The case for Groh Must Go
Notre Dame is about to begin its third coaching search in eight years after going only 54-42 and enduring three losing seasons in that span from Bob Davie to Ty Willingham to the now-embattled Charlie Weis. And Auburn is thinking about replacing Tommy Tuberville, who has gone 71-30 the past eight and stumbled only this year, going 5-7 after a 9-4 2007 that had the Tigers in the top 15 in the final national polls. And then there’s Phillip Fulmer, 68-34 at Tennessee since 2001, with two losing seasons in that period, but a national title in 1998 and a 152-52 record overall, including 98-34 in SEC play, who is already out of a job.
And you still think Al Groh, 56-44 in eight years at Virginia, with three losing seasons at a school that hadn’t had a losing season in 15 years before his arrival, shouldn’t be on the hot seat?
He’s there rightly, and here’s what should push him over the edge – the lack of butts in seats in Scott Stadium. Say what you will about the change in the season-ticket sales policy this year, if Groh had a product on the field that could compete for an ACC title, there’d be people there no matter what you were charging. Aside from the opener against national power Southern Cal, which drew a stadium-record 64.497, there were 51,007 tickets sold for Richmond, 50,727 for Maryland, 52,398 for East Carolina, 52,342 for North Carolina, 53,308 for Miami and 51,979 for Clemson. Average: 51,960, or about 13,000 below capacity. Which translated is about 78,000 tickets unsold, or roughly $2.5 million in lost revenues based on an average ticket price of $30 a pop, which might be low considering that the season-ticket package advertised on the UVa. football website had them going for closer to $40 per, and that isn’t including other build-ins like contributions to the Virginia Athletics Foundation, and then of course the lost concessions that you have to factor in as well.
I’m going to the trouble to put the numbers out there to answer the question that I’ve heard more than once the past couple of years – namely, can UVa. afford to fire Al Groh considering that you’d have to buy his contract out and then hire somebody to replace him that you’d have to assume would be a hefty salary? I think the answer is clear – you can’t really afford not to try to get the program moving again if only when looking at things from an economics standpoint.
Now, from a football standpoint, the thing makes even more sense. The 5-7 Cavs of ’08 were not an aberration; indeed, if anything is an aberration, it’s the 9-4 Cavs of ’07 that won an NCAA-record five games by one or two points, and basically were a few lucky bounces and missed field goals and the like away from being, well, 5-7 or even 4-8. The cupboard is no better looking as far as ’09 is concerned, what with the quarterback controversy upcoming between former academic casualty Jameel Sewell and former fourth-stringer Marc Verica to see who can lead what has become a perennial contender for the bottom of the national offense rankings just for starters.
Even Pollyanna would look ahead to ’09 and not be able to find a way for UVa. to count on more than three or four wins. Looking out beyond that, Duke-like doormat status is not that much of a reach, considering the poor track record that the Groh administration has had translating the top-five and top-ten recruiting classes that he was amassing early in his tenure into Ws on the field. If you can’t win with the blue-chippers, how can you be expected to win when you’re not getting them anymore, as is the hard reality in the here and now?
So a move makes sense football-wise and money-wise. We’ll soon find out how smart the people running ol’ State U., my alma mater, I should hasten to point out, really are. Another year or two of 5-7 and 4-8 football dooms the program to second-tier status for a decade as Groh’s successor takes four or even five years to clean up his mess and get things back on track. We’re talking 2015 or 2016 at the earliest before UVa. is a bona fide ACC contender again. Get a Bud Foster, who’s going to be snatched up this winter by somebody, maybe Clemson, get a Mickey Matthews, who’s I-A’s next Jim Tressel, get a Jim Grobe, and get them now, and maybe you can shave that down to 2012 or so.
This much is guaranteed. A new coach gets the butts back in the seats a lot sooner than that. Not even the diehards, and I’m one of the bleeding-orange-and-blueist people you’re ever going to meet, want to be associated with the stench of losing, but even a three-dollar, three-week-old jumbo hot dog tastes good when you think you might have a chance at a win.
– Column by Chris Graham