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OPINION: Change football's foundation, not just facade

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As the University prepares to upgrade the football program's facilities, it needs to do the same for personnel

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Massie Road is going to look a whole lot different in a few years. The University is apparently undertaking big plans to upgrade the facilities at Davenport Field and the McCue Center. To both plans, I say: Great! But for very different reasons.

For the former—expanded and improved seating at the baseball stadium—I am excited because of what the plans say about the current state and foreseeable trajectory of the baseball program. We need more seats at Davenport Field because there are too many butts wanting to fill them—as anyone who tried and failed to obtain tickets for this month's Super Regionals can attest. As Oak and the boys put on their near-perennial Omaha show, I'm excited to see what next season can bring with an extra 1,500 voices contributing to the Hoos' sizable home field advantage.

For the latter, however, my excitement is tempered. Because I'm only excited at the prospect that our long nightmare may finally be drawing to a close.

If the University is prepared to sink tens of millions of dollars into state-of-the-art facilities, maybe it's about ready to set a few bucks aside to upgrade the coaches, too.


The building being upgraded (or perhaps even replaced) is the 25-year-old McCue Center. It was the brainchild of George Welsh, who rightly picked up on the fact that U.Va.'s facilities were putting it at a competitive disadvantage. Young men coming to Charlottesville weren't being wowed the way Welsh wanted. The McCue Center debuted as the football program's home in 1991—one year removed from Virginia's only appearance atop the AP Poll, and in the midst of what would become 13 consecutive winning seasons.

Flash forward nine years, to 2000. Carl Smith's deep pockets were bringing Scott Stadium into the 21st century, and suddenly it wasn't the facilities that were outdated but—in the eyes of the administration—the coach. Welsh suffered his first .500 season in almost 15 years, and Virginia lost its 4th straight bowl game. In a signal that apparent mediocrity amid first-rate facilities wouldn't cut it, Welsh was out and the Hoos pulled in a flashy NFL coach.

Now that NFL coach is gone, the flash faded and the lack of substance exposed. Attendance in that fancy stadium peaks around two-thirds capacity. The program has had its worst single season since before Welsh came to Charlottesville, and its worst three-season stretch (11 wins since 2012) in 35 years (7 wins from 1980-82).

So why is it facilities that are getting the overhaul first? Again, the answer is recruiting. Reporters and program insiders all seem to agree that the McCue Center—while originally built to provide an advantage for recruiting—is now a sorry sideshow compared to its conference competition. And with better recruits, the thinking goes, the better the product on the field.

The only issue with that logic? Recruiting hasn't been the problem, at least not recently. Athlon Sports rated Virginia's 2008–2012 composite recruiting classes as tied for 7th in the ACC. For the 2013–14 season, Virginia's blue-chip ratio—the percentage of players on the roster who were rated four-star or better by 24/7 Sports—was 6th in the conference. And yet during those time periods, with the lone exception of the 2011 season, the Hoos haven't finished better than fifth—in their DIVISION.

Which gets to why I'm excited for these investments: This administration finally appears to be getting serious about football. And if the University is prepared to sink tens of millions of dollars into state-of-the-art facilities, maybe it's about ready to set a few bucks aside to upgrade the coaches, too.

There's no doubt these facilities investments are a good idea. But they'll be for naught if there isn't a corresponding change at the top. It doesn't matter how good the support facilities are if they're supporting a fundamentally inept staff. It doesn't matter how fancy a new film room is if the only film it shows is games thrown away by fourth-quarter blunders. It doesn't matter how many blue-chip recruits are wowed by a new Wahoo DeathStar if they aren't put in a position to succeed on Saturdays.

"Uncompromised Excellence" has seemed like a cruel joke with regards to the football program these last few years. In so many other sports, in so many other ways, the administration has shown that it takes that mantra to heart, building from a strong foundation and not just changing the façade. Let's hope this McCue Center renovation leads them to do just that, and carry the rebuild down to the very roots of the program.