Jay James WINA Sports-I find myself having some great workouts lately on the treadmill as I analyze the Virginia Football situation. I have to confess I’m frustrated with the amount of naysayers that have now come out of the woodwork since the Hoos have gotten off to a disappointing 2-4 start. Obviously what has people so frustrated is the fact that there are games that looked as if the Cavaliers had a great chance to win them (MD, Pitt, Ball State), but mistakes ended up costing the Cavaliers in the end, with penalties and turnovers. Regarding mistakes, I’m reminded of what former UVa Coach Al Groh once said “It takes a whole lot to win a football game, and it takes very little to lose it.” Tom O’Brien , UVa Associate Head Coach for offense, offered this nugget to the media when describing the team’s recent struggles “we found the enemy … and it’s us.” So the question is, how far off track in the development of a football program is Virginia after 3 ½ years? Are they off track at all? Football programs turn like battle ships, slow and wide. While we all know this, we have people ready to punt on Mike London and the program just 3 ½ years in, which is completely ridiculous. I had a guy come up to me and predict a 2-10 season, and another guy said to me that people thought the challenge of UVa Football was too big for London. All of that rhetoric could not be further from the facts, but in order to see that we have to take a look at those facts.
Mike London is 18-25 after three and a half years at Virginia. In that time frame he has received the ACC Coach of the Year award in his second season, he took UVa to their first bowl since the 2007 season, and had UVa one game away from a berth in the ACC Championship game. He also is the only coach in the history of college football to win on the road at FSU and Miami in the same season. London has also brought in two Virginia state players of the year (Eli Harold and Demetrius Nicholson) and opened back up the pipeline to the Tidewater area that Frank Beamer and VA Tech had owned UVa in. All of London’s recruiting classes have been in the top 25 nationally. London has also brought in the first five star recruit since 2005 (Smoke Mizzell), and UVa is the only team out of 125 FBS teams to have two top ten players, who are five star athletes committed for 2014. So we have to ask ourselves … would any of these players even think about coming to UVa if London was not there? The answer is an emphatic no.
Somehow, London is able to overcome UVa’s academic requirements, which other schools use to recruit against Virginia, and the lack of recent success in the last decade, and while Welsh was great, he won only two ACC titles and had one ten win season out of 19. Add to that the fact that Virginia hasn’t beaten that school in the Southwest Corner since 2003, and only once in the last 15 tries. Despite all of that, top national talent wants to play for London. So where was Frank Beamer at this point in his tenure at Tech? After four full seasons Frank Beamer was 17-26, and in his sixth season he went 2-8-1. In Coach K’s first three years he was 38-47 and fans wanted both of these guys out, good thing those Universities were patient. London is the only Coach who can recruit these types of athletes to UVa, and at the same time maintaining the highest academic standing the team has had in the last 10 years (spring of 2013) and keep guys out of the newspapers. However, while all of that is great, it is about wins, and forward momentum, so let’s see where UVa is.
Here are the facts of the current season, UVa has 55 freshman and sophomores out of 85 scholarships, and they have 28 players who have made their college debuts this year. Virginia also has started four true freshmen, and only has seven scholarship seniors on the entire team. Many people are tired of hearing about a young team, but the reality is … they are a young team. The quarterback is making his seventh start Saturday, and in his sixth start against Maryland, he threw for 263 yards with a TD and no turnovers, and Mike London called it his best game to date. The offensive line finally had their best five out there with the return of Connor Davis at left guard, and Bowanko moving back to center. Once that move was made, UVa rushed for over 200 yards on the 24th ranked defense against the rush in the country and didn’t give up a sack to the team ranked 3rd in the country in sacks going into the game. UVa’s defense is second in the nation in three and outs defensively, and seventh in the nation in third down defense. Running Back Kevin Parks has 20 rushing TD’s and is already 10th on UVA’s all time list.
So the team is getting better, and it is taking time, like we all expected it to when London was hired, and restored the good will of the fans by being out in the community with his players, and being accessible to fans. When he came in back in 2009, we expected the return to prominence to be a very slow process, we had very, very little talent in the program. So the question is, after such a short time, why are there people questioning the direction? Did we not think after the beating Virginia was taking in recruiting, and the fact that UVa hasn’t had a consistent starter at quarterback since 2005 wasn’t going to affect things? The Phillip Sims experiment didn’t work, but 90% of the fan base was clamoring to bring that guy in, including my own analysts. That controversy and the flipping of quarterbacks definitely set the program back a step. Plus we have to remember UVA has brought in three new coordinators this year who are still learning the personnel and what they can do. Virginia now has three new wide receivers starting, and they are all 6-3 and over 200 pounds. If you add that to an improved line, and a quarterback growing in confidence, and a defense that is forcing turnovers and creating sacks, something is building in WAHOO land.
Can we continue to be patient and stay with this team? It’s a very important question, remember what Tom O’Brien quoted … “we found the enemy … and it’s us.” We can’t punt on these kids and on London without giving him at least a full four years to build this thing. He’s the right man, for the right time in Virginia Football History. You cannot find anyone better who can deal with all the challenges that come with trying to build a football program from the ground up at the University of Virginia. London would admit that he and his staff have to be better, he has said it on multiple occasions, the good news is, they are getting better. Don’t give up on him, even though the growing pains are difficult.
Look at what Matt Schaub is going through, active in the Houston community, a former pro bowler, and the Texans have had a winning season all but one of the years he has been there. But this year he has had four straight games with a pick six and has thrown nine total picks. Now fans were cheering when Matt was injured. I know we are better than that, and I know Virginia fans are better than the criticism we get from Tech fans about being fair-weather fans. Hopefully folks will hang in, while this thing turns slowly and these young kids will realize their potential. My boss sent this to me this morning, and in this situation, it seems appropriate.
“As long as we don’t give up, we can never, ever fail.
Think of that.
Do everything wrong, get every bad break, have everyone turn against you, compete against the more talented, get beaten down every day and it is still impossible to fail if you absolutely refuse to give up.
The one thing about giving up is that it is for losers.
Winners never give up no matter how bad things get.
When England was bombed night after night by Nazi planes in World War II, Prime Minister Winston Churchill could not afford to mince words to his beleaguered people.
Remember, by day the British had to walk over the rubble, tend to the injured and dead and then prepare to get battered again at night.
It doesn’t get any worse than that.
Keep that in mind and repeat the powerful phrase Churchill told his people:
“Never, never, never give up”.
It’s in our power to will our way to success because you can’t fail unless you stop trying.”
Coverage of UVA and Duke begins at 1pm Saturday on Newsradio 1070 WINA.