HOO Will Be Virginia's Next Basketball Coach: Fran McCaffery?

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IMarch 28, 2009

DAYTON, OH - MARCH 20: Head coach Fran McCaffery of the Siena Saints gestures from the sidelines during a game against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the first round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the University of Dayton Arena on March 20, 2009 in Dayton, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

So my last selection in our series started a wee bit of controversy.

Now with the recent news that Virginia Commonwealth's Anthony Grant was taking the reigns of the Crimson Tide basketball team in Tuscaloosa we have one candidate officially off the board.

With Oklahoma's Elite Eight appearance, Sooner coach Jeff Capel may quickly become out of reach as well.

With no official overtures towards Tubby Smith the Virginia fan base is quickly growing worried.

Can you blame them?

Virginia unceremoniously ousted Dave Leitao just two weeks ago and people logically thought that athletic director Craig Littlepage was prepared to make a marquee hiring.

Well now the question must be asked—what if he can't?

Does Littlepage have a Plan B if the big names he has courted turn him down?

Well no fear Mr. Littlepage, I have you covered.  Two names have emerged as darkhorse candidates and, unlike the Xavier debate, these men would love the opportunity to come to Virginia and restore the program.

Will Virginia love them?

Well let's start with a man that was a few minutes from a Sweet Sixteen appearance just one week ago—Siena coach Fran McCaffery.



Even if McCaffery may not have the name recognition as some of the hot commodities in the coaching carousel, he certainly has some attractive qualities.

First, McCaffery knows the ACC area well.  McCaffery spent six years as head coach of UNC-Greensboro. 

While there he was able to establish contacts and pipelines that could only be improved with a job in the nation's most prestigious conference and a 131-million dollar arena to boot.

McCaffery is currently the coach at Siena, having led the team to two straight MAAC titles and three straight seasons of 20+ wins.

He helped orchestrate the fifth best turnaround in the history of college basketball, showing an ability to turn around a program quickly.

With Virginia facing its lowest win total in almost 40 years, it seems like a good quality to have.

McCaffery has also notched some impressive victories in these past two seasons, beginning with a win over the 20th ranked Stanford Cardinal last year.

The Lopez brothers were no match for the upstart Saints and the victory gave Siena its first win over a ranked opponent since 1989.

This year Siena impressed many by taking down Ohio State in a double overtime thriller in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The fact that the game was in the Buckeye state only makes the gutsy effort even more impressive.

Siena backed that game up with a comeback against Louisville that actually gave them a 63-59 lead before ultimately falling 79-72. 

The Saints may have ultimately lost but they proved to everyone just how far they have come under McCaffery.

Now, at just 49 years of age, McCaffery seems to be one of the rising stars in coaching.

This has certainly been noticed by Virginia's athletic director.  Before becoming the AD for the Cavaliers, Littlepage had a small stint as head coach of the Penn Quakers.

During that time, one of his assistants was none other than Fran McCaffery.

Littlepage gave McCaffery his first ever coaching position—will he give him his first job at a power conference?

Most importantly to Littlepage, McCaffery runs his program the right way.

Besides just winning, McCaffery has done a tremendous job bringing in good players with good character.  He has maintained a 100% graduation rate, something that matters a great deal to the University of Virginia which demands "uncompromised excellence". 

While the term "student athlete" is a punchline at some schools, Virginia has constantly held high academic standards. 

Those stringent requirements, which are usually far above the NCAA minimum requirements, have frustrated Virginia fans at times. 

However, McCaffery is used to balancing high academics with high success and although he may be a novice to ACC basketball he is a pro when it comes to the vision of Virginia basketball hopes to achieve.

Virginia is still searching for a face to lead them into a new era in the John Paul Jones Arena and even if McCaffery is not the instant hit people want, he is a solid long-term fix.

McCaffery is a wonderful ambassador for basketball.  His personality and demeanor help make players comfortable but also make them want to play hard on each and every play.

Just looking at Siena, you see a scrappy team that overachieves and plays to the whistle with strong defense and smart plays.

Anyone who has watched Virginia the past two years must ask—who could ask for anything more?

Besides, how many other coaches have 13 years of head coaching experience and are still under 50 years of age?

McCaffery may not be the sexy pick, but he may be the right one. 



Remember the old saying, "Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me"?

If Fran McCaffery is named the head coach of Virginia basketball, we will all be fools and Craig Littlepage will be out of a job.

Now I mean nothing against McCaffery, I have explained all his accomplishments and he certainly could be a great coach for Virginia.

This hire though means more than just finding a coach.

It means finding a symbol for Virginia basketball.

Virginia fans were promised a special hire in 2005 and we were tempted with rumors of Tubby Smith for weeks.

Instead, we were rewarded with Dave Leitao, a long-time assistant at the University of Connecticut when current Virginia president John Casteen was president of the Huskies.

Leitao certainly had some good credentials but he was ultimately unproven.  His teams at Depaul had underachieved despite putting up good records. 

Some had to wonder if Virginia's coaching search had gone beyond Casteen's Rolodex.

He was a risk and although their was some success their was also heartbreak.

Well if Littlepage hired McCaffery, it would simply appear that Virginia only looked at a former colleague and decided to take another risk.

Isn't crazy defined as trying the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results?

Virginia fans were promised a marquee name, Littlepage is supposed to repent for his former hiring sins.

McCaffery could be successful at Virginia, but he may never be given the chance if the Cavaliers cannot get over the dreams of Tubby Smith dancing in their heads.

This hire is supposed to rejuvenate a program, it is supposed to open minds and checkbooks to thinking that Virginia can achieve its past glory.

This search is more than about wins and losses.  Many coaches can win but a select few can become program-defining leaders.

McCaffery potentially could do that, but not unless people think that he can.



I think there is quite a bit to like about Fran McCaffery.

He is young but experienced.

He is firm but courteous.

His players are winners on and off the court.

Most Virginia fans agree that it's easy to like him...just not as much as Tubby Smith or Jeff Capel.

If McCaffery were hired to be the Virginia basketball coach people would be happy for him.  It would be a great opportunity for him and a chance for Virginia to atone for an 11th place finish in the ACC last year.

There are no sure things in life.  Even a Hall of Famer is not guaranteed success everywhere.  It needs to be the right combination of circumstances.

Unfortunately for Craig Littlepage, he has put himself in the tough situation where he needs a sure thing.

He needs an instant success or everyone will be pointing the finger squarely at him.

McCaffery won't get Virginia on ESPN or get the big-time donors to pony up in troubled economic times.  At least, not until he wins.

That kind of pressure could break even the best of coaches and Littlepage does not want to do that to his friend.  That's why I think he won't.

On the other hand, if Virginia can't find get their dream date (or dates) to the prom, McCaffery might want to keep his tuxedo on just in case.