Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Checkmate for Al Groh?

Virginia head coach Al Groh took some mighty heated criticism shortly after his hire in 2001 as Cavalier skipper when he compared coaching in the NFL to chess and coaching in college to checkers. Some of those critiques cooled when he promptly brought in Top 10/Top 15 recruiting classes in his first few years, and after closing out the 2002 season (his second) with a 48-22 demolition of West Virginia in the Continental Tire Bowl to finish 9-5 for the year, things were looking golden for the Wahoos.

But after three consecutive seasons of failing to get back to 9 wins (2003: 8-5; 2004: 8-4; 2005: 7-5), the bloom is off the Groh rose. When you consider that in 2002 Virginia was poised to become "the next big thing" in the ACC, today's reality is a bit thorny. Of note:

...Al Groh's record in his first 5 years at UVA: 37-26 (.590); George Welsh's last 5 years at UVA: 36-23 (.610)
...Archrival Virginia Tech, after sputtering early this decade, joined the ACC in 2004 and promptly won the league that year and played for the conference title last season
...Groh's Cavs are just 1-4 against those rival Hokies, including a 52-14 spanking last season
...The Wahoos under Groh are just 1-6 against top-guns Florida State and Miami
...Groh’s biggest game on the national stage thus far - and the game that was supposed to launch UVA into the stratosphere - turned into a 36-3 ESPN primetime beat-down at Florida State, when Virginia entered that October '04 contest 5-0 and ranked #6 in the country
...Their record since that Tallahassee disaster is a pedestrian 10-8
...Groh's 2006 recruiting class (#53) was the lowest rated of his tenure, and he enters the '06 season with just 12 returning starters
...And oh yes, he must replace 3 assistant coaches who bolted in the offseason for their own head coaching gigs

The 2006 season is shaping up to be an unpleasant one in Charlottesville. No, Big Al’s job status won't be in too much danger this year, but 2007 will likely have to be the year he really delivers on his chessmaster promises, or it will be the year he gets "kinged" right out of a job.

Insert random checkers/chess joke here

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