Archive for March, 2009

The Ram Connection

March 27, 2009

It’s probably obvious to most following the men’s basketball coaching search at Virginia that Jeff Capel is only 34.  After all, he was still playing in the ACC as recently as 1997.  Certainly that qualifies him as a young coach.  But is it obvious that Anthony Grant is eight years older at 42?  Obviously Grant is still a young coach by any standard, but unlike Capel he looks like he could easily run to the locker room, throw on a jersey, and become a player/coach if needed.

Capel does play regularly against country star Toby Keith, for whatever that’s worth, and “drives a trendy, black Cadillac Escalade, listens to Jay Z, orders movies from NetFlix and prefers a hoodies and jeans over collared shirts and khakis.”  He also strengthened his already-strong bond with his players last offseason when he turned down the South Carolina job (after getting a raise).

A quick look at their bios provides some interesting facts.  Grant started as a math teacher and assistant high school coach at a powerhouse in his native Miami before getting a head HS job across town.  After only one season in charge, he became an assistant at Stetson University in central Florida.  Following one season there, he moved to Marshall and then Florida under Billy Donovan, under whom he apprenticed for ten years.

 

Grant inherited a VCU program from the younger Capel that had averaged 20 wins/year in the four seasons under the latter with one NCAA appearance.  In Grant’s three seasons, they’ve averaged 25 wins/year and made the NCAAs twice (with some of Capel’s players).  Capel came to the job in Richmond with far less experience, having served as an assistant to his father for a year at ODU and on the VCU staff for just a year.  He famously became the youngest head coach in D-1 at 27 when promoted.

 

At Oklahoma, Capel inherited a team that averaged 28 wins/year under Kelvin Sampson, and made the NCAAs in nine of the latter’s ten seasons in Norman.  The run included three Sweet 16s, two Elite 8s, and a Final 4 trip in 2002.  Capel proceeded to go 16-15 in year one after Kelvin Sampson headed to Indiana.  Sampson left behind a scandal that led to probation as well as an empty cupboard thanks to recruits Scottie Reynolds & Damion James commiting elsewhere.  Capel’s 12 losses in year two (23-12) were also more than Sampson ever lost at OU, but at least they came after a 2nd round loss in the NCAA tournament.  Before long, Capel had signed blue-chip recruits Blake Griffin & Willie Warren, and will coach tonight against Syracuse for an Elite 8 birth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Takeaways and Next Steps

March 16, 2009

The final chapter of the page-turner that was the 2008-09 Virginia basketball season has finally been written…  Worst winning percentage since 1966-67, fewest wins since 1969-70, worst ACC finish under Dave Leitao, and the first during his tenure with no postseason whatsoever (not the National Initiation Tournament, not the College Basketball Invitation, not the Collegeinsider.com Postseason Torment).  11th in the ACC in wins and scoring offense & defense, 12th in 3-point percentage and FG percentage made & allowed.

 

Questions remain for the future of the program and the coach’s job security may now be among them.  Leitao has a 63-60 conference record but has not even come close to equaling his “perfect storm” season of 2006-07.  That year, Leitao’s charges won 11 ACC games to finish as regular season co-champs.  He benefited from a new gym, a down conference talent-wise and to experienced Gillen-recruits in his backcourt scoring nearly 40 points per game.  Since, the 2007 ACC COY has won just 9 ACC games – the worst two-year regular season conference stretch since 1997-99 when Jeff Jones’ last team won 3 ACC games and Gillen’s initial unit tallied 4 victories.

 

Jones only posted one season of fewer than 6 conference wins – his last.  Gillen was fired after his second – in year 7 – but was famously on the hot season after going 6-10 in each of the previous two years.  Virginia currently ranks 109th in RPI, which is actually an increase over last year’s final position, but attendance fell at a similar rate to home record (9-8 this year, 13-7 last).  What’s worse, Leitao appears to be a worse-than-advertised recruiter as the talent level has clearly dropped off.  His in-game coaching “is what it is” but that leaves much to be desired, especially on the offensive end and in terms of substitution patterns.  At best he is a fiery coach, but at worst he makes Al Groh look cheerful.  Unlike Groh, his abrasiveness at times finds its mark among his players as often as it does among fans & the media.

 

Like Groh, Leitao’s name is now beginning to pop up on the wrong lists in the national press.  An unexpected source – The Wall Street Journal – recently had DL listed as second-worst among the 25 (of 343) D-1 coaches identified as making more than $1 million with at least four years of tenure at their schools.  The WSJ ranked the 25 according to a three-year average of its Elite Value Score, “the amount of salary each school paid for every RPI point above 50.”  Leitao ($1.2mil) was behind Oliver Purnell ($1.0), Roy Williams ($2.0), Mike Krzyzewski ($2.2), and Gary Williams ($1.8), but ahead of Paul Hewitt ($1.3).

 

Still, the popular opinion for most of the season was that Leitao would be back next year, especially given the team’s youth and the money reaming on his contract in light of the current national & state economy.  However, speculation began to ramp up during last week’s Acc Tournament in Atlanta:

 

  • Over the weekend, Doug Doughty of the Roanoke Times suggested that Leitao may no longer be “safe” and is “not convinced the case is closed” on his return.
  • Similarly, Jeff White of The Richmond Times would “no longer be shocked” if a change were made this offseason.  He relayed an email from AD Craig Littlepage stating “Dave’s our coach” but not specifically referring to his future (as he had with Groh a few months prior).  White also reported on Sunday that “many influential donors, as well as some powerful people at U.Va., question whether he’s the man for the job.”
  • Just a day earlier, White stated that a 2009-10 team coached by Leitao would “likely” have a different staff of assistants and it is “uncertain” if all players with eligibility will be back.
  • In Friday morning’s Daily Progress, Jerry Ratcliffe indicated “sources have confirmed that the likes of Minnesota’s Tubby Smith would be attracted to an opening.”