As Virginia football slogged to a 2-10 finish in 2013, it wasn’t a safe bet that UVA football coach Mike London wouldn’t be canned at the end of the season, and that if he somehow made it past that stage he wouldn’t then be a dead man walking in 2014.
Look at that schedule. UCLA, Louisville, BYU, Florida State. No way they win more than two, three games.
Littlepage saw something that most of us didn’t. I came around in the summer after doing data analysis on the recruiting work that London and his staff had done over the past five years, accumulating a talent base near the top of the ACC. But talent doesn’t always translate into wins, and there was the issue with the schedule, both friendly, with five home games in the first six weeks, and at the same time cruel, with games against three Top 25 teams in the first four weeks, plus Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech on the road in the second half.
My bold, probably insanely stupid, prediction before the season was eight wins. For a program that won six combined in its last two. The thinking being, the recruiting, the talent, will eventually rise to the occasion.
So far, it is doing just that. At the midway point, with a bye week neatly breaking up the Cavs’ 2014 schedule into two six-game sections, Virginia is a solid 4-2, going 1-2 in its games against Top 25s, pasting its two patsies by identical 45-13 scores, and gritting one out this weekend against a desperate Pitt team.
The only frustrating thing is that it could and should be a lot better than 4-2. A couple of plays, literally, go the right way, and this team is 6-0. UCLA escaped Charlottesville on the strength of three defensive touchdowns in a 28-20 victory that was otherwise dominated by the ‘Hoos. The road loss at BYU was similarly snakebitten, with Virginia outgaining the Cougars by nearly 200 total yards, but settling for four field goals when drives broke down in the red zone, and giving up a kickoff-return TD in what turned out to be a 41-33 loss.
To the question at hand: is Mike London’s job safe? Easy answer is to say, no one’s job is safe. UVA’s 4-2 start portends a finish at 8-4 or 7-5, and either of those records keeps him employed in Charlottesville, obviously. A 6-6 season gets a little tougher to gauge; probably safe is the best answer there, but London is likely on the hot seat watch again next year as the end of his contract draws 12 months nearer.
A 5-7 finish after a 4-2 start signals doom, just as obviously. The talent is clearly there; that much is evident with the showing in the first half. The second-half schedule is laughably hard – games at Duke, Florida State and the Techs, games at home against UNC and Miami, but when you look at in depth, the only one that you write off as being out of reach is the one at Florida State, even with the top-ranked Seminoles not anywhere near where they were in their 2013 national-championship season.
The ceiling for this UVA team is a Coastal Division championship. That much alone should keep a guy employed, that sure, it took him five years, but he has his team in position to play for an ACC title. A lot of work to be done between now and then, but London is halfway there, and should he get there, the seat now hot is suddenly as cool as the other side of the pillow.
– Column by Chris Graham