October 1, 2012

The Storm Still Brews

A lot has been made of late about the perceived deficiencies of this coaching staff and the lack of perceived progress made by the program as we enter the third season of the Mike London era. Coming off this weekend's loss to Louisiana Tech you started to hear some of these rumbles get pretty loud. In fact, I openly put Saturday's loss on the coaching staff. But you need time to grow. Virginia is a dormant program which faces a ton of obstacles as it tries to rise up. High academic standards makes it hard for us to get every single player we could want, ask Michael Parker. While an extremely fairweather student fanbase makes it tough to provide the kind of atmosphere needed for big time football. This, coupled with a national level program right in our backyard, makes the task in front of Mike London a tall one. But there is a blueprint for success, and it lies 3000 miles to the west.

In 2007 Jim Harbaugh became the coach of the Stanford Cardinal. A school steeped in academic tradition, and devoid of any real football talent. Harbaugh also was faced with the same major obstacles that currently face Mike London. Attendance was poor, academics were tough, and Stanford is geographically bracketed by Oregon to the north and USC to the south. It would be extremely tough for Harbaugh to get his foot in the door. So he just kicked the door down. In this article we will examine the similarities between the first two years of UVA under Coach London and Stanford under Coach Harbaugh, and hopefully this will make everyone feel just a little bit better.

Recruiting Class of 2007/2010
Both coaches had to salvage classes as their first task on the job. Both classes were similar in that they were not strong, but would provide some key pieces for the future. Stanford's 2007 class featured players like Coby Fleener and Doug Baldwin, both of whom developed quite nicely into NFL players. It also featured QB Kellen Kiilsgaard (awesome name) who eventually moved to fullback, but also was a baseball player. Truly a one big star but overall solid class. Compare this with the UVA class of 2010. Though they are only juniors this class is very similar to Stanford's in that it is a one star class with some other very solid pieces. The jewel of this class for the Hoos was Morgan Moses, but other solid players include Kevin Parks, EJ Scott, and Jake McGee on offense, and linebacker Henry Coley and DT Chris Brathwaite on defense. A solid class, not a game changer, but very solid.

2007 Season/2010 Season
Both teams struggled in the first season under their new coaches. In fact both teams went 4-8. However you could sense a change at both schools. Harbaugh beat USC - then number 2 in the country - at USC, and also beat arch-rival Cal in the big game. The team was ready, and the buzz was building, but the team was plagued by inconsistencies and got punched in the mouth by Oregon and Arizona State, both of whom were ranked at the time. London's first season also brought about a change in the culture of the program, and also nearly featured a big win over USC (Isaac still had a clean block on that fake punt for the record.) It did, however, feature a statement win over a then-ranked Miami Hurricanes team at home for the Hoos' only ACC win of the season. It was rough, but there was life.

Recruiting Class of 2008/2011
Both coaches used their respective solid seasons to flex their muscles on the recruiting trail. In 2008 Stanford brought in a fellow you may have heard of, Andrew Luck. In addition to Luck, Harbaugh brought in eventual first round picks David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin to anchor his line, and a solid receiver in Chris Owusu to pair with Coby Fleener and Doug Baldwin. This class proved to be the one that would be Stanford's foundation moving forward. Similarly to Stanford, Mike London also made extreme headway in his first full class pulling in five 4-star talents, including Demetrious Nicholson, the state's number one ranked player. That class also included Dominique Terrell, Darius Jennings, Clifton Richardson, and Brandon Phelps, as well as Anthony Harris, all of whom are major contributors to this season's team as sophomores. This was the first true infusion of speed and athleticism that the program had gotten in a long time, and one that Coach London would look to build on for the next cycle.

2008 Season/2011 Season
Both teams entered the second season under their respective coaches looking to show some improvement, and while both teams looked good at times, there were also some definite signs that it wasn't quite time yet. However the Hoos managed to pull off a miraculous season of close wins, and big wins, that could end up skewing the expectations of the fans more than they should be. In 2008 Stanford went 5-7, just missing a bowl game. They took a vengeful tail whipping from the Trojans at the Farm and also lost the Big Game to Cal in Berkely. However they did show some fight in a lot of games. The season featured a 48-0 beatdown of Wazzu, and a near victory at Notre Dame. The Hoos eeked out wins at FSU and at home against Idaho before crashing back to earth with a 38-0 drubbing at the hands of the Hokies and a 43-24 loss to Auburn in the Peach bowl. The season didn't really end the way either coach had planned, but both programs showed life.

Recruiting Class of 2009/2012
In 2009 Stanford pulled in the 32nd ranked class in the country, which when you think about how hard it must be to recruit there against all the other west coast powers, is pretty damn impressive. Building on the foundation of the class of 2008, the class of 2009 would provide valuable pieces that would help take the program to the next level. Similarly, the UVA class of 2012 appears to be a class with that kind of star power. UVA again hauled in the state's top player in defensive end Eli Harold, as well as the nation's number one inside linebacker Kwontie Moore. Both classes used the momentum gained by the program to bring in top-level talent that would eventually send Stanford to new heights. This season also brought about the signing and transfer in of two potentially program-changing QBs in Greyson Lambert and Phillip Sims, respectively. And while they are technically a year late according to the Stanford model, for the sake of argument we'll say Sims is on time.

2009 Season/2012 Season
This catches us up with UVA. Currently the Hoos sit at a disappointing 2-3. Expectations going into this year were somewhat overinflated due to the success of previous seasons, however there should be an expectation for some visible improvement. London's players are starting to become the majority of the players on the team, and while young, they bring a newfound energy and excitement to the field that hasn't been seen before. 2009 was Andrew Luck's first season under center starting as a redshirt freshman, and boy was there a buzz about him. He burst onto the scene throwing beautiful deep balls and possesing an unbelivable ability to understand every aspect of the offense. And that made everyone at Stanford very excited.

The Future
The Cardinal went on after their 2009 success to burst onto the national stage in 2010 behind the young gunslinger Andrew Luck and the power run game of Toby Gerhart. It also became a mainstay in the top 25 and developed the reputation nationally as a good football school with great academics. There is absolutely no reason to think that with seasoning Phillip Sims can't become an above-average to very good ACC quarterback next season. And the Hoos are already doing great things on the recruiting trail. Coach London has established himself as a tremendous recruiter, and one who will make kids succeed at a great University. Year four is when we should expect the breakout, just let the storm brew a little longer everyone.


  1. Great stuff, Mike! I really like the Luck/Sims comparisons.

    Our Andrew Luck should be named the starter against Duke on Saturday. No looking back...

  2. This is very encouraging, Mike. I think it's very possible for UVa to become the Stanford of the East. It's going to require some continued patience (I'm speaking as much to myself as anyone else there) but if the coaching staff can develop the talent that's available as well as Stanford's has, we could be watching the Hoos become nationally relevant, year in and year out.

  3. Thanks for reading Chris! I think this is all going to come down to the player development side of things. I think this staff has a good mix of coaches that specialize in recruiting and development that should serve the program well moving forward. I think seeing the improvement of the O-Line this season should give us an indication of how that will be going forward.

    Everything else we seem to have going for us though. It's nice to be able to bring kids to a picturesque campus with steady academics and a good social scene. Add a football tradition and we're a sleeping giant!

  4. Stanford should be the model for UVA Athletics in almost all respects. Thanks for this much needed injection of realistic optimism after a rough few weeks.

  5. That hurricane graphic is dope