Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage is nothing if not thoughtful and effusive, so many of his remarks during our hour-long interview Tuesday about the Cavaliers’ football struggles are not included in my just-posted print column.
Ah, the beauty of blogging. Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Taking seats around a conference table in his office, we engaged in some holiday small talk before Littlepage said that football matters precluded any Thanksgiving travel.
Daily Press: That’s as good a place to start as any. Talk about the present and future of the program. Clearly this has not been the type of season anyone here envisioned.
Littlepage: You can start downstairs on the second floor with the coaching staff and the team. They are right in the middle of it. … They are dissatisfied as anybody might be, and rightfully so. They had high hopes and thoughts that this would be a very, very solid year. Understanding the kind of disappointment that we share around the university and around the football program, it begins with the people directly affected, our players and coaches, and those of us that are shoulder-to-shoulder with them every single day.
We’ve had penalties at inopportune times, we’ve made mistakes at inopportune times. We’ve been one of those teams that seems to have had every mistake blow up and become a big mistake. Third-and-21 at Maryland with the game on the line, the plays against Miami this weekend. …
Those sorts of things have been the story of the season. I think the acclimation of the team and the acclimation of the talent so to speak to new systems, offensively and defensively. We’ve played a lot of young kids, but there a lot of teams playing young kids. We’ve had some injuries, but every team has injuries. I just think it’s been kind of a combination of anything that could have gone south on us has gone south at one point or another … at critical times in the games.
DP: You have been very adamant in your support of Mike London and his staff throughout the season. Has anything you have seen over the course of the last couple of months given you cause to rethink?
Littlepage: No. I have been, as you said, consistent in my support of Mike. That continues. He is going to be our coach and he is going to be successful.
DP: Nothing you have seen this season gives you pause about game management?
Littlepage: I know our coaches and team have been through the preparation that allows for managing the type of situations to which you referred. Often in these cases, there are varying philosophies about how a team should handle things. Do you go with the onside kick or rely on your defense to come up with a stop? do you go for the PAT or do you go for the 2-point conversion? How and when are timeouts used? 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.
DP: How can you help him?
Littlepage: We’ll take a look globally. What is it that other similarly situated programs might be doing that might be applicable to our situation? Where are we in terms of facilities? Where are we in terms of out-of-season programs, and where are we in terms of other support services? Where are we in terms of what are we doing from a technical standpoint offensively and defensively? And just making sure that there’s not something that we’re missing that other programs that are performing … are doing.
DP: Even in good times, I’m sure your inbox overflows. What’s it like now?
Littlepage: I say one of the best parts of my job is I get a lot of free advice. I’d say there is a wide variance. There are those that understand what we’re going through. ‘We understand what these coaches are trying to do, these young people are good representatives and citizens.’ There’s a large group that’s kind of in the middle, that’s wait-and-see. ‘We’re hopeful. We trust that everybody knows what has to be done to get the ship on track.’ And then there’s a group that’s very vocal that is fed up, frustrated, etc., and I understand all three categories, and I hear from all three. That’s not all that unusual. …
Good things that come through in situations like this and the fact that people are expressing, even if they’re expressing displeasure, they care. And that’s a lot better than people that are just silent and walk away.
DP: How often do those above you, President Sullivan and the Board of Visitors, weigh in?
Littlepage: I talk to the president, and I’m in the vice presidents’ and cabinet meetings on a weekly basis. I have access to her whenever it might be appropriate. We talk, but I have not heard from her or anybody else that would be alarming to me in terms of what I think needs to be done. This is not a decision that resides anywhere other than the athletics department and the athletics director.
DP: What is your interpretation of President Sullivan’s view on football and athletics? She worked at schools with big-time programs, Texas and Michigan.