By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Comcast SportsNet broadcast the first episode May 17. The 18th and final episode of “Virginia Football: The Building of a Program” aired Monday night.
Each episode also was posted on VirginiaSportsTV.com, and in those 3½ months, viewers got a behind-the-scenes look at UVa’s new football coach, Mike London, his staff and his players.
“I think it ultimately did what it was designed to do,” said Jon Oliver, UVa’s executive associate athletics director, who conceived of the series. “And that was to allow people to see what it was like to hire a new coach, and he comes in and tries to instill his philosophy and change the culture.
“I just wanted people to get a chance to see what that was about, because similar to when I used to watch ‘Hard Knocks’ all the time, I found myself wanting to follow a team, simply because I understood what they were going through a little bit more.”
Oliver was executive producer of the series. Co-producer was Todd Goodale, UVa’s associate athletics director for marketing and video services. Oliver and Goodale worked closely with the NASCAR Media Group to create a series not unlike HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” which follows an NFL team through training camp.
“With all the negativity that was swirling around the program, I thought it was important to give people some information about the program, so they could make decisions for themselves about whether they wanted to come back and support the football program,” Oliver said.
“I think it turned out to be a great success, but it was a lot of work we hadn’t anticipated, so hats off to Todd and his staff and the NASCAR Media Group.”
The last episode included footage from UVa’s opener, a 34-13 win over Richmond at Scott Stadium. That was the finale Oliver had hoped for, but he knew there was no guarantee it would work out that way.
“I won’t lie to you: I was worried about a loss,” Oliver said. “But as I reminded Todd, this is about building a program. Whether you end up having a great story at the end of this show is really not the purpose of this. We want people to see what it’s about to try and build.
“If we had lost [to UR], it would have shown, OK, we still have a lot of work to do it, and in fact, we do anyway. Just because we won that game does not mean we’ve arrived. The building of a program will take a period of time, a number of years. We just wanted people to see the start of it and wanted to give them the opportunity to get behind it, and I think it did that.”
The men’s basketball program is heading into its second season under Tony Bennett, whose challenge is similar to that facing London. Patience will be required, and Oliver was reminded of that Monday night in Landover, Md., where he saw his alma mater, Boise State, beat Virginia Tech in a nationally televised football game at FedEx Field.
“I was watching that game last night and I’m thinking, ‘Both of these teams over a period of years have gone through things to get to this point,’ ” Oliver said. “I hope we can all remain patient as we try to build to the same thing. Will it get to that level? I don’t know. But both teams you watched, they didn’t get there in a year.
“We know we have to do our part, but we hope people will get behind it.”
NECESSARY PRECAUTIONS: UVa plays in California for the first time Saturday night. In a game that will start at 10:30 p.m. Eastern time, Virginia meets 16th-ranked USC, also 1-0, at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
The Wahoos are flying to L.A. on Thursday. London has researched the best ways to minimize the impact of cross-country travel on his team. His players have been advised what (and how much) to drink, what to eat and when to sleep.
“We’ll try everything we can to make sure that the guys have the best opportunity to perform,” London said.
UVa’s linebackers coach, Vincent Brown, played against the Raiders at the L.A. Coliseum when he was with the New England Patriots.
“Any time you have to travel across the country, one of the issues you have to deal with is getting your body acclimated to the time difference out there,” Brown said. “If we can get that done, to me, it’s not a huge factor being out there. The kids have to understand what’s necessary in terms of rest, hydration, nutrition leading into this weekend’s game, and I think we’ll be fine.”
OUT FROM THE SHADOWS: Virginia’s standouts against UR included Darnell Carter, a 6-3, 240-pound outside linebacker. Carter didn’t start, but he finished with four tackles. Two were for loss, including a sack of Aaron Corp, a transfer from USC.
A fifth-year senior from Englewood, N.J., Carter was suspended from UVa for academic reasons in 2008. He appeared in only four games in 2009, Al Groh’s final season as the Cavaliers’ coach.
“Darnell is another guy of a number of guys that embraced the change with a new lease on life: what he did in the classroom, what he did in the community, and what he does on the football field,” London said Tuesday.
“In embracing that change, he changed his body. He got in great shape. Academically, he’s done the things we’ve asked him to do because we’re requiring him to do that. And he loves playing the game. And it’s something that goes back, again, to if you’re motivated and passionate about doing something, then it can change your performance.”
Brown said: “It’s not just the other night. It’s what he’s done through camp. He dug himself out a deep hole, got himself back in the good graces with the head coach and the coaching staff, and he’s just been tremendous. Then the other night he came out and showed that he has the initial quickness to put pressure on the QB coming off the edge. He’s a big kid, solid in the run game. He’s smart. Although he hasn’t played much, he’s been around a lot of football here the last few years, so he recognizes things pretty well and is able to communicate calls to the rest of the players.”
COSTLY MISTAKE: Richmond rushed for 166 yards (on 22 carries) against UVa. Seventy of those yards, however, came on one play, a first-quarter touchdown by running back Kendall Gaskins.
Gaskins appeared to have been stopped before bursting out of a crowd and outrunning several Cavaliers to the end zone.
Asked if his defense thought the play had been blown dead, London said, “I think it was more of an assumption on everybody’s part that the player was either going to be blown dead or the guy was up for so long and there were so many bodies around him that maybe someone stopped, and we shouldn’t have. We need to keep playing until the whistle blows.”
STAYING GROUNDED: Led by senior tailback Keith Payne, UVa averaged 5.9 yards per carry against Richmond. The Trojans are likely to provide more resistance, but Virginia’s goal will remain the same.
“In any game, if you can win the battle at the line of scrimmage, then your chances of being successful go way up,” senior quarterback Marc Verica said. “I think we’ll aim to move people off the ball again and establish a good ground game so we can mix in some of the other stuff we do in the air.”
London said: “I do know this: You’ll have to take some time off the clock against Southern Cal. USC is a team that plays fast and that tries to capitalize on the things that you don’t do. So we need to make sure that we can keep the clock running, with the running game, short passes that are caught, keep the clock moving, keep the chains moving.”
STRONG BOND: Verica, a fifth-year senior, couldn’t be happier about playing for Bill Lazor, Virginia’s new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Lazor, a former Cornell quarterback, spent seven seasons on NFL coaching staffs.
“Just from the start I had a tremendous respect for his knowledge of the game, because he’s such a football guy, and because he’s so attentive to details,” Verica said. “And I always considered myself kind of in that same mold. He’s been a great help to me in bringing me along and really helping me develop. I’m obviously not at his level, but because I’ve had that respect for him, I think I could see early on that we’d have a positive relationship.”
ON THE AIR: Hoos Talking, a radio show that focuses on UVa sports, is back for its second season. It can be heard each Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. on Sports Radio 910 (WRNL) in the Richmond area.
The hosts are UVa alumni Jim Hobgood and Frank Maloney. Hobgood, who played basketball for the Cavaliers, is also a former analyst on radio broadcasts of UVa hoops games.
Hoos Talking is stream lived on www.sportsradio910.com and www.thesabre.com. To ask questions or offer comments during the show, call (804) 345-0910 or e-mail Maloney and Hobgood at email@example.com.