U.Va. athletic director Craig Littlepage retiring
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He has worked more than three decades at U.Va., and in retirement he will have an unspecified role in the president’s office.
By David Teel, Daily Press, 9-5-17
VIRGINIA ATHLETIC DIRECTOR Craig Littlepage, who helped elevate Cavalier sports to new heights for 16 years, announced his retirement Tuesday.
Littlepage is remaining on the job until a successor is appointed, a search that could well hinge on Virginia’s next president. Teresa Sullivan said in January that she will not serve beyond her contract, which expires in July.
Promoted from interim athletic director in August 2001, Littlepage, 66, is the longest-serving AD in Cavaliers history. As an administrator or assistant basketball coach, he has worked more than three decades at U.Va., continually since 1988, and in retirement he will have an unspecified role in the president’s office.
"It’s hard to believe how fast the last 16 years as the director of athletics at U.Va. have gone,” Littlepage said in a statement. "Overall, to have worked and lived in Charlottesville and the university community for 35 of the last 41 years is truly a blessing. After much thought and consideration, I realized this was the right time for me to step aside.
"There is a sense of great pride in the accomplishments of our program since taking over as AD in 2001. When I reflect on the great coaches that have come here, the facilities, and talented student-athletes, I can move ahead knowing the athletics program has a great foundation.
"Thanks must go out to my family, our senior staff, coaching and department staff, student-athletes, colleagues at U.Va., and the donors and fans of our program for their support. I am grateful to President John Casteen and President Terry Sullivan for the opportunities and support they’ve provided. You cannot have any measure of success in intercollegiate sports without a caring and supportive president.”
Littlepage’s age and management style — he delegated day-to-day department operations years ago — prompted speculation about his retirement long before he took a leave from October-February to address family health matters.
Headlining Littlepage’s tenure are 13 NCAA team championships in six sports, sage coaching hires such as Brian O’Connor (baseball), Brian Boland (men’s tennis) and Tony Bennett (men’s basketball), and continued academic achievement meshed with NCAA compliance.
Virginia has finished among the top 20 in the Directors’ Cup all-sports standings each of the last 11 years. The Cavaliers have won an ACC-best 64 team conference titles since the league expanded in 2004-05.
Littlepage has also orchestrated facility additions such as John Paul Jones Arena and the George Welsh indoor football practice, and major upgrades to the Cavaliers’ baseball stadium.
"Craig is one of the most highly respected individuals within the ACC, among his peers and across the overall landscape of collegiate athletics,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a statement. "Even more impressive is how remarkable he is as a person, which is why I’ve always described him as one of the true gentlemen in our profession.”
During his most recent extended interview, in late June, Littlepage became emotional when he detailed his leave. During that time, his mother-in-law died, and he moved his mother from his native Pennsylvania to Charlottesville.
Two months after returning to work, Littlepage fell leaving a restaurant near his home, breaking his right elbow. A basketball star at the University of Pennsylvania — he later coached the Quakers and Rutgers — and a long-time runner, he hasn’t regained full mobility.
Like any long-term manager, Littlepage hit potholes.
Now under second-year coach Bronco Mendenhall, the football program has finished below .500 in eight of the last nine seasons, a span that includes former coaches Mike London and Al Groh. Not coincidentally, attendance at 61,500-seat Scott Stadium has fallen below 40,000, costing the Cavaliers millions in revenue.
Bennett’s predecessor, Dave Leitao, lasted only four years before his dismissal, and the school’s partings with Hall of Fame coaches Debbie Ryan (women’s basketball) and Dom Starsia (men’s lacrosse) were messy.
Still, Littlepage, who chaired the NCAA basketball selection committee in 2005-06 and was the ACC’s first African-American athletic director, will leave a coveted position. Executive associate AD Jon Oliver was Littlepage’s top lieutenant for virtually all of the last 16 years, and Littlepage empowered him with football and men’s basketball oversight and myriad other duties, to a point where Oliver became the de facto AD.
But Oliver’s sudden resignation last week, effective Sept. 15, indicates he was not the heir apparent, that the search will be national. As well it should be. Sources throughout college athletics consider Virginia a top-shelf job, football’s trials notwithstanding.
Oliver’s departure leaves Dirk Katstra as the most likely internal candidate. A former Cavaliers basketball player, Katstra has led the athletic department’s fundraising arm as executive director for 21-plus years. He has also served as a senior associate AD since 2013.
Several administrators with U.Va. ties are Division I athletic directors and, in one case, commissioner, and could emerge as candidates.
Army athletic director Boo Corrigan’s father, Gene, is a former Cavaliers AD and ACC commissioner. Boo Corrigan’s wife played field hockey and lacrosse for U.Va.
Old Dominion athletic director Wood Selig was a senior associate AD at Virginia from 1988-99 and earned his doctorate in educational leadership there. UNC Greensboro athletic director Kim Record is a Virginia graduate and was an associate AD for the Cavaliers and Florida State. Big East commissioner Val Ackerman graduated from U.Va., was the women’s basketball program’s first 1,000-point scorer and served as first president of the WNBA.
Virginia’s last three athletic directors — Littlepage, Terry Holland and the late Jim Copeland — worked in the department before leading it.
Possible outside candidates include sitting ADs such as Stanford’s Bernard Muir, Southern Methodist’s Rick Hart, Villanova’s Mark Jackson, Cincinnati’s Mike Bohn, Memphis’ Tom Bowen and James Madison’s Jeff Bourne.
Danny Morrison, formerly the AD at Texas Christian and commissioner of the Southern Conference, resigned as president of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers in February to pursue a return to college sports.
Former West Virginia AD and NFL quarterback Oliver Luck is the NCAA’s executive vice president for regulatory affairs and is respected throughout the industry.
That’s by no means a comprehensive list, and whoever lands the position will follow a pioneer and icon.
"It’s been a joy to work for Craig,” Bennett said in a statement, "and he should head into his retirement with a big smile on his face knowing he did things the right way while making a significant impact on the success of Virginia athletics.”
In tributes gathered by U.Va., Maryland AD Kevin Anderson called Littlepage "one of the best athletic directors of all time.”
Littlepage "has had a remarkable and significant journey as a student-athlete, a coach and an administrator,” said Purdue and former Georgia Tech AD Mike Bobinski. "Craig has always represented and advocated for the highest ideals of college athletics. His character has been a model for me and so many others over the years.”
This article has been reprinted on Clips with the author's permission.