Google searches related to UVA football are as likely to include references to dumpster fires as bowl destinations, but that will happen when you’re 1-3, the one was a narrow win over an FCS school, and the last of the three was a 56-14 loss at home to an unranked team.
Those same Google searches are also likely to turn up online musings on not if, but when, Virginia will fire coach Mike London, who is 24-41 in five-plus years at UVA, with just one winning season, an 8-5 mark all the way back in 2011.
London kept his job despite posting another losing season in 2014, with the Cavs limping home from a 4-2 start to finish out 5-7 with yet another loss to Virginia Tech.
UVA will have to finish out 2015 with a 5-3 record, all in ACC play, just to get to .500 and qualify for the postseason for the first time in four years.
That London is still on the job today, with Virginia in a bye week before the start of ACC play, Oct. 10 at Pitt, rankles a large section of the Wahoo faithful, and honestly, there ain’t many of them left these days, the glory years of UVA football being more than a decade in the rear-view now.
If you’re on the London Must Go bandwagon, you’re not going to want to hear this, but the dumpster fire is likely to rage into next fall.
I’ll give you a moment to clean up your desk from that spit-take.
No, sorry, but the powers-that-be at UVA are not going to fire Mike London.
I’m not saying that I don’t think he should be fired, so don’t aim your fire at me over this. I’m just the messenger, telling you how it’s going to be.
Because I’m right there with you. If anybody should get fired for anything, Mike London should get canned from his job as the head football coach at the University of Virginia.
If he was the CEO of a company performing as poorly as the UVA football program is, on the field and on the bottom line, you’d want to fire him, one, and then two, try to claw back as much of the $13 million-plus he’s taken home to date as you could.
But London isn’t the CEO of a business. He’s the coach of a football team at a school that has more money than God, and an athletics program that is wildly successful across the board with the notable exception of football.
As such, London isn’t held responsible for his bottom line, nor are the two men that he answers to in the athletics department, Jon Oliver and Craig Littlepage.
The 19,000 empty seats for the kickoff of the Boise State game? No big deal. I mean, sure, if the people doing booking at JPJ booked Taylor Swift and undersold it by a third, they’d get the axe, but whatever.
It was, you know, raining.
(And the game was pick ‘em as a result. No excuse not to pack the house for Boise. And absolutely no excuse that Notre Dame drew 58,500, 3,000 below capacity. If you can’t sell out Notre Dame, well, you’re UVA football in 2015.)
The sea of empties in the fourth quarter for Boise State was comical, in an embarrassing sort of way. As was the postgame coverage on ESPN, which featured the pregame pep talk that London delivered to the ESPN camera crew as a running joke to the ineptitude of the program.
This gets us to the two reasons schools like UVA invest so much time, money and effort into college athletics. One, for the marketing, and two, for the money. The money is actually not the primary, because despite how schools sell the economics of college athletics, the athletics department at any school barely pays its own bills, even with the gobs of TV money that flow in, and if you account for the money that comes from student fees, then you’re talking losses, in some cases big losses, across the board.
Which gets us to the marketing. College sports, in particular college football, and to a lesser degree basketball, and even lesser degree baseball and the rest, get the alums back on campus to visit the old alma mater, and every so often they write a check to say thanks for the memories.
That’s one key part to the marketing scheme that justifies the energy expended on spectator sports at the college level.
The other is when your teams are featured on TV, and students see the fun that folks are having at games, and want to be part of it, and decide to apply, and the alums who can’t always make it back for a weekend on campus see the games on TV, and remember what fun they had, and send those checks in, again to say thanks for the memories.
And then you have Friday night, a game played in front of 19,000 empties at kickoff, and a sea of them in the fourth quarter, with the postgame national TV coverage playing up what a joke the UVA football brand is right now.
So much for the kids wanting to be the next SadUVAFan, and the alums not finding to find a thousand other ways to spend that donation.
Again, if UVA athletics is being run like a business, this comes to an end Monday morning, if not over the weekend. Empty seats are like hotel rooms that go unused; you can’t sell tickets to the Notre Dame and Boise State games today or tomorrow, because the games have already come and gone.
How many of those who were on hand for the disaster that was Boise State will ever want to come back remains to be seen.
And the best you can hope from ESPN is that SportsCenter producers find some other hapless program to be the butt of its jokes in future weeks.
The damage is done, but these wounds aren’t entirely fresh. The loss Friday night was only the third-worst home defeat dating back to 2013.
Think about that one for a second. The final was 56-14, but there were two other, more lopsided defeats of recent vintage, the pair of 59-10 defeats suffered at the hands of Oregon and Clemson in 2013.
At least those teams were ranked in the Top 10 in the national polls; Boise State was unranked heading into last week’s game.
It was the eighth (eighth!) 30-point-or-more loss in the London era, and another eight have been by 18 points or more.
That’s a full quarter of the games in the London era in which Virginia was utterly uncompetitive.
Yet you know London will be back for the 2016 season.
And it’s not hard to see why.
The same bottom line that should be the reason for canning the guy is the pressure to keep him on for the final year of his contract.
The calculation is that no matter who coaches the team in 2016, the 2016 Cavs are going to struggle to win games. So you can pay two coaches the going rate to get three, maybe four wins, or you can pay the one already under contract.
Which is a sign of how bad things have gotten with the Virginia football program.
Craig Littlepage, as much as he is pilloried by the fan base for not having the common sense to figure out what seems obvious, isn’t at all a dumb guy.
You can’t even question his football acumen on this one.
UVA football is at least five years away from being anything resembling relevant again. Taking on additional salary for one of those five years might make the fan base happy, but probably not happy enough to fill Scott Stadium next fall, and making a change now might make the program more competitive in 2016 from a schematic standpoint, but probably not enough to translate into more than an extra win or two next fall.
So you grit your teeth and ride it out one more year.
Again, don’t shoot the messenger on this one. I’ve already got a short list of guys that I want to see offered the job on Nov. 28, but I’m more likely to win the lottery twice between now and then than to see London reading his Man in the Mirror speech that afternoon.
– Column by Chris Graham