Monday was a big day politically for Carla Williams, the athletics director at UVA, with the news of the day bringing in a new executive director of the Virginia Athletics Foundation, and a familiar name returning to UVA Athletics in the form of Wally Walker.
First, to the VAF hire, which has a guy named Kevin Miller taking over the reins at the second-most important job in the department, unless it’s the first, because the VAF is responsible for raising roughly 40 percent of the annual budget for UVA Athletics.
That Miller comes to the VAF from Georgia, and not just Georgia, but the University of Georgia, is the political win here for Williams, who herself came to the AD job at UVA from a post at UGA, and made as her first senior staff appointment another UGA Athletics alum, Jim Booz, who Williams has as the administrator in charge of the football program, arguably the third-most important job in UVA Athletics.
I’ve been the only media person writing about the hint of discord that exists with some behind the scenes with the tenure of Williams, and if you haven’t caught on to any of that, this is going to maybe seem odd, but, yes, there is a sense that Williams could be a smidge vulnerable.
The most obvious manifestation of that is the way things are playing out to this point for her handpicked new football coach, Tony Elliott, who she hired in 2021 after Williams effectively pushed out his predecessor, Bronco Mendenhall, who resisted an ultimatum to fire his defensive coordinator and instead fired himself.
This was the same Mendenhall who had led the UVA program to an Orange Bowl just two years prior, ahead of a pair of disappointing .500 seasons in 2020 and 2021.
Elliott, one would have to assume at Williams’ direction, immediately began a teardown of the Mendenhall roster and culture, going with a full rebuild at a place where one wasn’t needed.
The first season ended with a 3-7 mark, and a mass exodus of players in the offseason left the cupboard mighty bare heading into Year 2, which began with the media picking UVA to finish dead last in the ACC, and an 0-2 start to the 2023 season seeming to have things headed in that direction as predicted.
ADs who push out a successful football coach for one of their own choosing need their coach to, above all else, win.
The early returns being what they are, and a look at the state of the program from the 30,000-foot level – with Elliott’s first prep recruiting class ranking just 13th in the 14-program ACC this past year, and his 2024 class ranking, guess where, 13th again – doesn’t offer much hope.
It’s not often that an AD gets to push out a successful football coach, hire who they want, see that guy flame out, then get to go back to the well to get another try at it.
We’re at best a year or, as much as I hate to concede this, probably at least two away from Williams possibly facing the music on this, but getting back to the hire of Kevin Miller, an UGA guy, one way to view that bit of news is, that’s political cover, if needed by Williams down the line.
Basically, alright, you want to fire me, the fundraiser is leaving with me.
The Walker hire – the hoops alum with an MBA and decades of sports business management experience will serve as a deputy AD under Williams – also comes across to me as political cover for Williams.
The Walker news was timed for release literally a few minutes after the news about Miller being tapped to take over the VAF was put out there by Williams’ athletics department’s PR team.
The order of the releases – we hired a guy from Georgia to run the VAF, but look over here, it’s Wally Walker! – could get one to think that they were consciously using the Walker news to serve the purpose of neutering any criticism that could have come Williams’ way from the hire of Miller at VAF.
It’s pure political genius on the part of the mysterious Williams, who might be the least publicly visible college AD in the business, but clearly knows how to wield the big stick when necessary.