The bell tolls for the Grohs

The next time Mike Groh has an offense ranked in the top 100 in I-A will, unfortunately for Virginia fans, be the first time. And keep in mind, there are 119 I-A football teams, so we’re only talking about cracking the top 83 percent of offenses here.
But don’t be Mark Berman of The Roanoke Times and dare to ask the question after a three-point, 190-yards-of-total-offense, nausea-inducing performance in a must-win game at home against Clemson about whether or not the offensive coordinator will be back next year. Because Papa Groh will bite your head off.

“I love these divisive questions, I love these divisive questions,” was all Groh could muster in the form of a response. Berman’s colleague at the Times, Doug Doughty, had raised the topic before Groh had made his way back to the interview room. Doughty’s point is one that I’ve made here on these pages – would an offensive coordinator whose units have ranked 113th, 102nd and 102nd in three years still have a job at a quality I-A school like Virginia if his father wasn’t the coach?

The answer is a clear no – that, or the coach himself wouldn’t have a job, or his athletics director wouldn’t have a job. Or the president of the school wouldn’t have a job. Heads would definitely roll at some point – even at Florida State, where Bobby Bowden, who has earned considerably more political capital over his years in the college game, had to let his son Jeff go when he couldn’t get Seminoles offenses going after the departure of Mark Richt to Georgia.

I realize, of course, that Mike Groh is not playing with the deck of cards that he should be this fall. The incumbent starting QB from last year’s Gator Bowl team, Jameel Sewell, is a volunteer high-school assistant this year as a result of academic issues, and his backup last year, heralded recruit Peter Lalich, is at Oregon State after long-rumored substance-abuse issues finally came to light after a summertime citation. Marc Verica was maybe never expected to be more than a career backup, but the redshirt second-year was able to lead the Cavs on a four-game winning streak in midseason before struggling down the stretch in back-to-back-to-back losses in which he has thrown for three touchdowns and an ungodly six interceptions, including three against Clemson on Saturday.

With Sewell’s return imminent, it’s entirely possible that happy days will be here again come the spring. And actually, from listening to Al Groh talk about his QB situation after the Clemson game, it’s sounding like even he’s letting himself think ahead to the future. One reporter asked Groh if he felt content with his passing game heading into the Clemson contest. “I can’t say that I was very content with anything. I thought there were a lot of things we could improve our production on, and some of those things we did since the last game, and some of those things we clearly need more improvement on,” Groh said. Another, Jeff White from the Times-Dispatch in Richmond, asked if Groh felt he had so much invested in Verica’s development at this late stage in the season that he has to be the guy to finish the season at quarterback. “I think that’s probably the case. It’s not as if we have a lot of options there. In the present time frame, it is what it is. Unless Matt Schaub’s available, I think we’ll go with things the way they are,” Groh said.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the guy who will enter the spring as the incumbent starter at the signal-caller position. Which brings me back to the Mike Groh question. Berman sensed that he didn’t get an answer to his question. “I love these divisive questions” isn’t really saying anything of substance. He pressed for a followup.

“Does that mean he’s coming back?” Berman asked.

“That means I blew the question off,” Groh responded.

A loss this weekend to Virginia Tech capping a third losing season in eight years for Groh in Charlottesville might make it hard for him to keep blowing these questions off in the future.

 

Story by Chris Graham

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