Did contract mess kill Virginia football recruiting?

Story by Chris Graham

“That’s going to kill recruiting.”
That was my initial reaction to the news from earlier this year that the University of Virginia had decided not to add another year to football coach Al Groh’s contract to ensure that Groh would be at the head of the program past 2010 – meaning that he couldn’t with certainty tell recruits in the Class of 2008 that he and his coaching staff would be around for the entirety of their college-football careers.
Now, of course, that Groh has his team at 9-2 and on the doorstep of UVa.’s first ACC Coastal Division title, it would seem apparent that the coach and his guys are going to be around for a while.
But the question begs – did the contract imbroglio from earlier in the year put Groh and the ‘Hoos behind the 8-ball as far as the future of Virginia football is concerned?

“I don’t think there’s any question that it had a negative impact on Virginia recruiting – especially with a couple of kids in the state of Virginia this year that specifically mentioned that to myself and our other writer on the site about uncertainty with Coach Groh’s status,” said Chris Wallace, a recruiting analyst for CavsCorner.com.

The biggest impact will be felt most immediately – a result of one reality in football recruiting these days.

“A lot of these kids are committing the spring of their junior years – so the fact that Al Groh is 9-2 right now is obviously tremendous for the University of Virginia, and it’s really going to help Virginia’s recruiting efforts, but it’s actually going to help Virginia’s efforts more so with the Class of 2009 than the 2008 class. Virginia already has 14 commitments in 2008, and only has room for four or five more guys,” Wallace said in an interview for this week’s “SportsDominion Show.”

TheSabre.com recruiting analyst Chris Horne thinks Groh and his staff were able to make out pretty well for ’08 considering what they were up against.

“Look back in the spring, and Virginia had three or four commitments, and at that point it was hard for me to find where there would be any locks that Virginia had on there in terms of the kids that they were looking at. It seemed that they were going to have to focus on recruiting outside the state because Virginia Tech was set up so well in the state of Virginia. But they had a phenomenal Junior Elite Day, which they had in June – I believe they landed four commitments that day, which ended up doubling their total then,” Horne said.

“All in all, I think Virginia has done really well – and of course the season that they’ve had this year has really kind of taken a stronghold over the concerns of last year. I think right now Virginia has obviously had a great season, and I think that’s what most people are focused on,” Horne said.

Most of those people focusing on Virginia’s great season are from out of state, though – or so it seems, anyway. Groh only has one commitment from the state of Virginia, three-star defensive tackle Buddy Ruff from Norfolk.
Wallace, for his part, doesn’t think the lack of in-state recruiting success is 100 percent the result of Groh’s contract situation.

“So many of the players that they were targeting early on committed to other schools – and there were certainly instances where guys specifically cited the fact that Groh’s uncertainty with his future at Virginia as one of the reasons that they didn’t take a longer look at Virginia,” Wallace said.

“There’s been a couple of guys that Virginia missed on in-state – Kerry Boykins, the wide receiver from Chesapeake, picked Maryland. But Virginia wasn’t ever going to sign a lot of in-state kids this year. It was just one of those years where some of the top kids in the state wanted to go out of state – as was the case in 2006 with Percy Harvin and Damon McDaniel, where I think nine of the top 10 players went out of state, and then there were quite a few highly-ranked players who weren’t academic fits for the University of Virginia.

“There weren’t a lot of players that Virginia was targeting from Virginia. I’m not trying to make an excuse, because they certainly would like to have more than one. But it never really shaped up as a year where Virginia was going to take a lot of in-state guys,” Wallace said.

As for the success on the out-of-state recruiting trail, there is currently only one bona-fide four-star recruit on the commit list, Stratford, Conn., tailback Torrey Mack. But Wallace and Horne both foresee the class being among the top 25 or 30 nationally when all is said and done.

“It would be a mistake to consider this a down recruiting class until we see how it wraps up,” Wallace said. “I feel very good about Virginia’s chances with Cameron Sadler, Shane Hale, Jared Holley – these are all highly-rated players. And while Virginia is going to take a smaller class this year than they have in most years – typically you’ll see schools take 23, 24, 25 kids in a year; Virginia might take 18, 19 or 20 – but the 18, 19 or 20 they get still may rate as a top 25 or 30 class nationally.

“And they have positioned themselves very well in the Class of 2009 – there’s a lot of very good players from the state, especially at the skill positions,” Wallace said. “There are some great running backs – Alex Owah from Harrisonburg. Very good quarterbacks in the state – Tajh Boyd, Ross Matheny. So I think you’ll see Virginia capitalize on this year.

“Hopefully the administration will get the contract situation worked out. It would not surprise me to see them completely restructure Al’s deal here in the offseason to do away completely with that one-year renewal thing, because that just created more headaches than it’s worth,” Wallace said.

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The SportsDominion.

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