Tag Archives: Kevin Parks

He’s Back! Get Ready for Mike London in 2015…

Strap yourselves in Virginia fans, Mike London is going to be running the Cavalier program in 2015. Some fans will give a reserved cheer, others will throw their hands up in disgust and exclaim they will never enter Scott Stadium again until a coaching change is made. By the way, this is a decades-old threat from Virginia fans who frequently lay down the gauntlet, but rarely follow through. The rant goes something like this: “If (fill in the blank – Sonny Randall, Dick Bestwick, Al Groh, Mike London) is coaching this team next year, I’m not going to another game until he’s gone, maybe ever again!” Okay! See you next year! Don’t forget to send in your VAF donation early so you get the most points for your parking spot.

Mike London is coming back and here is why:

(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

While improving over the 2013 edition of Virginia football is an horrifically low bar to clear, the 2014 team is not a bad team by any measure. They are not a good team yet, but they are a much better team than 2013 and I would argue much better than 2012 as well.

For starters, the defense is good to very good. First team All-ACC running backs James Conner and Duke Johnson average 146 and 130 yards rushing per game. Against Virginia, they had 83 and 88 yards respectively. The Virginia defense is ranked 26th nationally in total defense. It has sacked opposing quarterbacks 32 times (18th nationally) and generated 26 turnovers (12th nationally). Virginia played the toughest schedule in the ACC and the defense kept the Cavaliers in every game, Georgia Tech excepted. Led by the All-ACC play of senior linebacker Henry Coley, Virginia is a defense that teams don’t want to play. Jon Tenuta has shown himself to be a top-shelf coordinator and has put a very solid unit on the field.

There is no question that offense has been more of a struggle for Virginia this season and frankly is the reason why Virginia football is 5-6 after 11 games and hence, why many Virginia fans are clamoring for a coaching change. However, despite the problems on offense, there have been several bright spots as well. The Virginia offensive line was predicted by all prognosticators to be the weak link in the Virginia program. A makeshift group with no clear leaders, many predicted that Virginia’s young quarterbacks would spend the 2014 season running for their lives. In a delicious twist of irony, the Virginia offensive line has been the brightest of bright spots for the Virginia program. The Virginia OL has given up a scant 12 sacks through 11 games, and delivered multiple games yielding zero sacks including this past week’s win against Miami. The Virginia running game has improved throughout the year. In the second half of Saturday’s win, the Virginia offensive line imposed its will on Miami, running on all but 5 plays, moving the ball consistently. The Virginia wide receiving corps has been more than capable in 2014 and shows great promise moving forward. The Virginia quarterbacks have delivered 17 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. While this is not the ratio Virginia fans hoped for in 2014, it is a marked improvement over 2013. There are clearly areas for improvement on offense. Tight end play has been deficient and interceptions have been too frequent and unusually ill-timed. Play calling has been questionable, with the screen pass being the most predictable, over-used, and under-performing play in the Virginia arsenal. Steve Fairchild bears much of the responsibility for the struggles on offense. The running-back-by-committee seems to take Kevin Parks out of his rhythm and the lack of commitment to the vertical passing game has made the Virginia offense predictable and therefore easier to defend.

Despite the noted shortcomings, this team is not far from turning the corner. A wholesale cleansing of the coaching staff would likely set Virginia back instead of keeping forward momentum. The reality is, Virginia is one badly botched screen pass against UNC from delivering enough on-field success to keep a restless and impatient fan base in check. Looking at the schedule before the season began, most fans would have been reasonably pleased with a 6-6 season. Given the early success of the program, the fan base got greedy, and now 5-7 or even 6-6 is reason to go through the cost and disruption of a coaching change. It’s not happening.

There is another big reason Mike London is coming back, field performance aside. The donor community and the administration don’t want him gone yet. Mike London brings a lot to the University of Virginia and its stakeholders. The Virginia program, from all indications to the public, is a solid group of admirable young men. Graduation rates are up and disciplinary problems are down. When Virginia administrators, donors, and fans read about the garbage going on at Florida State and UNC, everyone looks thankfully to Mike London as a leader who shares the ideals that are important to UVa community.

On balance, it was a bad week for the University. Given the publicity of the Rolling Stone article and the pressure that will bring for Virginia to take a leadership position in driving structural change to better protect its students, the last thing UVa needs right now is to fire its head football coach, which smacks of “business as usual” and focusing on the wrong things. All eyes are on Virginia right now, and the clear focus needs to be on addressing sexual assault problems, not mollifying impatient football fans. Mike London will be back in 2015. I have seen enough improvement in the program to be glad about it. If UVa is going to make headlines with changes in its leadership, it needs to be centered on addressing the problems on grounds that threaten the well-being of its students, not quibbling over whether 6 wins is good enough to keep the coaching staff in place.

 

 

 

 

Blue Horseshoe Loves UVa Football

If Virginia football was a stock, a week before the season opens or “trading” starts, would you buy, sell, hold, or avoid at all costs? There is one thing for certain about potentially investing in UVa Football, Inc., the shares are going to be cheap. Beaten down from the historical highs of the late 1980’s and 1990s, UVa football might even be a penny stock as we start the 2014 trading season.
bud-fox-21
Like any company battling to win back customer and investor confidence, the 2014 Virginia football season is all about execution.  The ‘Hoos must improve in every phase of the game. There are 14 teams in the ACC. At the end of the 2013 season, in almost every statistical team category, Virginia’s ranking was a double-digit number. Let’s look at the basics. How did Virginia rank in putting points on the board and keeping opponents out of the end zone? This would be like looking at a balance sheet and income statement. Virginia was second to last in the ACC in scoring offense and last in scoring defense. Oddly enough, we were 10th and 11th respectively in passing and rushing yards which suggests that Virginia moved the ball, but then self destructed. This conclusion is supported by the fact that Virginia ranked in the bottom quartile of the NCAA for most penalties per game. Virginia did lead the ACC in one category in 2013…punting yardage. Thanks to Alec Vozenilek who did an outstanding job punting last year combined with the fact that no one in the ACC punted more often than Virginia, the Cavs led the league in the one category where it’s okay to finish last. Are you ready to sink your 401K into UVA Football, Inc yet?
 
When a company doesn’t have the best results to report to the street, investors always look to management for a track record of success and for assets that can drive profitable revenue in the future. Virginia has mixed news here as well. A leadership shakeup just before the 2013 season set the program back 3 years as new schemes were introduced on both offense and defense with predictable results. This is analogous to taking a very large charge against earnings. However, the new leadership has a track record of success. Specifically Tom O’Brien has led major turn around successes at Boston College and NC State as head coach and at UVa working on the staff of Jack…I mean George Welsh. The current staff knows how to win at this level and has the track record to prove it. Additionally, the UVa roster has talent across the board with offensive and defensive playmakers that could play for many of the best national programs. The offensive line is the biggest question mark heading into the UCLA opener on Saturday. It is talented, but young and for the most part untested.  The O-Line sustained two untimely preseason injuries to Jay Whitmire and Sadiq Olanrewaju – both projected starters. If the Offensive line can create a few seams for Kevin Parks and Taquan Mizzell and give Greyson Lambert a little time to find his playmakers, this offense will be vastly improved from 2013. Still not ready to buy?
 
Before you decide whether to invest in UVa football or a different ACC program, remember that many investors lose their shirts chasing last year’s winner. I am not saying that Florida State isn’t going to be very good and potentially repeat as national champion, but the program is flying high, trading at a hefty premium. Clemson is coming off a very productive year and should open the season trading at a premium as well based on recruiting classes that have ranked in the top 15 nationally each of the past 4 years. Other teams like UNC and Miami are going to jump on preseason hype and the promise of improved results over 2013. If I were shorting any program it would be Duke. As wonderful as the turn around story was for Duke football in 2013, the upside to improve on last year’s performance is limited at best. Blue Horseshoe loves Anacott Steel, not Duke Football.
 
If Virginia football was a stock, I’d be buying, but I wouldn’t bet the farm. The best returns are found in under valued stocks that can double or triple over time versus buying the $ 100 stock that goes up five bucks over the same period. There is no program with greater upside than Virginia and many of the pieces in place to deliver on its potential. There is a leadership team in place that has turned around other troubled programs. The talent, based on recruiting rankings is as good or better than many programs in the ACC. The key is execution, making first downs, finishing drives, avoiding stupid penalties, and converting turnovers into points. Virginia didn’t do any of these things well last year and has the stats to prove it. Virginia has the talent and leadership that should produce much improved results in 2014. If Billy Ray Valentine and Louis Winthorpe III can get rich while sending Mortimer and Randolph Duke to the poor house, then Virginia can win 6 games this year and deliver big returns for all of us who believe.

Mike London Needs to Win Now

Miami v Virginia
Geoff Burke/Getty Images

The University of Virginia will find itself in a difficult situation at the end of the upcoming season if its football team does not reach bowl eligibility. The school will be forced to make a decision on the continued employment of head football coach Mike London, revered as a mentor and “father figure” to his players.  London’s off-field successes are numerous but it’s his 18-31 record as UVA’s coach that is the problem.
London demands accountability and his off-field mentorship is defined by these three principles:

  • Go to class
  • Show class
  • Treat People with Dignity and Respect

While all schools talk the talk of athletes being students first, UVA walks the walk. Virginia is first and foremost an institution of higher learning, charged with molding students into career-ready graduates. But while UVA’s alumni delight in seeing the school routinely ranked among the nation’s best academically, they pine for the days when UVA made another ranking: the football top 25.
The current status of the football program puts the school’s administrators in an awkward position.  A successful football program determines the profitability of any school’s athletics department and allows for the funding of the non-revenue sports. Football success also spurs the giving that supports all areas of the university, not just athletics.   Because state funding now makes up less than 5% of the school’s operating budget, alumni giving is especially important at UVA. It is therefore economically vital for UVA to field a winning football team.
Mike London was hired in 2009 and given, by current coaching standards, a relatively modest salary of $1.7 million per year for five years. After UVA surprisingly went 8-4 in 2011 and was invited to the Chick-Fil-A bowl, the school extended his contract, adding two years to his deal and giving him a 23% raise.  London is due to make $2,330,213 this year on his current contract, which runs through 2016.
Were UVA fans and alumni happy with the state of the football program this would all be a non-issue.  However, last year UVA had its worst year since 1982, winning just two games and no conference games. The media reports that London has the most tenuous job security of any football coach in the country.  Athletic Director Craig Littlepage has been adamant that London is the right man to coach the team, putting him at odds with fans longing for a return on their investment in the football program.
Making the situation even more difficult is the fact that London recruits phenomenally well and his players love him.  Some coaches, knowing that tenure doesn’t exist in coaching, prefer not to get too close to their players.  London is the opposite, embracing his role as a mentor. “I’m in it for the players. I’m in it for the players’ development.  My personal goals are that they become educated men because one day they’ll be husbands, fathers, employees, employers much longer than they’ll be a football player,” London said recently.
“We can come in and talk to him about whatever we want, whether it’s something about football, about class, something personal, something with our lives, something going on with the program,” said senior cornerback Demetrious Nicholson. Tony Covington, a former UVA  and NFL player and currently a UVA football radio commentator, speaks glowing of the man. “Coach has a great football mind and kids love playing for him.  They love playing for him because they know that he genuinely cares about them. Not just as football players but as family.  Coach London goes into a recruit’s home and tells that young man and his family that he will treat that young man like his own son…and he actually means it.  How else do you think that his recruiting classes have consistently ranked in the top 30 nationally despite a UVA winning percentage of only fifty-eight percent?” (Tony’s math is off because, at 18-31, London’s win percentage is actually 37%, but the message is clear and his recruiting prowess is a testament to the power of that message.)
ACC football writers have predicted that UVA will finish last in the league’s Coastal Division this year.  There are just too many questions about this team to give the media any confidence that this team will be markedly better than last year. This is the fifth year of London’s tenure and his rebuilding efforts should be showing some results by this point. He has pulled in recruiting classes that amaze pundits and that belie UVA’s status as a struggling program.  However, London’s message of early playing time, the chance to turn around a program while earning a degree from a prestigious university, and the opportunity to play for a man who has demonstrated more than just a football interest in their wellbeing resonates with recruits.  Despite his hot seat status London so far this year has verbal commitments from 15 recruits who are forming another impressive recruiting class for next fall. It was rumored that commitments from two 5-star recruits in the last class saved his job and UVA may be facing the same situation this year.  Were London to be dismissed, would this year’s highly-ranked recruits opt out?  Everyone knows that a team must have talent to win.  If London is fired, UVA risks alienating the impressive talent that he has brought to town and that he hopes will reverse UVA’s fortunes.
This year is critical. London’s contract runs through 2016 and with another losing season there is no way UVA could extend it.  Were he retained as the coach and not given an extension it would mean that he would be recruiting as a lame duck.  Opposing coaches would feast on this. Additionally, London will be due a longevity bonus of $250,000 if he still is the coach on January 15, 2015.  The football program must make meaningful progress this year in order to quell fan unrest and allow the school to extend his contract.  London’s situation is hopeless otherwise.
For those who choose not to follow the media herd, there are hints that a turnaround is in the offing.  If new starting QB Greyson Lambert can effectively manage the game and if his young offensive line can open holes for the running game and also give Lambert time to pass, everything else looks pretty good. UVA’s defense should be stout this year and there are playmakers all over the offense if they can find room to operate.  Granted, these are big ifs but there is room for some optimism.
UVA hired London thinking that he was the right man for the job.  The school would rather not fire him, eat the remainder of his contract, and start another rebuilding program. London is a good mentor and a good representative of the University, but is he a good coach? The players know that they are playing for their coach’s job. “Coach London looks out for us players,” senior running back Kevin Parks said. “He puts his players first. We’ve got to play harder for him and do everything within our will to win games for him and keep him around.”
 
 
 
 

UVA: Recruiting Wins Cause for Optimism?

coach london 2
Mike London needs to convert recruiting wins into actual wins in 2014.

For modern-day Virginia football fans, the George Welsh-era casts a light of hopeful illumination over a program that last year endured its worst-season since 1982.  Lauded as one of the greatest turnaround artists in college football history, Welsh took the University of Virginia (and the Naval Academy before that) to heights not scaled since his retirement in 2000.  His UVA record of 134-86-3 included 14 consecutive years with at least seven wins and proved conclusively that UVA could win despite its reputation for academic rigor. If it was done once it can be done again, Virginia fans insist. They are still waiting.
Welsh’s successors have proved unable to maintain the momentum he established and UVA since then could be characterized as a program in a steadily decaying orbit. Following Welsh’s (some say forced) retirement UVA turned to Al Groh and under his direction the program had several memorable years. Fans had hope. The 2002 team won 9 games. The 2004 squad started 5-0 and reached #6 in the national polls. The 2007 team won 9 games, with an NCAA record five of those wins coming by two points or less.
Groh was winning at an acceptable rate but cracks began to appear in the program.  While UVA had seemingly settled into a “seven wins and a bowl game” mindset, rival Virginia Tech was coming on fast.  UVA fans vociferously objected when Virginia Tech joined the ACC in 2004, sensing that ACC affiliation was all that stood between Virginia Tech and state football supremacy. They were right. Virginia has not beaten Tech since.  Tech’s on-field success and ACC status made the school dominant in recruiting in-state talent.  Virginia produces football talent at a level just below powerhouse states Texas, Florida, and California and keeping that talent at home is a priority for the state’s Division 1 coaches. Groh wasn’t doing that.  There were reports that Groh had strained relations with coaches at some of the state’s top high school programs, especially those in the talent-rich Tidewater area.  Eventually, Groh’s inability to recruit in-state talent, his surliness with fans and the media, his record against Tech, his willingness to burn red-shirts to no real advantage, and UVA fans’ abandonment of the program cost Groh his job. He was let go at the end of the 2009 season.
The Cavaliers turned then to Mike London, a former Groh assistant and a coach who had guided the Richmond Spiders to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) National Championship in 2008.  UVA fans hoping for a big name to make a recruiting splash perceived this as a questionable hire. UVA, however, was sensitive to criticism it received for having to buy out the remainder of Groh’s contract during a time of dwindling state financial support and resultant budgetary cuts.  With already good in-state recruiting ties, London was, financially at least, a lower risk.
Like Groh before him, London delivered a season early on that gave UVA fans reason for optimism.  His 2011 team won 8 games before getting steamrolled by Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.   Virginia stumbled in 2012, losing 8 of its last 10 to finish 4-8. Fan nervousness was offset partially by the fact that London appeared to be a players’ coach and was once again bringing top-level in-state and national talent to Charlottesville.  UVA fans logically believed that London’s recruiting wins were a precursor to gridiron success.  The one-sided nature of the Virginia Tech rivalry remained an issue, however. The 17-14 loss in 2012 was as close as UVA had gotten since a loss by the same score in 2008.
Last year, the program crashed. Hard. A season that began with a somewhat surprising and frankly miraculous win over BYU was followed the next week by a 59-10 home loss to #2 Oregon that gave UVA fans a very clear picture of where the program stood in its quest for national relevance.  After cruising past an overmatched VMI team that UVA had no business playing, nine consecutive opponents bested Virginia and exposed all of the team’s flaws.  The losing streak was attributed to new offensive and defensive schemes, new coordinators, a largely untested QB, a shaky offensive line, bad game management, and lack of upper class depth.  A program that had struggled for a decade to stay afloat lost all buoyancy, posting an oh’fer in the ACC and dropping to the bottom quartile of many national statistical rankings.
All struggling programs sell optimism when wins are scarce and UVA is doing some hard selling this year. Despite its 2-10 record UVA had a very good recruiting year, garnering commitments from twin Tidewater 5-stars DL Andrew Brown and S Quin Blanding and several other highly-touted in-state and national recruits.  With Brown, Blanding and last year’s 5-star addition, RB Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell, in uniform this year, UVA likely will have more talent than at any time since the Welsh era.   Last year’s very young team is a year older and returns 9 starters on a defense led by senior All-American safety Anthony Harris.  Highly recruited Greyson Lambert has supplanted the popular-but-ineffective David Watford at QB. Lambert will have the luxury of handing off to Mizzell and Kevin Parks, the ACC’s only returning 1000-yard rusher. The transfer of senior TE Jake McGee to Florida no doubt hurts the passing game but sophomore Keeon Johnson flashed big play potential last year and Lambert will have ample receiving talent at his disposal.
This team certainly does not lack for talent and London’s recruiting ability has gained him another year to try to turn this program around.  Virginia was one of only 8 teams to sign more than one 5-star recruit last year and the only one with a losing record. With more game experience this team should show better execution on both sides of the ball.  There is no guarantee that this additional depth and experience will show up in the win column because every one of UVA’s 2014 FBS opponents was bowl eligible last year.
Most pundits predict that UVA will need to gain bowl eligibility this year for London to keep his job. London has proven his prowess as a recruiter but ultimately recruiting wins are not as important as actual wins. It is time to turn this impressive collection of individual talent into a winning team. If UVA flounders around at the bottom of the Coastal Division again no number of recruiting wins will save his job.

Average Gets it Done for UVa Football

No matter what kind of day you have had or what kind of week it has been, when you get home your dog is always happy to see you. Always. Virginia fans feel the same way about football season. It doesn’t matter that UVa was 2-10 last year or that we were 0-8 in conference play. It doesn’t matter that we had our second consecutive losing season and our 5th losing season out of the past 6. Football season starts August 30th and Virginia fans are optimistic, excited, and ready to go…well, at least 2 of those.
 
I am not “ready to go” but I am excited and optimistic and it’s not because I fell off a ladder (if I had one) and hit my head. It is because despite a lousy, rotten, no-good 2-10 season, Virginia was one position away from having an acceptable rebuilding year in 2013. Unfortunately that position was QB, where Virginia has been lacking during each of those 5 losing seasons. However, last year was unusually painful because we knew our QB was a great kid and vocal leader with a strong arm and good speed. The pain started when Virginia needed a precise completion or a heady scramble to gain a critical first down. When the chips were down in 2013, the Virginia QB was generally holding a pair of two’s and folded…at least 10 out of 12 times. How bad was it? Real bad. The numbers don’t lie and they aren’t pretty. The average starting QB for ACC programs that don’t run the triple option tossed 19 touchdowns against 11 interceptions and threw for 2824 yards. Our QB delivered 8 TD’s, 15 picks, and 2202 yards. Ouch.
 
So why am I both optimistic and excited? Let’s start with the obvious…we have a new starting QB in Greyson Lambert. UVa also returns 9 of 11 defensive starters including All-American safety Anthony Harris who led the nation with 8 interceptions and Eli Harold who has a first step and a motor that rivals former UVa great Chris Slade. If that weren’t enough giddiness on defense, Virginia also added 2 all-world defensive recruits in Andrew Brown and Quinn Blanding. On paper, this defense has the talent to rival some of the great Virginia defenses of the George Welsh era. Additionally, over the course of his career, coordinator John Tenuta’s defenses have shown marked improvement from their first to second seasons as his players learn his system and begin to thrive in his attacking defensive schemes. On offense, Virginia returns Kevin Parks, a hard-nosed between the tackles runner who had an excellent season despite the fact that every opposing coaching staff (as well as every fan on the planet) knew Virginia couldn’t pass the ball and stacked the box with regularity to stuff the run. Kevin Parks gained 1031 yards despite facing 8-9 defenders near the line of scrimmage every time he got the ball. The kid is a gamer, a senior captain, and the kind of student athlete that thrives at UVa.
Lambert
However, it is the quarterback position where I find a genuine albeit surprising source of optimism. While Greyson Lambert was a highly prized recruit from the heart of SEC country standing 6-5 with an arm to make every throw in the playbook, that’s not why I am so hopeful. I am hopeful, because all things held constant at 2013 levels (economics anyone? Let’s assume…) Virginia doesn’t need Greyson Lambert to be All-ACC next year to have a winning season. We just need him to be average, & not double the number of touchdowns he throws with the number of picks. We need him to manage the game, to get the ball to Kevin Parks or to sophomore and former 5-star recruit Taquan Mizzell who is finally healthy and ready to roll. Lambert needs to hit his open receivers in stride more often than he hits open defenders. While Virginia fans would be ecstatic if Grayson Lambert turned into the next Andrew Luck and I would be ecstatic if I won Powerball next week, the reality is, we can turn 2-10 into 7-5 with average quarterback play.
 
Average? Is that what Virginia is for shooting for here? After consecutive seasons of 4-8 and 2-10, yes we are looking for average QB play that gets us to a bowl game, begins to rebuild confidence in the UVa program with both fans and recruits, and gets the fans back in their seats and away from their tailgates. Does average cut the muster over the long term? Nope. Will average QB play suffice this year? You bet it will and everyone including my dog will be happy about it, but he’s happy all the time, so he doesn’t really count.