While watching Virginia Tech and Maryland lose last Saturday, it occurred to me that Virginia has missed a huge opportunity the last few years. With traditional rivals down and the ACC Coastal stuck in mediocrity, whe Wahoos have enjoyed a favorable competitive landscape since Mike London took charge in 2009. But London hasn’t been able to capitalize. His failure to strike while the iron was hot might ultimately seal his fate.
Virginia's primary recruiting rivals have faced serious adversity in the last 5 years. Virginia Tech has fallen off considerably. The Hokies are 2-8 in their last 10 home games against FBS teams, and many Tech fans want Frank Beamer to retire. Maryland, a primary recruiting foe in the DC metro area, had a horrendous start under Randy Edsall. North Carolina has been hamstrung by the potential of NCAA punishment. And Penn State, a regular opponent in northeast recruiting, suffered near fatal NCAA sanctions following the Sandusky scandal. With all this turmoil, the likable London had an opportunity to dominate Mid-Atlantic recruiting. Unfortunately, Virginia's lack of on-field success prevented it from building any real recruiting momentum. That's on London.
During London’s tenure, the ACC Coastal has been the weakest division in Power 5 football. Since 2010, only one Coastal team has finished a season in the top-15: Georgia Tech finished #8 in the AP poll in 2014. Only three other Coastal teams have finished ranked at all: Duke finished 23rd in 2013, and Virginia Tech finished 21st in 2011 and 16th in 2010. And no point during London’s tenure has the Coastal had two teams finish in the top-25 at the same time.
I've often likened the Coastal to a bottle of salad dressing. It doesn’t take much for the standings to get shaken up and for the bottom teams to rise to the top. But it takes more than London has been able to deliver thus far. The embattled Virginia coach is 7-20 against ACC Coastal opponents in his UVA career. In an era of divisional mediocrity, London's Cavaliers have been worse than mediocre.
London’s predecessors faced much tougher circumstances. Hall of Fame coach and champion hat tosser George Welsh came to UVA in 1982 when Clemson was a serious national power. Georgia Tech won a share of a national title in 1990. And Welsh had to tussle yearly with a Florida State program in its 1990s heyday. Al Groh arrived at Virginia when Virginia Tech was at the height of its powers and Miami was still relatively strong. By comparison, London has had it easy.
London will get at least one last chance to take on the ACC before the curtain falls on his tenure in Charlottesville. And the Coastal appears to be mired in mediocrity once more. But I doubt many observers expect Virginia to rise in the standings, not when the Cavaliers got rolled on national television against Boise State. Virginia travels to Pitt Saturday to face a Panther team that could be the class of the division. But make no mistake, the 2015 Pitt squad ain't exactly the '93 Seminoles. London has to start winning some of these games and making hay in a mediocre division. The clock is ticking...and he's running out of time.