Somebody’s head needs to roll: No. UVA football needs to stay the course

uva footballWhat would your grade be, my colleague, Scott German, asked me, by text, for the coaching staff after tonight’s UVA-Virginia Tech game?

F-minus, I texted back, on my way home, somewhere on Interstate 81, headed north.

(Don’t worry. I wasn’t driving. My poor wife, having to listen to me drone on about the game for two and a half hours back to Waynesboro. And you know that she’s a Virginia Tech alumna. Yeah, poor gal.)

Look at the message boards, was my next direction.

OK, this oughta be fun.

And, yes, as expected, two-thirds of the posts, give or take a third, had to do with how soon Bronco Mendenhall needs to fire his offensive coordinator, Robert Anae, and how if he doesn’t, it’s because he values friendship and loyalty to friends more than he does winning, and if that’s the case, fire him, too.

Sorry, I don’t agree. Vehemently.

I text this back to Scott, who reminds me of my F-minus grade for the coaching staff.

Which, yes. The first half, how un-ready for play the ‘Hoos seemed, the vanilla play-calling on offense, leading to an anemic 106 yards of total offense for Virginia, against a Virginia Tech team that had been torched by Georgia Tech, Pitt and Miami down the stretch, unacceptable.

The drives after the fourth TD drive of the second half – three plays, one yard, punt, three plays, one yard, short field goal, after a turnover deep in Tech territory, five plays, 11 yards, punt, after Tech tied the score late.

Unacceptable.

So, you don’t think a change needs to be made?

Scott, here, is speaking for the message-board fans.

(He admits to being a sore loser. To be fair, I’m a much bigger sore loser. I sat in the press box in disbelief for five minutes before I could bother myself to even tweet about the final play. I still consider it a personal affront that I had to watch that game in person and see it end the way it did. There, I said it.)

Back to the question: time to make a change?

No. Hell, no. Emphatic hell, emphatic no.

Grade for how the coaching staff did its job on Friday: F-minus. The kids left their hearts out on the field. The coaches didn’t push the right buttons. That’s why Virginia lost.

But, you don’t make big decisions based on one day’s performance, not if you’re running a $100 million athletics program.

(Paging Carla Williams.)

Grade for how the coaching staff has done Years 1-3 in this rebuild of Virginia football: A-minus.

Year 1, things were so bad, Virginia lost at home to Richmond by 17, in a game that wasn’t that close, and finished 2-10.

Last year, with basically the same cast of characters, the coaching staff somehow wringed six wins and a bowl bid out of that same cast of characters.

This year, after losing the best four players off that team, the heart and soul of the defense, Virginia has the third-best defense, statistically, in the ACC, both in terms of scoring and yards allowed, and an offense that is averaging six points per game more than it did a year ago, which, baby steps, but a move in the right direction, a big move, actually, considering where UVA has been offensively dating back several years.

And this, with a hodgepodge in terms of talent, holdovers from the Mike London era, a sort of half-recruiting class left over from the first year of the transition from London to Mendenhall, back in 2016, and two largely unheralded recruiting hauls in 2017 and 2018, not a single four-star recruit among them.

I’ve analogized what Mendenhall and his staff has been able to do in 2018 to what UVA basketball coach Tony Bennett was able to do in his third year, in 2012, when he took a mix of Dave Leitao holdovers and his first two rather underrated recruiting classes to a surprise NCAA bid.

This Mendenhall team was picked seventh in the ACC Coastal heading into the 2018 season, and the consensus was that it would win three, maybe four, with a stretch getting to five, but five, definitely, that was the ceiling, and that was if everything broke the right way.

This team won seven, and the final two losses, at Georgia Tech and at Virginia Tech, tough ones, no doubt. Admit it, though, when you saw the schedule, you thought to yourself, whatever you’re going to get, you’d better get before the games at the Techs, because you’ve got no chance in either of those.

And, yes, as it turns out, Virginia lost both of those, but … both in OT? Both in games the ‘Hoos should have won? You didn’t have that.

Sorry, no, you’re lyin’ through your teeth. You didn’t have that a week and a half ago, much less six months ago.

You don’t want to give them credit, I get that. You want Mendenhall to fire Anae, because of the lack of offense in the first half, whether it was game plan, play-calling, execution, lack of preparation, some combination thereof. Because his offense then scored four touchdowns in the second half, and took the foot off the gas pedal late, and let Tech back into the game.

The criticism is valid. Comes with the territory.

The notion that because of that, Anae should be relieved of his duties, is nonsense.

I mean, think of what you’re saying, if you say that, and really think it.

The current UVA coaching staff has been out on the recruiting trail for three years now. This is the first year that Anae has had a quarterback, in Bryce Perkins, who runs his offense the way he wants it run, with a quarterback who is a threat with his arm and his feet, making the tailbacks better, getting the ball to the wideouts more effectively, making the offensive line look better.

So, in a pique, after a bitter loss to a rival, you want to fire him, so that, what? You get a new guy in his place. Gotcha.

Does the new guy want to run the same offense? If not, the personnel you have now, do you assume they just fit in with the new guy? Or do you assume they just go with whatever flow there is with whatever the new guy wants to do?

You realize, don’t you, that a new coordinator means a new set of position coaches, each teaching their techniques the way they want things done, so, next year is another learning curve year, which we’ve seen a lot of with UVA football dating back to the last few years of the Al Groh era.

Change has been the only constant with UVA football dating back to the beginning of the decline under Groh in the mid-2000s decade. New offensive coordinators, new defensive coordinators, new special-teams guys, new approaches to strength and conditioning.

Every time you make a change of that nature, you’re starting the play clock over, in a manner of speaking.

The way things might be about to go down in Blacksburg, from what we’re hearing. Talk in the press box in Lane Stadium on Friday is that Tech offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen might not be long before needing to update his resume, and you have to wonder, seriously, Bud Foster? His value to Fuente was that he had a system in place that would bring proven results on the defensive side of the ball, and then the Tech defense this year, it has been horrible, god-awful.

Now, Foster is just the guy who the PR folks make sure to include in the postgame quotes that get sent out to the media, which, how many other Power 5 defensive coordinators get that kind of treatment? And if there are any of those guys, how many of them give up 31.6 points and 435.3 yards per game?

So, if you’re at Tech, you might be replacing your offensive and defensive coordinators, going into Year 4 of the Justin Fuente era. Meaning, all of those guys that you’d kept from the transition from Frank Beamer, all the kids from the two nice recruiting classes that were all Fuente, and the incoming 2019 class, have to see where they fit with a new coordinator or two new coordinators.

Heading into Year 4.

Fuente got a raise and extension in 2017 that has him under contract through 2023 – this one is looking more and more like what Craig Littlepage did to lock up Mike London when the world wasn’t clamoring for Mike London, isn’t it?

Tech won tonight, but it had the feel of the Night’s Watch, atop the Wall, under siege by the White Walkers, endless waves of White Walkers, every time you knock 10 of them down, 100 more claw their way back up.

The Hokies, the Watch, preserved the Wall for tonight, but the White Walkers, who also wear orange and a navy blue, are going to scale the Wall, and reduce it to shards.

Your friends, family, co-workers who are Tech fans know this, and will tell you that, damn, kid recovers a fumble in the end zone, if the UVA kid gets to it first, that’s game, or if we don’t block that punt and return it for a TD, or if the replay guys realize that Perkins’ knee and elbow were down on that fumble, any one of those, game, set, shootin’ match.

Get rid of Robert Anae, and you retard the re-development. Even if you hire a guy to replace him who thinks the same way as he does, he has new position coaches teaching their own ways to run routes and block, new ways to run the read option and stand tall in the pocket.

Or maybe the new guy, as most new guys do, says, you know, here’s how I ran it where I just came from, and where I was before that, and how I learned it from the guy who is my mentor, and let me see if I can fit what I’m inheriting into how I do things.

Maybe you do it better in one year; most likely you don’t, and you set yourself back two or three.

And actually, we don’t have to ask that question; we’ve been seeing this dating back to the last three to four years under Groh, and the entirety of the London years.

We’ve got a good thing going right now. Next year, we come back with Perkins having a year running this offense under his belt, and if you ask me, the folks in the UVA media relations office should be putting together a Heisman campaign for him, because he’s that good.

He’ll have an offensive line that is a year older, better, bigger, more acclimated to the system.

A defense that is a year older, better, bigger, acclimated.

A more favorable schedule. Preseason expectations, for the first time in forever in Charlottesville when it comes to tackle football.

And you want to throw that away because you didn’t like the play-calling?

You have that right, I guess. I think you’re being short-sighted, but you’re not required to demonstrate basic common sense when it comes to sports.

Column by Chris Graham

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