Leitao resigns: Cavs coach out after 10-18 season
After helming the UVA men's basketball program's worst season since 1967, and a loss in the opening round of this year's ACC Tournament, Dave Leitao announced Monday, March 16, that he is resigning his post as head men's basketball coach.
UVA has reached a financial agreement with Leitao which will see the four-year coach receive $2.1 million in severance pay.
Says athletic director Craig Littlepage in a press release, "Dave has been a respected colleague and a fine University representative in the local community during his tenure here. He brought a great deal of leadership, discipline and integrity to his coaching responsibilities.”
Littlepage further announced that a national search for Leitao's replacement will begin immediately, though he says many candidates are currently involved in post-season play.
Leitao entered UVA with high hopes of turning the Cavaliers into a perennial Atlantic Coast Conference contender. Leitao was the University's first African American head coach, and he certainly had the coaching pedigree and the resum© for the job. Leitao served as an assistant under legendary University of Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun and took the DePaul Blue Demons to an overall record of 58-34 and a first-round win over Dayton in the 2004 NCAA Tournament.
At first it seemed as though Leitao may have righted the Good Ship Wahoo, turning in a 15-15 record his first season with big wins at home over ranked opponents North Carolina and Boston College. Then, with the guard tandem of J.R. Reynolds and Sean Singletary as his on-court generals, Leitao coached UVA to their best season in five years with a 21-12 record in 2007, which included a stunning upset at home over the #8 Duke Blue Devils, and an NCAA Tournament bid.
But what was once sweet began to turn sour in during the 2007-2008 campaign, when the Cavaliers went 17-16 and missed out on both the NCAA and National Invitational Tournament. Leitao and company had to settle for the third-tier College Basketball Invitational, in which they ultimately lost to the Bradley Braves at John Paul Jones Arena before a crowd numbering in the hundreds.
While this season saw its high points with an overtime win over ranked opponent Clemson, and a season-split with intrastate rival Virginia Tech, the Cavaliers hit far more low notes, including a loss at home to Liberty. The last time the Flames defeated the 'Hoos was 1998, which proved to be the final season for head coach Jeff Jones.
It wasn't always the case that ACC coaches got the axe after a mediocre start. Before becoming the third-winningest coach in NCAA history, Mike Krzyzewski had an overall winning percentage of .447 in his first three seasons at Duke. But college basketball is big business now and a team's success has a big impact on the university at large. A 2004 Cornell University study study found that if a public university's team makes it into the NCAA Tournament, alumni giving for that school goes up an average of $5.60 per alumnus.
So with Leitao fallen, who will rise to take his place? UVA may not have to look far. Many potentially attractive coaching candidates are already in the Cavalier family, including one who was once top man on the sidelines of University Hall:
Jeff Jones: Yes, UVA already hired and fired as head coach him once already. But Jones had an overall winning percentage of .584 in his eight seasons as the 'Hoos head coach, which included five NCAA Tournament bids, and an unforgettable run to the Elite Eight round of the 1995 tourney. And guess who's back in the Big Dance again this year? Jones has led his American University Eagles to two consecutive Patriot League championships, and will tip-off against Villanova in the first round of the NCAAs on Thursday, March 19.
Jim Larranaga: The onetime assistant to Cavalier legend Terry Holland during the Ralph Sampson era rose to national fame when he led the 11th-seeded George Mason Patriots all the way to the Final Four–- the lowest seeded team to ever advance to the national semifinal. Larranaga has thus far rebuffed offers to coach at higher profile schools, but might he be enticed to come back to Charlottesville?
Marc Iavaroni: Next to Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle, Iavaroni is the only UVA alum with NBA coaching experience, having coached the Memphis Grizzlies for one-and-a-half seasons until he was fired this past January. But Iavaroni has learned coaching from some of the greats, including having served as a graduate assistant to Holland, and as an assistant coach to Mike D'Antoni when the Phoenix Suns went all the way to the Western Conference Finals in 2004, and again in 2005. Iavaroni also has an NBA Championship ring as a member of the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers.
But should Craig Littlepage decide to go outside of the UVA community as he did in the cases of Leitao and Pete Gillen, there are several up-and-coming coaches in the college ranks who could fit the Cavalier bill:
Anthony Grant: In three seasons just down the road at Virginia Commonwealth University, Grant has become a star on the rise. Under Grant, the Rams have won two Colonial Athletic Association championships and dispatched of the sixth-seeded Duke Blue Devils in the most memorable buzzer-beater game of the 2007 NCAA Tournament. The Rams are back again this year and ready to butt heads with the UCLA Bruins on Thursday, March 19.
Tommy Amaker: Though he's already had two shots at the big time as head coach of Michigan and Seton Hall, Amaker may finally have gotten over the coaching hump this year in his first season as the head coach at Harvard. Amaker's Crimson beat three of the teams in this year's NCAA Tournament field including UVA's ACC foe Boston College. Could this Duke alum and former assistant to Mike Krzyzewski swallow his Blue Devil pride and come home to his native Virginia?
Steve Donahue: Speaking of the Ivy League, Steve Donahue has accomplished something at Cornell that no other coach has accomplished since 1944: win consecutive Ivy League titles at a school not named Penn or Princeton. Once again the Cornell Big Red are headed to the Big Dance, and hope to pluck some juicy fruit from the March Madness tree when they play the third-seeded Missouri Tigers on Friday, March 20.
Brad Greenberg: As if the Virginia-Virginia Tech rivalry weren't interesting enough, how much more fun would it be if the coaches on either sideline were brothers? That's what would happen if UVA hired Brad Greenberg, brother of and former assistant coach to Hokie head coach Seth Greenberg. Greenberg is currently in his second season as head coach at Radford University, where he just won the Big South Conference championship and a trip to face the North Carolina Tar Heels in the first round of the NCAAs on Thursday, March 19. Greenberg's Radford squad nearly beat the Cavaliers on their home court when the 'Hoos eked out a 68-66 win over the Highlanders in November.
–updated March 29 at 3:28pm. The print edition of this article misstated George Mason's seeding in the 2006 tournament, and the year in which VCU beat Duke. Those errors have been corrected in this online edition.