Littlepage, Craig 1951–
Craig Littlepage 1951–
When Craig Littlepage was named athletic director at the University of Virginia on August 21, 2001, he became the first African American in the Atlantic Coast Conference to hold that position, and one of strikingly few in the world of major college athletics. One study found that only 2.4 percent of the institutions in Division I (large schools) of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) had black athletic directors as of the 2000-01 season. With a combination of long experience as a player, coach, and administrator, personal charisma, and a solid educational background, Littlepage was an ideal candidate to help break down the barriers facing African Americans at the top levels of the collegiate athletics hierarchy.
Littlepage was born in LaMott, Pennsylvania, on August 5, 1951. He grew up in Cheltenham, just outside of Philadelphia’s north side, and was a standout basketball player from the start. Littlepage led Cheltenham’s high school team to a Pennsylvania state championship and was awarded high school All-Region, All-State, and All-American honors. Graduating in 1969, Littlepage moved on to the academically challenging University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League institution. He studied economics at the university’s Wharton School of Business and Finance, earning a bachelor of science degree in 1973.
On the basketball court, Littlepage was a linchpin of the University of Pennsylvania teams that won Ivy League championships and advanced to the NCAA’s Eastern Regional Finals in 1971, 1972, and 1973. Playing under legendary coach Chuck Daly, Littlepage began to consider a coaching career for himself, even though black representation in the coaching field at the time was sparse. Fresh out of college, he landed an assistant coaching position with another giant of the profession, Villanova University’s Rollie Massimino. Littlepage moved on to assistant coach slots at Yale University (1975-76) and, for six years, at the University of Virginia (1976-82).
Virginia’s record was impressive in those years; it included a National Invitational Tournament (NIT) appearance in 1980 and a run all the way to the NCAA championship semifinals the following year. That first stint at Virginia also resulted in Littlepage’s marriage to
At a Glance…
Born August 5, 1951, in LaMott, PA; grew up in Cheltenham, PA; married Margaret (Murray) Littlepage; children: Erica, Murray, Erin. Education: University of Pennsylvania, Wharton Business School, B.S. (economics), 1973.
Career: Villanova University, assistant coach, 1973-75; Yale University, assistant coach, 1975-76; University of Virginia, assistant coach, 1976-82; University of Pennsylvania, head coach, 1982-85; Rutgers University, head coach, 1985-88;, University of Virginia, assistant coach 1988-90, assistant athletic director, 1990, associate athletic director for programs, 1991-95, associate director of athletics, 1995-01, athletic director, 2001-.
Addressses: Office —McCue Center, 3rd floor, University of Virginia, P.O. Box 400845, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4845.
the former Margaret Murray of the university’s home town of Charlottesville; the couple have three children. In 1982 Littlepage returned to the University of Pennsylvania as head coach. His accomplishments there were solid. Penn took the Ivy League championship in 1985 and appeared in the postseason NCAA tournament. Littlepage’s cumulative record over three seasons at Penn was 40 wins and 39 losses.
That was enough to land Littlepage a post as the head coach at Rutgers University, the flagship institution of New Jersey’s state university system and a perennial basketball powerhouse. Littlepage began to forge a personal coaching style at Rutgers that relied as much on positive reinforcement as on the usual college coach’s histrionics. “I think I do as much yelling and screaming as anybody,” Littlepage told the New York Times. “But I follow that with a word of encouragement.”
But Littlepage inherited a program at Rutgers that was in a severe rebuilding phase; his 1985 squad included no seniors at all and a starting backcourt pair of juniors who had each averaged less than three points per game the previous year. Littlepage tried to build experience among his young players by maximizing their court appearance, developing an offense that rotated playing time among all 11 members of the squad. His efforts went unrewarded, however; Littlepage compiled a 23-63 record over three seasons at Rutgers. In 1988 the team set an unenviable school record with 16 consecutive losses, and at the end of the year, with a year remaining on his four-year contract, Littlepage was fired.
Littlepage returned to Virginia as an assistant coach and found himself on the winning side once again, as the team landed in the NCAA tournament after both the 1989 and 1990 seasons. In 1990, however, Littlepage made the move into administration, accepting a promotion to the position of assistant athletic director and, the following year, to associate director of athletic programs. Among his mentors was Terry Holland, who had served as Virginia’s head basketball coach during Littlepage’s earlier stint as assistant coach.
For six months beginning in December of 1994, Littlepage served as Virginia’s interim athletic director, after the resignation of athletic director Jim Copeland. Littlepage won high marks for his handling of the office’s daily responsibilities, and began to impress Virginia administrators with his concern for the academic well-being of Virginia athletes—no surprise, given Littlepage’s own background as a well-rounded scholar-athlete. Littlepage emerged as a finalist in the selection process undertaken to select Copeland’s replacement, but Terry Holland, his friend and former boss, was named head basketball coach, and Littlepage accepted the position of senior associate director for athletic programs. The job entailed running many of the nuts-and-bolts daily operations of the school’s athletic programs, while Holland’s time was often occupied with tasks such as facilities fundraising.
When Holland resigned as athletic director to take a head coaching job at the University of Minnesota in June of 2001, Littlepage seemed the obvious choice to succeed him. Nevertheless, at Virginia, with a program that had never had a black head coach, his appointment was far from assured. When Virginia president John Casteen offered him the job, Littlepage told the Roanoke Times, “There wasn’t any haggling over the contract. I didn’t ask for 24 hours to think it over.” The dean of African American affairs at the university told the Roanoke Times. “Initially, I didn’t think this would happen.” The dean continued, “I didn’t know if the university was courageous enough to hire Craig as the athletic director, but I don’t think we could have understood if Craig had not been hired.”
Littlepage faced challenges from his first days on the job as athletic director. A university task force projected a $47.4 million deficit for Virginia’s intercollegiate athletics program by the year 2010, and fundraising for a new sports arena, which had previously fallen to Holland, now became Littlepage’s responsibility. But Littlepage could note with satisfaction that his appointment marked an important milestone for black athletic administrators. He told the Washington Post that his 12-year-old son, Murray, has expressed an ambition to become an athletic director when he grows up. “That’s why the decision is important in ways beyond the symbolism,” he told the newspaper. “This speaks to the kind of hopes that young kids like Murray Littlepage can have about the kind of future or career they want.”
Jet, September 10, 2001, p. 48.
New York Times, September 7, 1985, section 1, p. 45; November 28, 1985, p. B11.
Newsday (New York), March 16, 1988, p. 128; March 17, 1988, p. 154.
Washington Post, May 4, 1982, p. D5; May 6, 2000, p. D9; May 3, 2001, p. D3; August 22, 2001, p. D3; October 27, 2001, p. D6.
Cheltenham High School Hall of Fame, http://www.cheltenhamalumni.org/halloffame/biographies/littlepage.htm
Inside UVA Online, http://www.virginia.edu/insideuva/2001/26/littlepage.html
University of Virginia Athletics, http://virginiasports.ocsn.com
—James M. Manheim
"Littlepage, Craig 1951–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 17, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/littlepage-craig-1951
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