November 5, 2012

UVA or VT?

With Virginia Tech mired in their worst season in years, and many Hokie fans growing restless with the Beamer Regime, I decided to pose the following question to a few of the more well-renowned members of Wahooze Nation:

With the long-term future of the programs in mind, which is better positioned: Virginia Football or Virginia Tech Football? Why?

Here are their responses...

Wahooze Chief Apprentice, Mike:

I think the answer is UVA. To me it all comes down to which problems facing the team can be solved easier. Virginia's main problem is inexperience, both on the field, and on the coaching staff. Both of those areas can be solved, but in different ways. The inexperience on the field is solved very easily, play the kids. We saw this weekend what this team is capable of when they are given time to gel as a unit. Nowhere is this more evident than in the secondary, which boasts a true sophomore as its senior member. Looking ahead, the Hoos only lose three main cogs on defense next season (Steve Greer, LaRoy Reynolds, Will Hill). The youth on the field is solving itself. The same can be said for the coaching staff. As the members of the staff get more seasoned, they too will learn things. Through the tough times this season, Mike London has learned valuable lessons that will help him succeed as a coach. Take for example the Khalek Shepherd incident against Louisiana Tech. Yes that sucked, but I guarantee you London won't throw away the final substitution advantage on defense ever again. Having things like that happen in a season like this where everyone is learning and growing is important, so it doesn't happen in the future. The inexperience of the coaching staff also helps because these men don't necessarily have the relationships developed that will make guys harder to get rid of. If the London decides Bill Lazor isn't right for the job, or Chip West decides to go to ODU (God forbid), it's not a major shakeup in routine like it would be with guys who have been at a school forever. Which is a perfect transition to the Tech side. It's easy to say this is just a bad year in Blacksburg, but if you look closer and underlying problem is starting to come to the surface.
Maurice Canady's freshman season of on-the-job training
should benefit him and the secondary for years to come.

I have no problem admitting to you that I enjoy reading the Tech message boards from time to time, but there has been a theme this season that has grown from a small grumble after the Pitt loss, to a downright deafening angry mob after the Miami game. That theme is Frank Beamer's age, and his sudden inability to lead the program. This is an extremely slippery slope that can lead a program down to a place they really don't want to go. Ask Florida State. If I were a Tech fan, I would be terrified of what was going to happen going forward. What appears to be the main problem is Frank Beamer wanting to hold onto his offensive coaches, who from what I saw Thursday, really suck at their jobs. If changes aren't made and Tech underachieves next season, all hell is going to break loose. You'll hear the same comments from when JoePa and Bobby Bowden were starting to be questioned as head coaches toward the end of their careers. This will in turn lead to questions about who will be taking over, which could divide the coaching staff and locker room into Team Pud vs. Team Shane vs. Team Qualified Outsider. While this is an absurd scenario in theory, it could absolutely happen. Look at West Virginia with Holgorsen and Bill Stewart. These kinds of problems are real and they can turn a program upside down and inside out. And if we can go into Blacksburg this year and pull off an upset, the turmoil will start to come to a head. To me, Tech is teetering on the edge, and is in a spot that I would not want to be in.

Go Hoos!
My Dear Friend, The Rookie:

As an alum of the great University of Virginia, there is only one correct answer to this question. I still like the direction UVA football is heading, and the excitement of what the future holds is what sustains my interest the most. Of course, the coaching staff and team will need to eventually deliver on the field, but the rebuilding process can be fun, too. I think it would be somewhat depressing to be a Hokie fan right now, for more than the usual reasons. Honestly, can we ever expect Tech to be better than their peak years of the last decade-plus? I believe they hit their ceiling. And when you realize you're at that point and now trending downward, what do you hang on to?

One of the First Residents of Wahooze Nation, Paulie:

Virginia football has absolutely no credibility to me. None. I hate saying this, but we are a joke of a program in a joke of a football conference. That being said, Tech is a pretender as well. They get close to credibility, but they are not and never will be an Alabama, Texas, Ohio State, etc. Can I take 'neither?' If not, I'll take UVa. Tech will always be the loser that desperately wants to be cool, while I think UVa has the potential to be the nerd that occasionally gets the girl for a weekend or two because he helped her cheat on her SATs. Does that even make sense? Shit, let's install one of those gimmick offenses - at least we'd be fun to watch!

Look, man. I've been a fan of Virginia football since the late '80s. What I meant by "joke of a program" is that this team will not be competing for national championships, ever, and will also have the occasional catastrophic embarrassment of a season - like this one. A national championship just isn't happening. We're not about it. I don't know if there's something in the grass at Scott Stadium, a problem with the leadership, or a decades-old curse, but something ain't right. This team is still totally lovable and can be fun to watch, so no, we're not wasting our time, Virginia fans. We just have to remember that this isn't college hoops, it's college football, which I consider to be rigged toward the mega-programs. I think we've seen the ceiling for this program, and it looks something like losing to Tennessee in the 1990 Sugar Bowl. And you know what? I can live with that.

The Most Reasonable Virginia Tech Fan Ever Born, Doug:

Well considering the seasons both teams have had, in the short term I would pick neither. Long term I'd still go with VT. I am concerned that we are getting ready to go through a Bobby Bowden-esque death spiral for the next few years which would hamper things for a while. That being said I am hopeful that some of the dead weight coaching on the offensive side of the ball will be cut loose this year and we get some guys that know how to run a scheme to coach players up.

I've thought a lot about it, and I think UVA has the potential to be a nice solid program. The good news for UVA is that the athletic department is well-funded and will continue to be so even in times of poor showing by the football team. Don't get me wrong, having a good revenue sport makes things a lot easier, but UVA can weather the storm. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, essentially requires the football program to be good. I am really proud of how far our Olympic sports have come since joining the ACC. This is a direct result of the trickle down from the football program. When it comes time for a change to the staff and ultimately the head coach (which I predict will occur no later than 2015), I think VT will do whatever it can to maintain the high level of the last 19 years (with the exception of 2012, which frankly has been a dumpster fire.)

So I think both programs have potential, but if I was a betting man I would still lay money on VT long term.

Wahooze Ace Writer, Pierce:

Yeah, I'm not going to be the dipshit that picks VPI. Here's why:

-We have the younger coach, and he's a great recruiter. You can point out (a ton of) flaws in the recent coaching, but it's way way way too early to think that won't get ironed out. There's plenty of excellent coaching moves to look at in these three years and while no one deserves more blame on this disaster of a season than Mike London, I'm not going to give up on him being a good coach... yet.

-There's an excellent recruiting pocket in the 757. Keep getting the best players in this area, and you're going to be set in a lot of ways. If 2014 goes the way we disciples of Jamie Oakes hope it will... watch out.

-We have the better AD, the better stadium, a better town, and better uniforms.

-Our fanbase may be (currently) smaller and certainly fickle. But when things turn around, the crowds will be there... and more importantly, the big-time donors will be there to stroke some big-time checks.

-Greyson Lambert.

One of the Area's Best and Brightest Football Minds, Nathan:

Virginia. Youth, excitement, and opportunity. VT is on the outs.

One of My Best Friends for Life, Joe:


It's quite obvious that the descent has begun in Blacksburg. Living in Hokie country, even now you don't hear the VT drumbeat like you did just a couple years ago. UVa is winning the recruiting battle in the Commonwealth, and it will only be a matter of time when we're winning the real battle on the field. Our coaching is suspect at times, but I'll take the passion and will to win that we have now over the ho-humness that was the Groh era. We play in Scott Stadium in the beautiful town of Charlottesville - not on a glorified high school field in the middle of a cow pasture. Maroon and orange is a ridiculous color combination, whereas navy blue and orange is regal and majestic.

Other reasons:

Philip Sims
Kevin Parks
Smoke Mizzell
Eli Harold

The biggest reason though?
Mike London. I admire and respect this man beyond measure. He will take this program to places we've never been. I sincerely believe that.

And Finally, Yours Truly, the Man, the Myth, the Legend... Kendall:

Frank Beamer has been a great, great coach for Virginia Tech.  He built that program up from just about nothing.  And I think most Tech fans know, deep down in their hearts, that he's the best coach they'll ever have.  So I agree with Rookie on his point about hitting the ceiling.  Losing that national championship game to Florida State was the pinnacle for Virginia Tech football.  Sadly.  (Sorry, Doug.)

Frank Beamer will retire soon.  And then, who takes over the program?  I've spoken to Doug about this quite a bit, and he covered it a while ago when I grilled him on the topic in Q&A With Doug, Part II -- Doug's Revenge:
There are two schools of thought on which direction a school will go in replacing a long time head coach -- in house or completely outside the family. I actually think if the school decided to go in house it will be Bryan Stinespring. The guy has taken his lumps as the OC for the past few years, but I actually think he might have what it takes to be a head coach. There are some that think Shane Beamer would be the guy. I think he has the potential to be a good coach but see no way he would follow in his father’s footsteps. I also think that Torrian Gray could be a real darkhorse for the job. 
I think VT can attract a good head coach. We are not talking about a tier 1 guy (i.e. Saban/Miles/Urban Meyer type) but I do think the program would be attractive to a tier 2 head coach or good up-and-coming assistant. Obviously I can’t project out 15 years but if the job were open now I would like to think that VT would be attractive to guys like Gus Malzahn, or Kevin Sumlin. If there was one guy I could pick right now to take over the program it would be Gary Patterson. I would say look for a head coach from a non BCS school that has some Mid Atlantic and SE connections that has had success on the field.

Okay, so the job won't just be handed to Pud Foster?  Then why the hell has the guy stuck around so long?  Does he just love the lunchbox that much?  Loyalty to King Frank?  Or is he too candyassed to try to build his own program?
Pud would be an unmitigated
disaster as Tech's head coach.

Anyway, the internal candidates - Foster, Stinespring, Shane Beamer, Torian Gray - are totally unprepared and/or completely underwhelming, and won't even be options if Tech continues its current drain-swirl.  So who takes over once Beamer steps down?

That's the crux of my argument for why UVA is better positioned in the long run.  Maybe we already had the best coach we'll ever have in George Welsh... but I don't buy that.  I also don't necessarily buy that it'll be Mike London... but I'm not so sure that it won't be Mike London.  The guy is young, he's got energy and enthusiasm to spare, he's smart enough to get out of the way of his assistants and let them coach, and he's the best recruiting head coach that any football program in the state of Virginia has ever had.  Virginia Tech won't replace Beamer with a coach anywhere near as plugged-in with recruiting in-state and especially in the talent-rich Tidewater.  They can't make that hire, because that hire doesn't exist.  London is the guy with the goods.  He's the only guy with the goods.

So VT replaces Beamer with an in-house chump, or they go out and make a tier-2 hire, or maybe a big-name re-tread (Fulmer, et al), or they go out and hire a young up-and-coming assistant.  We trump all of that with London's 757 recruiting prowess and his potential for luring in the right assistants to coach that wealth of talent.

Add that to the fact that Virginia is an elite-level university in a region that is worlds more attractive than Blacksburg, and the recipe is in place.  Virginia Tech hit its ceiling.  We hit ours, as well.  But while Tech's ceiling is hard stone stucco, Virginia's ceiling is fragile glass.

As we continue to gnaw into Tech's foundation by way of reeling in Hampton Roads recruits and luring them away from Blacksburg, that program will continue to seem old and decaying, while ours will continue to ascend as the "sexy" FBS program in the state.  All we need is enough Xs and Os to unleash our talent in ways that lead to success.  I have faith in Mike London to find those Xs and Os and get our team positioned to win.

I'm not sure where that can take us.  Coastal Division championships, certainly.  ACC championships, I think so.  New Year's Day bowl games, yes.  [Four-team] playoff appearances?  That might be a stretch, but I could see it happening.  And once you're there and playing your way toward a championship, anything can happen.

College football is glacially moving away from its fugged-up version of a beauty pageant, and getting more and more like a real sport that crowns an actual champion, and UVA figures to be positioned such that it might be able to take advantage of that situation, while Virginia Tech seems poised for a decade-plus soul-searching mission as it struggles to adequately replace the stability Frank Beamer gave them.

So while it's close, and admitting that Tech is the safer bet, I'm going with Virginia Football as the program that is better positioned for the long-term future.  We're due.  Dammit, we are due.