Virginia football had a headline about it on the front page of ESPN.com this past weekend, right among the conference championship recaps and BCS bowl announcements. Unfortunately, our headline was of a different nature.
In what many speculate is Mike London acting under pressure from the athletic department, the head coach fired defensive coordinator Jim Reid, recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Jeff Hanson, running backs coach Mike Faragalli, and tight ends coach Shawn Moore, while “reassigning” special teams coach Anthony Poindexter.
London said he made his decision after “discussing my thoughts with administration.” The four fired coaches did not respond to The Cavalier Daily’s request for comment, and London will not comment again until he has made new hires.
My first thought when reading about the news was thank goodness Dex is being reassigned. The special teams was abysmal — bordering on incompetent — for much of the season. Maybe we can even find a guy who will stand up and say no to London if he suggests an ill-timed fake punt or fake field goal like he did against Virginia Tech, or at least execute the fakes better.
Shawn Moore’s termination remains a mystery to me. His tight ends were the most successful and reliable unit on the offense this season. When nobody else could catch a pass early in the season, the tight ends stepped up.
Jeff Hanson’s firing was also somewhat surprising. I thought the front seven was definitely the strength of our defense, and the future of the defensive line looks promising despite the squad losing seniors Will Hill and Ausar Walcott. Our recent recruiting classes have also been celebrated as much improved from Al Groh’s later classes.
Meanwhile, Scott Wachenheim remains on staff as offensive line coach after that unit underperformed arguably more than any other given its supposed talent entering this season. I believe that the struggles on the line greatly contributed to the significant drop off in the running game from last year. In Wachenheim’s defense, it was only his second season in the position and the running game was outstanding in 2011.
As for Reid, the defense showed a lot of promise, especially given our starting secondary was comprised entirely of underclassmen. I won’t be sure what to make of this firing until I see who fills the position.
Overall the firings seem like a weak attempt at assigning blame for the Cavaliers’ struggles this season and possibly foreshadow London’s own departure from the program if significant strides aren’t made next season.
Less surprising but more upsetting for me personally was the news that junior quarterback Michael Rocco had been granted his release from the program.
My support for Team Rocco is close to that of a Twilight-loving teenage girl’s for Team Edward or Team Jacob. I’m not even sure what those mean exactly, but Twilight fans seem pretty passionate and assertive about what team they are, as am I about Mike being the starting quarterback for Virginia football.
It’s understandable why he left. After platooning Rocco and Watford last year — a less than ideal situation for any quarterback’s confidence — London added Philip Sims from Alabama. Even after winning the starting job out of camp, it never seemed that Rocco’s position was safe.
I also understand why London would want to nab the most prolific passer in VHSL history, but the fact that Alabama let him go should’ve been the first clue to stay away. Nick Saban is arguably the best college football coach of the BCS era, and if Sims really lived up to his hype then Saban might’ve convinced him to stay in Titletown.
It seemed to me that London wanted to start Sims from the outset of the season. If that was the case, fine, but don’t tell Rocco he has the job while you simultaneously look for an excuse to pull him.
Rocco critics point to his play against Texas Christian University and Louisiana Tech as reasons for his benching. Yes, he threw two touchdowns and five interceptions. But it’s easy to look at the stat sheet and forget how poorly the rest of the team played. At least one of those interceptions in each game came off of a pass that bounced off of our receivers’ hands and should’ve been caught. And what about the well thrown would-be touchdown pass in the first quarter of the TCU game that bounced right off of Darius Jennings’s facemask? The rest of the team did Rocco few favors early in the season.
Maybe I expected too much from Sims after watching him play at Oscar Smith High School, but most of his early season garbage-time touchdowns didn’t impress me enough to warrant benching Rocco. After taking over the starting role Sims quarterbacked one of the most embarrassing losses to Duke — as if losing to Duke wasn’t embarrassing enough — in recent memory, a 42-17 beating in Durham. After playing a mediocre contest against Maryland, the Sims-led offense then managed 10 points against a Wake Forest defense that gave up an average of 31.8 points per game.
Seeing Rocco take control of the Miami game should’ve been enough for London to make him the guy. Rocco answered every quick Miami score with a long, methodical drive of his own, including the crunch-time touchdown pass to “the Kid” in the back of the endzone. Sims didn’t play poorly, but Rocco played out of this world.
Instead of switching back, London kept the ridiculous quarterback carousal spinning during the North Carolina and Virginia Tech games. Neither quarterback played well in those two games, but Rocco played well enough to win the Tech game with the exception of his fourth quarter interception that was aided by the officials allowing Hokie cornerback Antone Exum to mug Tim Smith in the open field to get into position to pick the ball off.
I know it sounds like I’m making excuses for Rocco, and I will admit that he did make his fair share of mistakes. I’ve also seen Sims’ heralded arm strength, which would certainly be impressive if he could consistently hit on the long ball. But more often than not he reminds me of Rex Grossman when he heaves the ball up for grabs rather than checking down to another receiver. I believe that the team played better under Rocco, but now that’s a moot point.
A lot of Virginia fans I know said that they didn’t care who London chose, just pick a guy and stick with him. All we can do now is wish Rocco the best wherever he ends up, and pray that London stops the two-quarterback madness. Sims, Watford or Greyson Lambert, but please not a combination.