Assume six home games in 2014 and 2015, and another $3.8 million each year is lost to the ages.
So Virginia either buys out London for $8 million, or it risks losing out on $12.6 million from fans disguised as empty seats. And that’s assuming that the fan base isn’t done hollowing out, which very well might not be the case.
Because this program isn’t going to get any better than London than it is right now. Virginia is 2-5 in 2013 with five of its seven games having been played at home. Home games against heavily favored Georgia Tech and Clemson are looming, and it’s extremely likely that Virginia will be 2-7 with a schedule featuring seven home games in the first nine.
Road games at Miami and UNC and a home finale against Virginia Tech finish the season out. Virginia is likely to be huge underdogs against Miami and Virginia Tech, and even with North Carolina underachieving itself this year, the Tar Heels might themselves be heavy favorites at home.
“I think he is a coach that day in and day out puts everything that he has into coaching his team, and he puts everything he has into representing the University of Virginia and everything it stands for,” Littlepage said.
“You can tell it on the sidelines. You can tell it when he’s out in the public. You can tell it when you meet with him in the office, that he believes in this institution and he believes in these kids and his coaching staff, and he shows that enthusiasm and passion for what he’s doing day in and day out.”
Look, nobody is doubting that Mike London is a stand-up guy, that he works hard, that he has enthusiasm, that he has integrity. Mike London is not an ogre; he doesn’t sprout horns and a tail and carry a pitchfork at night.
He’s also not an ACC football coach, certainly not one worth anywhere near what he’s being paid.
If he was a house, you’d be so far underwater on your mortgage with him that you’d just walk away and let the bank take it over.
As long as he’s on the sidelines, that’s what UVa. fans will be doing.