By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — From John Paul Jones Arena, Tony Bennett need only walk across Massie Street to find a man facing a similar challenge.
In the McCue Center can be found the office of Mike London, UVa’s football coach. In December, London took over a program that had been to one bowl game in the previous four seasons.
In April 2009, Bennett took over a men’s basketball program that had produced one NCAA tournament team in the previous eight seasons.
Rebuilding is rarely easy, and it helps to be able to trade ideas with a coach whose philosophies on life and athletics are similar, Bennett and London said this week.
“There’s no doubt, I think, that Coach Bennett and I have common ground because of our belief and our faith and family and other priorities that we have for being a head coach,” London said Thursday.
“We’ve had a chance to talk about that, and [the basketball] staff will be over here in our office” occasionally,” London said. “Sometimes we go over there. It’s always good to re-affirm, re-establish yourself with people that [are] like-minded.”
Since the start of the football team’s training camp in August, their schedules have kept London, 49, and Bennett, 41, from spending much time together. But they spoke at some of the same Virginia Athletics Foundation socials in the offseason and found much on which they agree.
“I think when you study people or you talk to people who are trying to build a program and do it the way you want to do it, there’s a lot of common ground,” Bennett said Wednesday at JPJ.
“I’ve enjoyed the times we’ve gotten together, and I think being steadfast is kind of a common theme. It’s challenging, because you want the quick fixes, you want to have instant success, and hopefully you can. Hopefully those things can happen. But you do have to remain true to what’s important to your program. There comes a time when you certainly have to produce results, but it’s important to not get the cart ahead of the horse, and that can happen in the process. You maybe try to short-circuit some things. I believe he understands that. We understand that, and we’ve talked a little bit about that.”
The first step in rebuilding, Bennett believes, is to lay a foundation “with guys of character and build it with the right kind of guys that fit” at the University. That London feels the same way, Bennett said, has been apparent in their conversations.
London’s team, picked before the season to finish last in the ACC’s Coastal Division, is 0-1 in conference play and 2-2 overall heading into its game with Georgia Tech (2-1, 3-2) on Saturday in Atlanta.
The Wahoos were 3-9 in 2009, their final season under London’s predecessor, Al Groh.
Bennett took over for Dave Leitao, whose final team had finished 10-18.
In the Cavaliers’ first season under Bennett, they went 15-16. This season, half of Bennett’s scholarship players are freshmen, and the ‘Hoos may well be picked to finish last in the ACC.
Each coach’s goal is the same: to change his program’s culture and build a consistent winner. But the Cavaliers didn’t become ACC also-rans in either sport in a year’s time, and the turnarounds won’t come in a flash, no matter how much those involved might wish that would happen.
Bennett “and I have talked about that, talked about being resilient,” London said. “You’re going to have tough times with young teams and the [culture] change, but just keep plugging forward.
“I’m excited about him and his basketball team and what’s in store for him. He’s got a great recruiting class from what I hear, and that’s part of it. That’s part of the process of building a program … We’re doing the same thing.”
Inside the McCue Center, expectations are realistic.
“I’ve preached patience from Day One,” Jon Oliver, UVa’s executive associate athletics director, told host Jay James on WINA’s ‘Best Seat in the House’ radio show Wednesday night.
“Anytime you go through a transition and change with young people and try to get them to buy into a change in culture, that takes time. Then you have to add new recruits. So I think our fans have been patient, but let’s understand why they’ve been patient: They like these guys. And I think that’s really important.
“People tend to root for people, even when they’re down, if they know they’re trying to do the right thing and that they care about their kids and they care about the institution they coach for and that shows in actions every single day. I think that’s very obvious with these guys. These guys love this place. They love the kids they’re coaching. They love this whole environment and what it stands for, and I think our fans see that.”