Virginia coach Dave Leitao named ACC Coach of the Year
March 6, 2007
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Virginia coach Dave Leitao admits he's not always not the easiest guy to be around between his single-minded focus on the job at hand to the demands he puts on his staff and players.
Still, no one can fault him too much, not after the results he's gotten from the Cavaliers in his first two seasons.
After being projected to finish eighth in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Virginia won 11 league games - the most for the program in a dozen years - and finished tied with North Carolina atop the conference. That surprising run made Leitao the ACC Coach of the Year on Tuesday.
He received 64 of a possible 106 votes from members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association, becoming the first Virginia coach to win the award in 25 years. Maryland's Gary Williams - who has led his team to seven straight wins to close a 24-7 regular season - finished second with 19 votes, while Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg was third with 15 votes after leading the Hokies to a third-place ACC finish.
Leitao is the third Virginia coach to win the award, joining Bill Gibson (1972) and Terry Holland (1981, '82).
"I think every team, particularly at the beginning of the season, you want to find room for optimism," Leitao said. "We tried not to, good or bad, pay a lot of attention to people's expectations outside the program. One thing we've been blessed with is we've got guys of great character and intestinal fortitude.
"We thought that whatever happened, it was going to be more in our control than what people thought."
The Cavaliers (20-9, 11-5 ACC) shook off some early-season trouble and earned their first 20-win season in six years and only the second since 1995, when Virginia last tied for the ACC regular-season title with a 12-4 mark. Virginia also appears headed for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001.
For Leitao, it's an early return on his work to restore the Virginia program to its stature under Holland in the 1980s. After coaching at DePaul for three seasons, he led a Virginia team picked to finish last in the ACC last season to a seventh-place finish at 7-9 in the league.
This year's Cavaliers starred all-conference guards Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds but wasn't expected to make a significant push for a league title. The preseason projections seemed accurate when Virginia started 9-6, with a loss to Appalachian State in the San Juan Shootout in December and a three-game losing streak in January.
But the Cavaliers turned their focus back to defense and went on a seven-game run, beating the Terrapins twice and Duke to climb the league standings. Now the Cavaliers are the ACC tournament's No. 2 seed with a first-round bye.
But Leitao doesn't sound satisfied just yet.
"We still have a long way to go to reach the status of where I wanted to be at when I got here," he said. "I don't want to say we've arrived. I don't want to be a one-hit wonder."