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London among quality possibilities

The University of Virginia should not lack for accomplished, intriguing, and yes, diverse candidates as it searches for a head football coach.

Within the Cavaliers family you have a reigning national champion, recent ACC kingpin and architect of a remarkable urban renewal.

Outside the circle are those who might find an academic power with first-rate facilities and top-10 ambitions appealing. Among them: the designer of the nation's most prolific offense, the 2006 national coach of the year and a service academy big whistle with ACC and NFL experience.

But Virginia fans, administrators and their new coach need to acknowledge the bare truth: This is not a top-25, let alone a top-10, gig.

Can it be, given the right hire? Perhaps. But history is discouraging.

Since joining the ACC in 1954, the Cavaliers have cracked the Associated Press' final poll eight times. They've never been among the year-end top 10, and they've authored just one 10-win season.

Contrast that to Virginia's primary competition for the state's abundant football resources. Virginia Tech is a bowl victory shy of its sixth consecutive 10-win season and 11th in 15 years.

The Hokies are headed to a 17th straight bowl and could vault into the final top 10 for the fifth time in 11 years.

Now consider the Cavaliers' depressed state. Deposed coach/poet laureate Al Groh leaves a program reeling from three losing seasons in four years, lowlighted by the 3-9 carnage that concluded with Saturday's 42-13 home loss to Virginia Tech.

Virginia has ranked below 100th nationally in total offense each of the last four seasons. The Cavaliers have dropped two consecutive games to Duke and this year lost to a championship-subdivision team, William and Mary, for the first time since 1986.

George Welsh bequeathed a far better product when he exited after the 2000 season. Yet that search produced Groh, an alum whose résumé was checkered at best — one 9-7 season with the New York Jets; five losing seasons in six at Wake Forest; 11 years as a highly regarded NFL defensive assistant.

This search should yield better, in part because Groh hired and developed quality staff during his nine seasons in Charlottesville.

Richmond coach Mike London, a Bethel High graduate, served as Virginia's defensive coordinator under Groh. He guided the Spiders to last season's FCS national championship and has them back in the quarterfinals this year.

Al Golden also worked as Groh's defensive coordinator. This year, he coached Temple, a long dormant program in Philadelphia, to a 9-3 regular season, the Owls' first winning mark since 1990 and best since 1979.

Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe is a Virginia graduate, and in 2006 his Deacons claimed the ACC title. Moreover, Wake followed up with winning seasons in '07 and '08, the program's first such three-year run since 1946-48.

Given the school's academic standards, minimal resources and fractional enrollment — its student body of about 4,300 is one-fifth the size of Virginia's — Grobe rates a coaching savant.

None of those three is certain to covet the job, but if pitched wisely, we suspect they would.

Others figure to be more difficult sells, and through intermediaries, Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage likely has gauged their interest, or lack thereof. Those coaches include Air Force's Troy Calhoun, a Grobe protégé who worked at Wake Forest; Boise State's Chris Petersen, the 2006 Bear Bryant Coach of the Year; and Houston's Kevin Sumlin, whose Cougars lead the nation in scoring (44.9 points) and total offense (583.3 yards).

Notice the lack of assistant coaches. While Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster have sterling reputations — Foster interviewed with Virginia in late 2000 — the Cavaliers of 2009 should not gamble on someone without college head-coaching experience.

The program is too needy, the stakes too high.

Virginia will, and should, explore African-American candidates such as London and Sumlin. Littlepage and his top lieutenant, Jon Oliver, are black and well aware of how few minorities serve as bowl-subdivision head coaches.

The number this season is seven among 120 programs. Miami's Randy Shannon is the lone major-conference black head coach and one of two in ACC annals — the other was Wake Forest's Jim Caldwell, now leading the undefeated Indianapolis Colts.

"When you combine our aspirations with the institutional commitment to athletic facilities and resources," Littlepage said in a statement Sunday, "I believe that the job … will be attractive to some outstanding candidates."

It only takes one.

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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