THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Financial panic: Groh delivers when $ on the line

Groh must know... he needs eight wins.

This past week I've been interrogated about sports: now that the Cubs are out of it, who are my picks for the World Series? 

Should Texas be ranked number one? 

Are the Redskins as good as they look? 

The questions are coming thick and fast, but sooner or later everyone gets around to the same conundrum: What's the story with UVA football?

It's a sad state of affairs when two consecutive wins constitute a miracle, but Virginia's recent victories have people scratching their heads. While just a few short weeks ago, Al Groh was preparing his carriage for a midnight escape from Charlottesville, now the Cavaliers seem to have turned the tide. What on earth is going on at UVA?

Many thought that with Duke's near shutout, the writing was finally and undeniably on the wall. After years of masquerading as a football coach, Groh's mask had hit the ground with a resounding thud, and there was no Chris Long to hide behind. 

 With the worst offense in Division I football and a whipping by a team with a 25-game ACC losing streak, Groh dusted off his résumé. In college football, no matter how dubious one's record, a coach can always find another job. At least that was the story a month ago.

After poring over game logs and scores of statistics, I can find only one reason for UVA's sudden success: the economy. Suddenly, the football job market isn't as secure as it used to be, and a new position may not be on the horizon. Groh's résumé went back in the drawer.

Groh's job at UVA is pretty cushy. His yearly compensation totals about $1.87 million, with around $240,000 in base salary. To guarantee his job, Groh was supposed to provide the University with eight wins a season. After a 5-7 season in 2006, UVA Athletic Director Craig Littlepage publicly chastened Groh.

"The expectations for our program are higher than a 5-7 season," Littlepage stated that December. "I believe Coach Groh and his staff have positioned the team for success on the field in 2007 and beyond."

Littlepage's thinly veiled warning didn't fall on deaf ears. Sports Illustrated's "Worst Coach in America" had to produce in 2007 or be out on his keister with little or no ceremony. 

The rest, as they say, is history. Somehow, the previously incompetent Groh managed to win nine games in 2007 and go from "Worst Coach in America" to "ACC Coach of the Year"– quite a turnaround.

But perhaps more telling is the contract extension and bonus UVA immediately coughed up. To heck with prestige; when money's at stake, Al Groh can deliver.

So here we are, back in 2008, with Groh's Cavaliers off to a pitiful start of 1-3. As there are only 12 games in the regular season, losing three of the first four games meant that UVA had to win 7 of the 8 remaining for Groh to make his quota, a tall order when four of the team's starters are freshman and the big games had yet to be played. 

When UVA licked Maryland in the fifth game, the college football world was caught with its pants down. Yes, the Terps had suffered an embarrassing loss to Middle Tennessee State, but the team had gone on to defeat California and Clemson. UVA should have crumbled, but instead they didn't even allow the Terps to score, winning 31-0.

A freak occurrence, surely.

Virginia's subsequent win over Virginia Tech-embarrasser ECU showed that something had changed. UVA was running and faking all over the place. To a Cavalier newcomer, it looked like the team was playing good football, but to a veteran fan, Groh's desperation was obvious.

UVA's two consecutive wins prove one thing: when Al Groh feels secure in his career, he doesn't coach worth beans, but when his 401K is at stake, he can beat the best. This year, with our economy in the tank and the University's endowment's dropping in value, UVA football may at last prove to be a contender. 


1 comment

Right on!! In the pros Groh worked with older boys and men and could use threat of financial loss as an incentive to play better. Ain't so in college. A player might stay on the bench, but he will still keep his scholarship.