Welcome Guest. Login/Signup.
ACC Sports Journal Logo

Gillen Hits Bottom, Then Bounces Back

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

  January 27, 2003 CHARLOTTESVILLE — After watching his team end a three-game losing streak by beating No. 17 Wake Forest, Virginia coach Pete Gillen said jokingly that people had been telling him “which bridge to jump off.”

Maybe it wasn't a joke.

The last of three losses, a 73-55 setback at Virginia Tech when the Hokies scored the last 13 points of the game, probably represented the low point of the five-year Gillen era. It was the Cavaliers' 11th loss in 12 road games and came against a Hokies team that already had lost to Wofford, William and Mary and Western Michigan and entered the game under .500 at 7-8.

UVa had played decently — or, at least, shot a good percentage — in road losses to Duke (104-93) and Clemson (78-77), but the team did nothing well against the Hokies. Particularly atrocious was the ball-handling as the Cavaliers committed 23 turnovers, six apiece by starting guards Keith Jenifer and Todd Billet.

Majestic Mapp, available but inactive in the previous two games, came off the bench to play six minutes and quickly had the UVa faithful calling for him to replace oft-maligned Jenifer in the starting lineup. In a letter to the editor of the Roanoke Times, a professed 30-year fan of the Cavaliers said she no longer would support the team because Gillen recruited “street thugs like Keith Jenifer.”

Many had hoped that Gillen would start Mapp against Wake Forest, which he did not, although Mapp came off the bench to spark a 28-13 run after the Deacons had taken an eight-point first-half lead. ESPN2 repeatedly trained its cameras on Jenifer, who sat unhappily on the bench and appeared to be wiping away tears at some points. The network's announcers returned to the saga several times, often with detailed commentary.

Jenifer was described as despondent after learning several hours before the game that he would not be starting. Billet, primarily a shooting guard this season, started at the point but moved to shooting guard in the 33 minutes when Mapp (17) or Jenifer (16) was on the floor.

Gillen made some other changes in his starting lineup, elevating 6-8, 234-pound sophomore Jason Clark only five days after he had played a season-low four minutes at Clemson. Clark has limited range but was shooting 71.1 percent from the field, including a strong (five of seven attempts) performance against Wake Forest, when he had two power dunks after bullet passes from Mapp.

The ability to dunk with authority separates Clark from fellow sophomore and ex-AAU teammate Elton Brown, a 6-9, 270-pounder who has the ability to score in bunches but can't jump and apparently can't run to Gillen's satisfaction. Brown scored nine points against Wake but was limited to 12 minutes because Gillen thought he was “huffing.”

Brown's poor rebounding, ineffective defense and 27-of-57 (47.3 percent) free throw shooting would have put him only slightly ahead of Jenifer in a popularity contest. And, it might have been a dead heat if you had added Gillen and made it a three-way contest after the Virginia Tech game.

Gillen has eight years after this one on a 10-year contract he was awarded after the 2000-01 season, when the Cavaliers made their first and only NCAA Tournament appearance of the Gillen era. Athletic director Craig Littlepage and former AD Terry Holland, now a special assistant to president John Casteen, could not have imagined that they would be answering questions about a buyout so shortly thereafter.

Virginia hopes in the next six months to undertake groundbreaking for a new arena and special-events center, with a price tag of $125 million. Two individual donors have contributed $20 million apiece, but these are tough times in which to raise money, and the direction of the men's (and women's) basketball programs hasn't created much enthusiasm.

Raising money for a new arena and buying out a new coach are not compatible goals, unless donors will contribute to the former only if the school takes care of the latter. A Gillen buyout, possibly in excess of $2 million, might be more costly than some have speculated. Besides, the victory over Wake Forest suggested there will not be a total collapse this season.

The Cavaliers already have victories over No. 15 Kentucky, No. 17 Wake, Georgetown and North Carolina, and they carried an 8-0 record at home into a date with Florida State at University Hall. A victory over the Seminoles would put the Cavaliers at 12-6 going into a Saturday game at Georgia Tech, where they won last year.

It's conceivable that UVa could win all 14 of its home games, or at least go 13-1 or 12-2. To make the NCAA Tournament, however, they would have to win a road game or games somewhere along the line, or win an ACC Tournament game for the first time since 1995.

With no road wins or ACC Tournament wins this year, UVa fans still might be picking out a bridge for Gillen much sooner than he'd like to think.

Musgrave: A Huge, Inevitable Loss

A few people at Virginia were surprised when it became common knowledge Jan. 20 that two-year football assistant and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave would be joining the Jacksonville Jaguars. Musgrave already had been interviewed by at least one college team (UCLA) and several pro teams, so UVa insiders thought the biggest threats had passed.

On the other hand, it seemed inevitable that Musgrave's tenure would be a short one and that, ultimately, he would be offered a college job or join one of his friends in the NFL. Musgrave, well-respected before he got to UVa, quickly gained a reputation in college for his brilliant play-calling. Some fans screamed about loyalty issues upon his departure, but the pro ranks recently signed their first $1 million-a-year coordinator — not a head coach, mind you, but a defensive coordinator — and Musgrave more than doubled his UVa income ($125,000) by making the jump to Jacksonville.

Musgrave, 35, was the first coach to leave Groh's staff, not counting strength and conditioning coach Tony Decker, a holdover from the George Welsh regime. Less than a week before Musgrave's departure, UVa had announced the hiring of New Orleans Saints assistant strength and conditioning coach Evan Marcus as Decker's successor.

Groh waited until after the season before stepping up his search for a strength coach, and he probably will not make a new offensive coordinator a high priority until the end of recruiting. (College football's annual national signing period begins Feb. 5.) It is unlikely he will promote from within, although he would like to have a job to offer to two-year graduate assistant Andy Heck.

The one name frequently mentioned in speculation is former NFL quarterback Jeff Rutledge, with whom Groh is familiar from their days with the New York Giants. Rutledge, a candidate for the job when Musgrave got it, had misgivings about leaving his position at Vanderbilt but subsequently lost his job when head coach Woody Widenhofer was fired after the 2001 season.

Rutledge surfaced as a head coach in high school, leading Montgomery Bell Academy of Nashville, Tenn., to a 2002 state championship. At press time, sources indicated he'd be very interested in the UVa offensive coordinator position if Groh came calling again.