Southern Cal, Maryland firings, Spurrier retirement, put UVA behind the coaching eight-ball?
Assuming UVA is going to part ways at the end of the 2015 season with football coach Mike London, who is on his way to a fifth losing season in six years, the school would appear to be at best second in line for the top available coaching candidates out there now that Southern Cal has parted ways with Steve Sarkisian.
USC will get the pick of the litter, presumably, being a top-tier program, one, and two having its job already on the open market with the firing of Sarkisian, who was let go midway through his second season with a 12-6 record overall, and a 3-2 mark in 2015.
Maryland also has a head start on its next man up after firing Randy Edsall midway through his fifth season after Edsall’s teams posted a 22-34 record, including a 2-4 mark in 2015.
And then there’s South Carolina, where long-time head coach Steve Spurrier is out, telling players Monday night that he is retiring, effective immediately, after the Gamecocks stumbled out of the gate to a 2-4 start, with four straight losses in SEC play to start the 2015 season.
One other Power 5 conference school has a vacancy – Illinois, which fired Tim Beckman before its 2015 season opener, and is 4-2 at the midway point under interim coach Bill Cubit.
Cubit, 61, could be a candidate for the job after the season is over. The Illini had gone 12-25 under Beckman, so the 4-2 start to 2015 is a step in a different direction for the program, to be sure.
Cubit has previous head coaching experience, going 51-47 in eight seasons as the head man at Western Michigan.
Back to Virginia, which many feel is on its way to making a move at the end of the season to cut ties with London, with the Cavs’ 1-4 start and London’s woeful 24-42 record in five-plus seasons in Charlottesville.
The pressure would seem to be on to do something sooner rather than later if only you consider the situations at USC, Maryland and Illinois, all of whom are getting a jump start on their coaching searches by having interims finishing out 2015.
Maryland took advantage of a bye week to hatchet Edsall and install Mike Locksley as the interim coach. Virginia has already had its bye week, so any change would have to come with a short week to shuffle the deck with the staff, as USC is having to do after firing Sarkisian with a road game at Notre Dame coming up on Saturday.
Southern Cal was able to promote Clay Helton to the head job on an interim basis for the second time in three seasons. Helton has been at the school since 2010, and he served as interim coach for one game in 2013, after USC fired Lane Kiffin five games into the season, finished out the 2013 regular season with Ed Orgeron as the interim, then lost Orgeron upon hiring Sarkisian.
Should Virginia make a move in-season, it would stand to reason that the top candidate for the interim job would be Mike Archer, one of two members of London’s current staff listed as associate head coach.
The other person with that title is defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, who is responsible for play-calling for the defense in that role. Tenuta, a 1982 UVA alum with 35 years of coaching experience, has no head-coaching experience.
Archer, the head coach for four seasons at LSU, is one of three members of the staff with Division I head-coaching experience – along with offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild (four seasons at Colorado State) and special-teams coordinator Larry Lewis (eight seasons at Idaho State).
This is all assuming that the Cavs aren’t able to get things turned around, safe as that assumption might be at this point. UVA is favored this weekend at home against Syracuse, but is not likely to be favored in any of its remaining six games – at North Carolina, at home against Georgia Tech, at Miami, at Louisville, and home against Duke and Virginia Tech.
London has one year left on his contract. He is making $3.1 million this year, a salary that ranks him as the third-highest paid coach in the ACC, behind Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney.
That’s an indication that UVA is willing to spend money on its football program. The next coach, you have to imagine, will be at least as well-compensated as London, if not more so, considering the task that lies ahead.
Virginia is on its way to its eight losing record in 10 years, dating back to the end of the Al Groh era, but the athletics program at UVA is, by and large, very successful, winning the Capital One Cup for the 2014-2015 athletics year on the strength of national championships in baseball, men’s tennis and men’s soccer, with a men’s basketball program coming off back-to-back ACC titles and 30-win seasons.
The UVA job is an attractive one, and the school is able to pay close to top dollar. For sake of comparison, Spurrier was making $4 million at South Carolina, Sarkisian was making an estimated $3.25 million at Southern Cal, Edsall was making $2.1 million at Maryland, and Beckman was making $1.8 million at Illinois.
Waiting until the end of the season to make a move with London makes it hard for the athletics department to reach out to potential candidates in any kind of formal way, and even informally, at the risk of word leaking out, as word often does in this day and age of media oversaturation.
It’s a little over two months between the end of the season in late November and signing day in early February. The longer it takes to get a new coach in place, the less time the next man up has to put together a staff, re-recruit Class of 2016 commits and get things ready for the spring.
The 2015 season is already in the tank. The 2016 season is now on the clock, and the more this lingers, we’re starting to bite into 2017, if you don’t get good coordinators and position coaches in place, get their systems installed, get the personnel schooled in what is going to be expected of them.
– Column by Chris Graham