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Best Seat in the House: Did Groh cave on Lalich?

Best Seat in the House column by Chris Graham

“We have a strong set of standards and values on our team that reflect those of the University, and we do not compromise those values to win football games.” A pretty strong statement from a coach who spent the better part of a week castigating the media for hounding his starting quarterback for what he wanted them to believe was a nonstory involving allegations of substance abuse before announcing without explanation that said starting quarterback wasn’t going to be leaving the state with his teammates for the team’s game this weekend.

“Why would there be any hesitation to play him? He’s our starting quarterback,” Groh answered a reporter’s question in his postgame press conference following UVa.’s 16-0 win over Richmond on Saturday, a day after the news broke that Lalich was facing a Sept. 26 hearing on a charge that he had violated his probation from a underage possession of alcohol charge dating back to July. “It’s unfortunate – we’re here to talk about football, OK? It’s unfortunate that some people have chosen to misrepresent the player without having all the facts. And those people should examine themselves,” Groh thundered.

So that was on Saturday. On his radio show on Monday, Groh continued down the same line. “There’s some reporting on this young man that probably would fall under the category of tabloid reporting. It certainly lacks facts and, in some cases, it lacks reality. That’s a shame. He’s entitled to a private life, just like other 19- and 20-year-old students are. We’re satisfied in how Peter has been conducting his circumstances and what he’s being asked to do.”

Nothing had changed as of his Tuesday press conference with the UVa. beat media or his Wednesday-morning presser with ACC beat writers. And if you ask me, I don’t know that anything changed between then and Wednesday evening when the media-relations folks at the University got the word out that Lalich wasn’t going to be with the team when it plays at UConn. on Saturday.

And no, I don’t think it was media pressure. I mean, seriously, this is a guy who claims tribal kinship with the likes of Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick that we’re talking about here. The only reason those guys read the papers is so they can moan about how lucky the scribes are to get the spelling of their names right every once in a while.

I think it’s simply a belated concession to reality. I’ve been hearing for months from sources close to the program that there were concerns being raised about what was described to me as a substance-abuse problem on the part of Lalich. The way it was explained to me, that was a key reason why Groh was hesitant to name Lalich, who otherwise was the obvious choice to be anointed the starter based on his experience on the field as a true freshman last year and his pedigree as a top recruit coming out of high school in Northern Virginia two years ago, his #1 signal-caller. The question was, Would Lalich make it to training camp and then through the season without any setbacks?

I dismissed this as rumor and speculation and innuendo even when word got out about the underage possession of alcohol charge, agreeing with the wags who wrote that off as kids being kids in large part because I was a kid once, too, and hey, admittedly, I was, you know, once or twice, in my years on Grounds, in possession of alcohol at times when I’m pretty sure looking back that I wasn’t yet 21.

I’m not so ready to dismiss the talk that I was hearing now, of course, even as I am like the rest of you reading this wondering what the next bit of news in this situation will be.

I hope personally that my sources were perhaps a bit overzealous in their reporting, and that this matter involving Lalich is itself being blown out of proportion and will be resolved quietly and rather easily with Lalich getting the call against Duke in a couple of weeks and he and Groh riding off happily into the rest of the ’08 football season.

I say that out of deference to the kid, who seems to have everything working for him and an NFL career waiting in the wings based on his talent, and to Groh, whose fortunes are now irrevocably tied to what we hear about the 20-year-old after his court appearance two weeks hence.

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