'Trying to fix football,' U.Va. AD adamant in support of London

Virginia AD says every mistake seems to have blown up on Cavaliers.

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Craig Littlepage scrapped Thanksgiving with family in his native Pennsylvania. He's delegating more to underlings and isn't nearly as conversant about early season college basketball as he'd like.

"We're trying to fix football, and that's it," said Littlepage, Virginia's athletic director. "This is important. I'm not focused on anything other than making sure that I'm doing everything that I can to get us back on that path to having a great program."

During an hourlong interview in his office Tuesday, Littlepage expressed profound disappointment in football's prolonged tailspin and uncertainty about the root causes. But echoing statements he's made throughout this season, Littlepage professed certainty that embattled head coach Mike London will return for a fifth year and that London is an essential element to long-term solutions.

Moreover, Littlepage said that ambitious future non-conference schedules, which many label delusional, will not be adjusted, and that the lieutenant who crafted those schedules, executive associate athletic director Jon Oliver, "is one of the absolute best in the country."


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Littlepage's convictions are bound to anger what he acknowledged is a "very vocal" segment of supporters clamoring for London's dismissal and more measured scheduling.

That segment has considerable ammunition.

Entering Saturday's finale against Virginia Tech, Virginia is 2-9, 0-7 in the ACC. The Cavaliers haven't been winless in the conference since 1981, which also was their most recent 10-loss season.

Most troubling: 2013 is not an anomaly. This is Virginia's fifth losing record in six years, its third in four under London. The Cavaliers are 18-30 on London's watch, 8-23 versus the ACC.

Add annual quarterback drama and consistently puzzling game management — use of timeouts, accept-or-decline penalties, punt-or-go-for-it — and you have a stew of unrest.

So from the outside, and regardless of Saturday's outcome, London's football results — no one questions his unshakable commitment to academics and community service — inspire minimal confidence.

But Littlepage's faith is based on observations from the inside. From his third-floor perch in the McCue Center, he strolls down a flight of stairs to the football compound almost daily, meeting, encouraging, probing.

"I know our coaches and team have been through the preparation that allows for managing the type of situations to which you referred," Littlepage said. "Often in these cases, there are varying philosophies about how a team should handle things. …

"When you don't have success, there will be some second-guessing, and that's a part of all sports. …

"So I don't look at it just in terms of what happens in the game, but what is it that's happening on the practice field? What is it that's happening in the meeting room? What is it that's happening in the video/film sessions? I firmly believe that Mike London is going to be successful here at the University of Virginia."

On such internal matters, I defer to Littlepage, but if practices, meetings and video sessions were as efficient and effective as he says, the product would be much better.

Littlepage has been on the job since 2001, and in September the university's Board of Visitors voted him a five-year reappointment. He insisted that the decision to retain London was his alone, and that neither university president Teresa Sullivan nor the board has intervened.

Also, Littlepage said that the cost of dismissing London and the coaching staff did not influence his thinking. The full tab for buying out the remaining three years of London's contract, plus the contracts of his assistants, is more than $10 million, but that amount would have been reduced by salaries earned in subsequent coaching positions.

Delaying a coaching change for a year simply to trim $3 million-plus from the buyout would be the ultimate fool's errand. Another season like this would cost the athletic department far more in lost ticket revenue and donations.

Just look at this year's attendance. The average crowd for Virginia's five most recent home games was 41,271, more than 20,000 below capacity. That's 100,000-plus empty seats. Figure $50 a head, minimum, for a ticket and concessions and you get $5 million.

"I have not gotten to the point of trying to put pencil to paper and figure out what the cost implications are," Littlepage said. "It's always a consideration, but it's not going to be a factor that's going to tip the scales. I think it's all about whether there's a belief that Mike will get the job done, which I (have)."

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