Dave Leitao's on-court demeanor was one of impassioned competitiveness, but the former Virginia coach's final words to his team were delivered with a calm serenity.
Officially, Leitao resigned last Monday after a 10-18 season. The players received a text message informing them of a 1 p.m. meeting, which they expected would include plans for the summer. Leitao walked into the room appearing the same as he did during the team's end-of-year meeting last season, according to to sophomore guard Jeff Jones.
"He told us he's not going to be coaching here, but he'll just be a phone call away," said freshman Sylven Landesberg, who was the ACC rookie of the year.
With those words, Leitao's four-year tenure at Virginia concluded. And the players in the team's meeting room -- all of whom Leitao recruited -- were stunned.
"We're upset," Landesberg said. "We were recruited by him. Of course he was a big part of our decision to come here. But what's done is done. We got to move on and get stronger from the experience."
Jones said there were "a lot of emotions in the locker room" and that the meeting lasted 15 minutes. Both Jones and Landesberg confirmed that they are staying at Virginia, and they said that was the prevailing plan of their teammates.
"I committed to the university as well as the coaching staff," Landesberg said. "Regardless of who the coach is, I'm still going to work hard."
The players have accepted part of the responsibility for Leitao's departure. The Cavaliers were undone by youth and inexperience this season, and the manner in which the team lost eroded fan morale.
"In same games, some guys on the team didn't play to their full potential.," Jones said. "You can't blame the whole season on the coach. We're the guys out there playing."
Now they're the guys out there waiting. Like the team's fans, the Virginia players listen to the rumors and speculation surrounding the vacancy. The only difference is Athletic Director Craig Littlepage has been in the process of meeting with each player to discuss their feelings and the attributes they would look for a new coach.
Littlepage also has involved the players in candid conversation about the state of the basketball program. Littlepage asked Landesberg if he thought Virginia could be a middle-of-the-pack ACC team next season.
"No, I see us in the top four, five teams," Landesberg said. "I say that very confidently. We're a young team this year, we took our hits. Next year, I think we'll bring a lot to the table."
The players want to see a coach who will get right to work with the players already on the roster. They professed faith in Littlepage, but would like a hire to be made quickly.
"The sooner he gets in," Landesberg said, "the stronger the relationship can get."
March 23, 2009; 9:40 AM ET
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