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End of an Era

The Littlepage years saw major gains, some setbacks and, in a role subject to constant second-guessing, lots of tough calls

Matt Riley

Shortly after Craig Littlepage took over as Virginia’s director of athletics in 2001, he set goals for the department to achieve over a 10-year span.

Littlepage wasn’t bashful. As part of a branding effort called Uncompromised Excellence, the benchmarks included winning 70 ACC championships—a dozen more than UVA had won in its entire history—and 12 NCAA titles, and having every student-athlete graduate. A decade later, Virginia had amassed 53 ACC championships—the most within the ACC during that span—seven NCAA crowns and a 93 percent graduation rate.

In 2013, the goals were reestablished for the 10-year period that runs through the spring of 2022. But Littlepage, 66, the longest-serving athletics director in UVA history, won’t be around to see that through.

In September, the ACC’s first African-American AD announced that he would retire after a 16-year run in which he oversaw the resurrection of several programs through very successful coaching hires, most notably in men’s basketball, baseball and tennis; numerous facility upgrades, including the construction of the John Paul Jones Arena; and a fundraising initiative that has raised more than $153 million since 2013. On the flip side of the ledger, Littlepage was chief for the controversial decision to replace the pep band; a continuing decline in the football and women’s basketball programs; and the unpopular departures of three highly successful coaches.

“There have been things that I would have liked to have accomplished,” a teary-eyed Littlepage said during a farewell press conference in September, “but that has to be tempered with all the good that has been accomplished.”

Littlepage’s retirement announcement came less than a week after his right-hand man, Executive Associate Athletics Director Jon Oliver, stepped down.

During their time together, Littlepage was known as the face of the department; Oliver, whom Littlepage hired in 2001, was the behind-the-scenes guy.

A hallmark of the Littlepage and Oliver era was Virginia’s strong performance in the Director’s Cup, which ranks the most successful college athletics programs in their entirety.