Scattershooting: Praising O’Connor; ACC makes changes; Hootie’s golden nuggets

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Scattershooting around the ACC, while noting how fortunate UVA is to have Brian O’Connor as its baseball coach …

It was an unusually warm day for late January and the first day of Virginia baseball practice, as O’Connor stood in front of the Cavaliers’ dugout at “The Dish,” and took it all in. O’Connor slapped me on the shoulder and said it was hard to believe that he was about to embark on his 21st season as UVA’s head coach.

There’s a handful of people in Virginia’s athletic department that I’ve known longer: longtime head athletic trainer Ethan Saliba, associate head basketball coach Jason Williford (who played here in the mid ‘90s), assistant football coach Chris Slade (who played here a little earlier than Williford), Shawn Moore, who now works for the VAF (played with Slade), Gerry Capone (now associate AD for Development), who came here with George Welsh in 1982, strength & conditioning coach Mike Curtis, Wally Walker and Barry Parkhill, soccer coaches George Gelnovatch and Steve Swanson. Only a few of those have been at UVA, continuously, longer than O’Connor.

The baseball skipper was recently inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame, a big deal. I asked him what that honor meant to him.

“I got the call this summer and I almost dropped the phone because I couldn’t believe it,” O’Connor said. “Because a lot of times you see this happen after somebody retires, so really honored and humbled.

“What it does for me, is it speaks to what has been done here over two decades and to the loyalty and commitment of our other coaches, our staff members, everybody involved in our program.

“It’s a tribute to that, because if you don’t have all of those people locked arms with you and trying to keep the standard of the baseball program, it just doesn’t happen.”

In 20 years on the job prior to this season (UVA opens at home this weekend against Hofstra), O’Connor has taken the Cavaliers to the College World Series six times and posted five 50-win seasons since 2010, while accumulating a record of 839-353-2.

O’Connor looked around the facility and took a proud, deep breath.

“You know, we’re standing out here today and it’s hard not to get emotional about this facility and what our players have and what our fans have and what our coaches have, and where it has come from 20 years ago,” the coach said. “That’s a tribute to a lot of people that have helped that happen, and that’s a part of getting into the Hall of Fame.”

When former UVA athletic director Craig Littlepage appeared on “The Jerry & Jerry Show” this week, he talked at length about a couple of the hires he made during his 16-year reign over the department — O’Connor and UVA basketball coach Tony Bennett (here’s a link to the show).

One of Littlepage’s stories about O’Connor focused on a phone call he received one night years ago from the baseball coach. O’Connor told him that another university had contacted him and offered him an opportunity to at least triple his salary, and that school was sending a plane to pick him and his wife up to bring them to campus for a closer look.

You can imagine the thoughts going through Littlepage’s mind. “Oh man, we’re going to lose our coach.”

However, O’Connor told the AD not to worry, that he wasn’t going to get on the plane, that he loved being at UVA and that he wasn’t even going to think of leaving until he did what he came here to do: to put Virginia’s baseball program on the map. O’Connor didn’t ask for more money, but he did ask Littlepage if he could help him take better care of his assistant coaches, to which the AD complied.

All these years later, other schools are still coming after O’Connor. LSU, considered the top job in America, came hard after O’Connor a couple of years ago, but he stayed put.

New ACC & 3 Unhappy Members

During the ACC’s winter meetings in Charlotte, the membership determined that with 18 teams in next season’s basketball alignment, the bottom three teams will be left out of the ACC Tournament in men’s and women’s hoops.

That is going to leave three very unhappy basketball programs, which will likely have recruiting and possibly coach’s job security impacted by such an omission.

Since the league began in 1954 and through all previous expansions, all ACC teams were allowed to play in the conference tournament and have a shot — even though it may be remote — to win the ACC Tournament and capture the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Now, that won’t be possible, as the ACC essentially did a copy-cat version of what the Big Ten voted on a couple of weeks ago, only the top 15 teams in the league make the conference tournament.

I like Raleigh News & Observer columnist Luke DeCock’s idea of a play-in scenario like the ACC once had. If memory serves, we smart-alec sportswriters nicknamed it the “Les Henson Invitational,” after the personable NC State coach, who always seemed to find a way to play the Wolfpack into the ACC Tournament.

This is what DeCock’s idea is, noting that if all 18 teams played, the tournament would stretch from Monday to Saturday:

“It’s hard enough to get people to show up for the Tuesday games. Who wants to watch six terrible teams play on a Monday?

“Here’s the solution: On Monday and Tuesday, eight teams play down in two, four-team pods somewhere off-site. In Charlotte next year, that could be Bojangles’ Coliseum or Charlotte’s Halton Arena. That whittles eight teams down to two, giving us a 12-team tournament starting Wednesday and the top four getting byes.”

Not a bad idea. Keeps all 18 schools happy and gives everyone a chance, even if it’s a snowball’s chance.

The conference also decided to stick with a 20-game, regular-season schedule, which was thrust upon the coaches a few years ago by then-commissioner John Swofford, who made the deal with ESPN despite the wishes of the league coaches, who preferred to play 18 games.

If the ACC went back to 18, schools could schedule two more nonconference games that could enhance their NET rankings and perhaps help the league get more schools into the NCAA Tournament.

10-4, Good Buddy

The ACC also approved the use of radio equipment in the quarterback’s helmet (like the NFL), so coaches can signal in plays instead of having to use hand signals from the sidelines (which would eliminate teams trying to steal signs, a la Michigan).

It was only a matter of time before college football caught up on the NFL’s technology that will allow one-way communication for the coaches to talk to the quarterback in the huddle.

The ACC also approved more technology in that teams will be provided with access to in-game video that can enhance the ability to make in-game adjustments.

Hootie’s Golden Nuggets …

  • Speaking of Virginia baseball, three Wahoos are ranked in D1 Baseball’s Top 150 starting pitchers: Jay Woolfolk (No. 64), Jack O’Connor (100) and Bradley Hodges (110).
  • By the way, O’Connor will start for UVA in Friday’s game against Hofstra (3 p.m.), Evan Blanco will start on Saturday (1 p.m.), with Woolfolk taking the mound Sunday (1 p.m.).
  • Wondering where those football players who exited Virginia through the transfer portal ended up? Here’s what we found: Jestus Johnson, offensive lineman, to Delaware State; Lex Long, linebacker, to South Florida; Snoop Leota-Amaama to Nevada; Amaad Foston to Hampton; Dave Herard, cornerback, to New Mexico (rejoins Bronco); Trell Harris, wide receiver, predicted to land at Indiana or Michigan State; Demick Starling, wide receiver, to UMass.
  • From the ACC hoops media guide, the all-time ACC coaching home winning percentage in conference play only: 1) Dean Smith, 197-38 (.838); 2) Tony Bennett, 106-26 (.808); 3) Mike Krzyzewski, 265-64 (.805); 4) Roy Williams, 119-33 (.783).
  • Check out this performance by Virginia’s sharpshooting guard, already signed for the fall’s incoming class. Ishan Sharma, who is 6-foot-5, drilled in 42 points on Tuesday night, making 13 3-pointers (13 of 19) for Fort Erie in Canada. He also had five assists.
  • Joe Harris has been put on waivers by the Detroit Pistons. Hope he finds somewhere to land in the NBA, and if he doesn’t, wonder if he might explore coaching and wind up back in Charlottesville with Tony Bennett.