By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the first time since 2007 — and only the second time in six seasons — UVa’s football team is assured of finishing with a winning record, and Steve Garland is pumped.
Virginia’s ever-exuberant wrestling coach is, first and foremost, happy for Mike London. Garland knows London has worked tirelessly to revive a moribund program, work that is starting to pay dividends. In their second season under London, the Cavaliers (4-2, 7-3), who were picked to finish fifth in the Coastal Division, remain in contention for the ACC title.
“With a guy like Mike London, if you can’t root for him and his staff, who can you root for?” Garland said. “We’re just so excited to have good people getting rewarded.”
That’s not the only reason Garland is excited. When football does well, the entire UVa athletics department benefits, and not only because revenue from football helps cover the costs of other sports.
“Look, the football program at any big Division I school, that’s your name brand,” Garland said. “You’re building your brand. It starts with that. Everybody in the country who knows anything about athletics or cares about athletics, that’s the first thing you look at it.
“We lose guys all the time to other schools that maybe have a sexier brand because of their football team. And so people look at that. You can get much deeper than that once you get the contact with the guy, and that’s our job, to cultivate and build relationships. However, you have to get a foot in the door — literally in the door, because the home visit’s where we do our best work. If I can’t get in the house, I can’t do my work. I can’t educate them about University of Virginia wrestling.
“With most people, if they think that you’re not taking [football] seriously or you’re not competitive at that level, we might not be able to get an initial contact with that person, because they’re not taking what we’re doing seriously. They don’t realize that lacrosse is No. 1, baseball is No. 1, rowing and tennis are great. And so when I talk to a recruit, he may be from Smallville, United States of America, and not realize that. He’ll make comments like this to me on July 1 when I make my first call: ‘Well, I’m looking for a big school, a big-time school,’ that type of thing.
“And you get frustrated and think, ‘Big time? Our athletic department’s third in the Directors’ Cup.’ But what 18-year-old kid could tell me what the Directors’ Cup even is? We’ve had to work overtime in the past to educate these guys on how serious and committed to excellence and winning and doing it the right way our athletic department is. And we’ve been able to do that, but it’s definitely more work. Now with the football team doing what they’re doing — and obviously we all think they’re going to do even better — it just makes everybody’s life a lot easier. It opens up a lot of doors.”
Steve Swanson coaches the UVa women’s soccer team, which hosts Washington State at Klöckner Stadium in the NCAA tournament’s second round Friday night.
“Anytime that something good happens with the University of Virginia, I think it benefits everybody,” Swanson said. “Obviously football being the sport it is, I think the better they do, the better for everybody here.
“I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but a lot of it’s perception and marketing and brand. I think you just need to take a look at Penn State to see how football can affect [an athletics department]. I think every other program at Penn State has probably been affected by what’s going on.”
A Michigan State alumnus, Swanson coached at Dartmouth and Stanford before taking over at UVa.
“I’ve worked at several different departments, and the one thing I think this department’s got, and what you want to see in athletics, is a team concept,” Swanson said. “Everybody has a role. Everybody understands. I think that’s here in this department. I think everybody understands their role. Everybody’s working hard, but we’re not doing it at the expense of one another. I think we’re trying to do it hand in hand.
“There’s not one coach that doesn’t want Mike London and his staff to do well, and I think that’s a great thing. Because I don’t think that’s the case at a lot of places, where everybody thinks, ‘Hey, that guy’s an idiot,’ or ‘He doesn’t support us.’ But I think in this athletic department, there are real bonds here, and there’s a fabric that runs through the department that I haven’t seen at a lot of other places.”
Men’s lacrosse coach Dom Starsia came to UVa from Brown, his alma mater, after the 1992 season. That means Starsia was at the University for many of George Welsh’s best seasons and all of Al Groh’s winning seasons.
“Everybody’s in a little bit better mood when football does well,” said Starsia, who played that sport, as well as lacrosse, at Brown. “Football affects a larger crowd.”
Starsia has won four NCAA titles during his tenure at UVa, so the challenges he faces in recruiting differ from those of Garland.
“In years when football hasn’t been good, it hasn’t stopped us from charging forward,” Starsia said, “and I don’t know that there’s any relationship between our success and their success.”
That said, when the Wahoos win a nationally televised football game, as they did Oct. 27 against ACC rival Miami, there’s no downside for men’s lacrosse or other sports at the University.
“It’s kind of like with winning national championships,” Starsia said. “People ask, ‘Does it provide a lot of immediate pop [in recruiting]?’ and the answer is no, not really. But it helps us to sell the narrative of Virginia lacrosse. When we talk to kids about coming here and contending for national championships, they can look at us and say, ‘Well, they’re telling the truth.’ And the football piece of it just kind of helps sell the narrative about the University of Virginia and Virginia athletics.
“I don’t know that you could quantify the sense of it overall, but I just think it lends itself to sort of the general well-being of everybody involved, whether it’s recruits or people in the department or coaches or people in the neighborhood. I think everybody’s just got a little more bounce in their step when football does well.”