Virginia Athletic Director Craig Littlepage is retiring from his position, the school announced Tuesday, marking the end of a tenure in which he presided over the most prosperous stretch in department history.
Littlepage, the first African American athletic director in the ACC, will remain in his job until a replacement is named, at which time he will transition to a role in the office of the university president.
“After much thought and consideration, I realized this was the right time for me to step aside,” Littlepage, 66, said in a statement. He is scheduled to speak at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Appointed as athletic director on Aug. 21, 2001, Littlepage’s first 10 years included the Cavaliers winning seven NCAA championships and 53 ACC titles. During that time, the Virginia Athletics Foundation raised more than $350 million, according to the university, including $130 million for construction of John Paul Jones Arena.
Over the last five years, Virginia has won six NCAA championships and 23 ACC titles. The Cavaliers’ 76 ACC championships since 2002 are the most in the conference.
Among Virginia’s most decorated programs recently have been men’s basketball, men’s tennis and baseball. The Cavaliers have won three straight national championships in men’s tennis as well as the College World Series in 2015. The men’s basketball program under Coach Tony Bennett, a Littlepage hire, has advanced to the NCAA tournament’s regional semifinals twice since 2013-14, including the regional finals in 2015-16.
The football program, however, has struggled since 2008, finishing below .500 in eight of nine seasons. The Cavaliers went 2-10 last year in the first season under Coach Bronco Mendenhall, who replaced Mike London following his resignation.
There also were the unpleasant departures of women’s basketball coach Debbie Ryan and men’s lacrosse coach Dom Starsia. Ryan directed the Cavaliers to three straight Final Four appearances and 736 wins before resigning in 2011 after 34 years, at the time the longest tenure of any coach in Virginia athletics. Starsia won four national championships at Virginia, becoming college lacrosse’s all-time winningest coach, but his contract wasn’t renewed last year after a 7-8 season.
In 2010, tragedy rocked the entire campus with the murder of Yeardley Love, a member of Virginia’s lacrosse and field hockey teams. George Huguely IV, a Cavaliers men’s lacrosse player and Love’s former boyfriend, was sentenced to 23 years in prison for the crime.
More recently, family medical issues compelled Littlepage to take a leave of absence from October 2016 until this past February.
Littlepage, a graduate of Pennsylvania, began his administrative association with Virginia in 1990 as an assistant athletic director. He spent four years as the associate director of athletics and another six as senior associate director of athletics beginning in 1995.
In 2005-06, Littlepage served as chair of the Division I men’s basketball committee, administering the selection process for the NCAA tournament. He originally had been selected to the 10-member committee in 2002.
“Craig Littlepage has made a significant impact during his time at the University of Virginia,” Teresa Sullivan, the university’s president, said in a statement. “The athletics program is now recognized among the nation’s elite. The athletics department also operates with integrity and an unwavering desire to follow the rules.”
Sullivan indicated in January that she would not be coming back as president upon expiration of her contract in July, meaning Littlepage’s replacement could depend largely on who assumes her position.
Littlepage’s announcement comes on the heels of the sudden resignation of associate athletic director Jon Oliver, a trusted confidant for most of the past 16 years. Oliver, set to step down Sept. 15, oversaw much of the day-to-day operations within the athletic department.
Oliver’s departure, announced by the school Thursday, suggests the next athletic director may come from outside the current administration.
Non-university executives with ties to Virginia include Army Athletic Director Boo Corrigan, Old Dominion Athletic Director Wood Selig and Big East Commission Val Ackerman.
Corrigan’s father, Gene, was a former athletic director at Virginia as well as ACC commissioner. Selig was a senior associate athletic director at Virginia from 1988 through ’99. Ackerman graduated from Virginia in 1981 after a decorated basketball career. She also has been president of the WNBA.
“None of what we’ve achieved coach have been done without the collective efforts of everyone that loves the university and our athletics program,” Littlepage said in the statement. “I will always be a Cavalier and look forward to continuing to follow the success of Virginia athletics.”
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