I’ve spent a bulk of the off-seasonpresenting cases for coaches on the brink of something from disaster to potential success. Most of the time, I can make an argument one way or the other (keep the coach, don’t keep the coach), but in the case of Al Groh, I will present evidence and let you, loyal reader, decide. Virginia is a strong school academically, it has a rich history (not so much in sports, but from its alumni base), and it is located in a state ripe with college-level athletic talent. Al Groh has some compelling reasons for him to remain at Virginia and there are some equally compelling reasons for the Cavaliers to move forward with the football program.
Three Reasons Al Groh Should Stay
1. NFL Caliber Talent
In his time at Virginia, Groh has sent over a dozen players into the ranks of the NFL on draft day, including 2008 first rounder Chris Long. Groh coached in the NFL and knows what it takes for players to succeed on that level. This is impressive to future recruits wondering if Virginia’s stature (or lack thereof – read later) will affect future football potential. Al Groh should be applauded for implementation of the 3-4 Defense. This may seem like a little thing, but I find it impressive because there are not a great number of teams that employ this strategy. Groh, known as a hard-nosed coach in the NFL, has maintained that stance and it has not dissuaded good players from the Virginia recruiting ranks. Learning to play for a tough coach with a modern approach to the game in college surely pays dividends in the NFL.
2. Training Ground for Coaches
Three of his former assistants left UVA to their first head coaching positions. Others have gone on to coaching careers in the NFL. This proves Groh has an eye for coaching talent as well. Some schools attract the hot, up-and-coming assistants and some schools produce those assistants. Al Groh can turn out some real gems in the coaching ranks and having an older mentor for a gaggle of young coaches is a good thing in the college football world.
3. Consistency and Patience
As mentioned in a previous piece, all too often colleges pull the plug on coaching staff that has potential. Al Groh’s Virginia has not been awful, but it hasn’t been great either. This is about expectations. After all, this is Virginia. It is not Alabama, Ohio State, or even Virginia Tech. What are realistic expectations at Virginia? Win the ACC Coastal Division? Win the ACC? Compete in the BCS?
Three Reasons Al Groh Should Go
1. Inexcusable Losses
In 2008, Virginia became the first team to lose against Duke in an ACC Conference game in 25 games. Let me make this clear, at no time should any ACC team be on the losing end of a Duke football game. (No offense to David Cutcliffe.) In talent alone, Virginia should have bested Duke and I would expect a seasoned defensive coach like Groh to be able to handle anything Cutcliffe threw at his team.
2. No Conference Championships and Lack of a Post-Season Presence
Five bowl games isn’t so bad and even the 3-2 record is okay, but if Virginia is ever going to be more than an also-ran from a BCS conference, this must improve. Again, if the expectations are to just be okay, then Virginia is where they want to be. However, if there is any inkling of moving forward in a rather winnable ACC, something must change.
3. Virginia Tech
Being on the wrong end of wins and losses versus the big, in-state rival is never a good position for a coach. Al Groh has only once led a Cavalier team to victory over Virginia Tech and that is simply not good. If Michigan dropped five in a row to Ohio State, the Wolverines head coach would be toast. Tommy Tuberville was 7-3 against Alabama, but when the momentum started swinging the other way, he was gone. That’s what winning in a rivalry can really do – swing momentum of a program in recruiting as well as on the field. It is not as if Virginia Tech has been a world-beater in this time period either.
Thus is the story of Al Groh at Virginia, some good, some bad. There are certainly economic considerations as Groh’s buyout is in the $6.5 million range. In this economy, it will be hard to defend dropping that much coin to fire a coach and then, turnaround and throw a boatload at a “winner.” Though every time one of these schools decides it is time to move on, the money is readily available. So, if the powers-that-be want Groh gone, he’ll be gone. Al Groh’s name routinely appears on the watch list for coaches about to be fired and, ultimately, that will undo any positive efforts in recruiting and program growth. Bottom line for Virginia is to decide what the football program is going to be: a training ground and stepping stone to the next level or a contender. Don’t wait too long to decide because the ACC won’t be down forever and being left behind is worse than being mired in the middle.