Odd timing to announcement about Mike London return to UVA

London_1It was becoming clear that UVA Athletics Director Craig Littlepage was planning to bring football coach Mike London back in 2015. But what about the timing of the announcement – at 3 p.m. the day before Thanksgiving, and two days before the season finale against archrival Virginia Tech?

It makes sense if what Littlepage was trying to do is take the heat off London and his team. The endless speculation the past few weeks, as Virginia dropped four straight before finally breaking that skid with a 30-13 win over Miami last Saturday in Charlottesville, was that the Cavs would need to finish at 6-6 for London to retain his post. The win over Miami has UVA at 5-6. Virginia favored over Virginia Tech for the first time since 2003, but the Hokies have still won 10 straight in the series. That’s enough pressure for a program whose roster was still in elementary school and middle school the last time Virginia recorded a win in the series; adding the pressure of playing for their coach’s future might have been too much, at least to Littlepage.

That’s one perspective, anyway. Message boards lit up with an alternative viewpoint: that the kids could use whatever motivation they can get to get them up for getting that elusive win over Virginia Tech, and if it’s trying to save Coach London’s job that gives them that extra push, then, hey, there you go.

Which is all well and good, but Littlepage doesn’t strike me as the type to use the keep-people-on-their-toes management style to motivate people. This is the guy that kept London’t predecessor, Al Groh, on two years too long, after having kept on basketball coaches Pete Gillen and Dave Leitao at least a year too long each, and letting women’s hoops coach debbie ryan go several years past her usefulness at the head of that program.

For a guy with a degree in economics, Littlepage doesn’t run the athletics department at UVA much like you would run a business. Littlepage is more the guy chairing the English Department, trying to get everybody to come to a consensus, focusing on how we can all learn lessons from mistakes and each other, not any bottom line.

There was one cold business-like aspect to the announcement with respect to the timing. The pre-holiday news dump was pure inside the Beltway politics, the Friday news dump on a Wednesday. You’re reading this on Thanksgiving Day, when the news business shuts down for turkey and mashed potatoes, and then the focus shifts to the Commonwealth Clash on Friday. By Saturday, we have the aftermath of the game to talk about. Win or lose, we will have had three full days to let the news that London is returning sink in, and if there’s a UVA win in between to further shift our focus, so much the better.

A 55-0 loss in that context would be a tough one to sell; fans won’t be willing to give him a mulligan, with London’s record at 23-37 in five seasons, only one of which (to date) has ended with the ‘Hoos sporting a winning record.

A loss on Friday dooms UVA football to its seventh losing season in the last nine years. Not many programs with mottoes marketing their commitment to uncompromised excellence keep coaches who can’t turn things around in these instances, and the Ads who have their backs quite often become victims to the fallout that kind of uncompromised mediocrity bring with it.

– Column by Chris Graham



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