When Clemson opened its new $55 million football complex in 2017, the headlines were all about the 20-foot indoor slide. Virginia’s new $80 million football ops center has its share of bells and whistles, but it’s all about showtime, not playtime.
“It is not flashy, but it is exactly what we need to compete for championships,” athletics director Carla Williams said Thursday at a groundbreaking for the 90,000-square-foot facility, which is projected to be ready for move-in in spring 2025.
The ops center will have space for state-of-the-art sports medicine, strength and conditioning, coaches’ offices, nutrition.
The nutrition space was a late addition from the new coach, Tony Elliott, hired in December at the tail end of the planning process for the facility.
“I’m very grateful that they gave me some input in the final stages just to make sure that we had everything that we needed in the facility to make it a full functioning facility for the for the football players,” Elliott said Thursday. “But I’m just excited that I’m here, facilities or not. I’m just excited that this is the place that I found and got confirmation that it was the right place for me to come lead. And now that we have the commitment of the facilities, now we can really, really, really go to work on trying to build a model program in college football.”
Elliott’s predecessor, Bronco Mendenhall, had made the point almost from Day 1 on the job in 2015 that Virginia was far behind its peers in Power 5 in terms of facilities.
Aside from not having a 20-foot indoor slide, the new ops center should put UVA on at least an equal footing.
“It will have everything we need to compete for championships, everything that we’ll need,” Williams said. “If you think about 90,000 square feet, you think about what football programs need, we will have all of that. There isn’t anything secretive. Every new facility has the same thing, but just a little bit different, maybe a little bit bigger, maybe a little bit smaller.
“What’s really special about our facility is I think the efficiency that we are going to create, because everything is right there,” Williams said. “You’ve got the indoor that opens to the natural grass practice fields. Then you’ll have the facility with the weight room that opens to the natural grass practice field, next door to the indoor. Everything that they need will be in one place. I think if you look around the country, that isn’t always the case for some facilities.”
To Elliott, the new ops center is “confirmation” for Virginia Football and its student-athletes from the donors who are making it happen.
“There’s nothing like walking into a facility knowing that you’ve got the full support of all those who are investing and providing you the resources that you need to grow and develop in all areas of your life so that you can become the best version of yourself,” Elliott said. “You know that it’s only a temporary time here, but what happens in these three to five years, on these Grounds, paves the way for the next 40, 50 years of your life. So, it’s more confirmation. And from a recruiting standpoint, it’s going to help because the recruits get to see on the front end what the investment is, and then what the commitment is, to football and having a successful football program.
“But for me, it’s more important about having the right culture inside the building,” Elliott said. “I’m really, really excited about the new facility, the bricks and mortar, but I’m more excited about being able to have time to establish the right culture, so that when we go into the building, we appreciate the building, we understand the investment that has been made in the building, and we reciprocate that in the effort that we that we work with every single day.”
Elliott, a former assistant at Clemson, would want me to let up a little on the 20-foot indoor slide at his former job.
“Coach Swinney and Clemson get a lot of slack about the slide. But it’s very, very practical,” Elliott said. “It fits Coach Swinney, if you know his personality. But I think that anytime you’re building a facility, you want to make sure that it fits the program, it fits the head coach, and more importantly, it fits the institution, and I think that Carla fully understood that. She educated me as we went through this process of making a few final adjustments. But no, there’s no slide.”
Story by Chris Graham