Virginia has sterling collection of head coaches

Some were family promotions, one an obscure find, still others logical choices. Yet no matter the approach, Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage and his senior staff have done an extraordinary job hiring, and retaining, quality head coaches, especially in Olympic sports.

This hardly rates as breaking news. The Cavaliers contend annually for national championships and are top-20 staples in the Directors' Cup all-sports standings.

But the quality of Virginia's coaches surfaced again last week when the Cavaliers became the first ACC men's tennis program to win the NCAA championship. When Mitchell Frank fought off a match point to give the Cavaliers a 4-3 victory over UCLA, Brian Boland became the sixth current Virginia head coach with a NCAA title on his resume.

Boland's quest was, to say the least, arduous. The Cavaliers fell in the NCAA final in 2011 and '12, in the semis in 2007, '08 and '10, in the quarters in 2005, '06 and '09.

That's eight consecutive years of reaching at least the quarterfinals, remarkable consistency that threatened to turn maddening without a trophy.

But these things often take time. Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski won his first national championship in his fifth Final Four. North Carolina's Dean Smith didn't celebrate until his seventh Final Four.

"I believe it was just a matter of time," Boland told media covering the title match in Urbana, Ill.

Boland had immeasurable support from his fellow Virginia coaches, many of whom keenly understand the chase.

Dom Starsia has guided the Cavaliers to four men's lacrosse NCAA championships, most recently in 2011. But Virginia and Starsia lost two NCAA finals, both in overtime to Princeton, before breaking through.

"You're left there standing, thinking, 'Maybe we're not going to win this thing,'" Starsia told's Jeff White. "The only answer is to keep plugging and keep doing it right."

Julie Myers coached the Cavaliers' women's lacrosse program to four national title games before winning on a fifth appearance, in 2004. Kevin Sauer's women's rowing team finished among the top four at the NCAA meet seven times before winning the first of two national championships in 2010.

George Gelnovatch succeeded arguably the greatest coach in American men's soccer history. Bruce Arena won five NCAA titles at Virginia before heading off to MLS and World Cup endeavors, and the Cavaliers' sixth national championship, in 2009, was Gelnovatch's 14th season as big whistle.

Virginia's other national-title coach is football's Mike London, who as a rookie in 2008 navigated Richmond, his alma mater, through the Championship Subdivision playoffs. The Spiders defeated Montana in the championship game.

While London's ring arrived early in his career, he has much to prove at U.Va., where his teams are 16-21 in three seasons.

Six national-title coaches at a school aren't unrivaled. North Carolina has seven, including basketball hall of famers Roy Williams and Sylvia Hatchell, and Anson Dorrance, whose women's soccer program boasts 22 NCAA championships.

Perennial Directors' Cup winner Stanford checks in with 10 national-title coaches, Tara VanDerveer in women's basketball the most widely known.

But Virginia's collection is notable and a credit to Littlepage, an athletic department administrator since 1990, and Jon Oliver, his top lieutenant since 2001.

Littlepage unearthed Boland at Indiana State, where Boland was a fledging head coach. Sauer was coaching Virginia's club team and was a natural when the school elevated the program to varsity status in 1996.

Similarly, as Virginia graduates and former assistant coaches there, Gelnovatch and Myers were natural hires. As a former Cavaliers defensive coordinator and line coach, London, too, was a logical candidate.

Starsia was an accomplished head coach at Brown, but that's his alma mater, and luring him south was not a fait accompli.

No matter the sport, school or candidate, every coaching search is risky, and Virginia has endured its share of misses, basketball's Pete Gillen and Dave Leitao, and football's Al Groh most prominently. But big picture, the Cavaliers have fared well.

Their next national-title coach could well be baseball's Brian O'Connor, a Notre Dame assistant for nine years before Oliver targeted him in 2003 to rebuild Virginia's program. The Cavaliers haven't missed the NCAA tournament since, reached the College World Series in 2009 and '11, and open 2013 postseason play Friday at home against Army.

O'Connor and Boland are close friends, and during a media teleconference Tuesday, O'Connor reveled in Virginia's latest national championship.

"Living two doors down from Brian, I've spent many times with him in dealing with the disappointment of not winning it," O'Connor said. "This guy and his coaches and his players work so incredibly hard, year in and year out. … They've just been dominant in that sport and just [hadn't] been able to win the final one. I think it proves to everybody how hard it is really to win at the very, very end."

David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at For more from Teel, read his blog at teeltime and follow him at

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