0

Virginia football fires Groh

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia fired Al Groh after nine seasons at his alma mater Sunday, ending a tenure marked by his inability to beat rival Virginia Tech.

Groh's dismissal came less than 24 hours after the Cavaliers (3-9, 2-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) lost 42-13 at home to the No. 11 Hokies, finishing their worst season since they were 2-9 in 1982. It also was their eighth loss to the Hokies in Groh's nine tries.

"There is not a coach in the college game who has worked harder than Al Groh in trying to build a football program," athletic director Craig Littlepage said in a statement. "Football is his life and he dedicated himself to the university and to our football team. We are grateful for his service and for his commitment to his players and his coaching staff."

The 65-year-old Groh told The Associated Press by telephone that it had been a "wonderful day" because of the number of players and coaches that got in touch to show their support.

Cavaliers players lined up all the way down a long hallway in the McCue Center, where the football operation is housed, waiting for a chance to meet with Groh individually after being informed of his dismissal, and Groh said the outpouring from them was "very gratifying."

He also issued a statement through the school in which he said he felt "very fortunate" to have been given the opportunity to coach at Virginia.

"I am an ordinary guy who has been lucky to have been around some extraordinary players and coaches who put me in a position to enjoy many fulfilling games and seasons," he said.

"I have coached Hall of Fame players, worked alongside Hall of Fame coaches, and coached in two Super Bowls, but my time as the Head Coach of the Virginia Cavaliers has been my most memorable coaching experience," he said.

Groh had two years remaining on his contract and will receive a buyout of approximately $4.33 million, Littlepage said. The search for a replacement will begin immediately.

Groh was hired on Dec. 30, 2000, when he resigned after one season as the head coach of the New York Jets to take over at the school where he lettered in football and lacrosse, graduating in 1967. He replaced George Welsh, who had retired after 19 seasons.

Welsh, then the ACC career leader in victories, had just two losing seasons in his 19 years, but the Cavaliers finished 6-6 in his final season, prompting the change.

Groh went 59-53 with the Cavaliers and guided them to five bowl games, including four straight beginning with his second season. The team averaged eight wins over those four years, but managed just one more winning season in his last four, going 9-4 in 2007.

"My coaching philosophy and method of building teams has trust and teamwork as bedrocks. We were poised to solidify our position as a top team. Instead, as that trust and collaboration deteriorated, I could see this day coming," he said in the statement. "We arrived with a set of principles that we have tried to remain faithful to and we leave with those principles intact."

Groh, the ACC coach of the year in 2002 and '07, was 36-36 in conference games.

Virginia lost its final six games this year and its last six against the Hokies, who joined the conference in 2004 and have been the league's dominant team ever since.

Virginia's decline was especially felt at home games, where the average attendance for 61,500-seat Scott Stadium had dropped by 13,600 in two seasons heading into Saturday afternoon's game. That drew a season-high 58,555 fans, but nearly half of them were Hokies supporters and many chanted "Keep Al Groh!" as the final minutes ticked off the clock.

In his postgame news conference, Groh did not directly answer a question about his future, but instead read a poem, "The Guy in the Glass," about how the most important person an individual has to please is himself. He closed with a testimonial about himself.

"When I visited the guy in the glass, I saw that he's a guy of commitment, of integrity, of dependability and accountability," Groh said. "He's loyal, his spirit is indomitable and he's caring and loving. I'm sure I will always call the guy in the glass a friend."

Groh also read the poem to his team before meeting with the media, and besides their disappointing finish, the players were emotional about falling short in Groh's final game.

"It's sad to see him go like this," defensive end Nate Collins, one of six captains on this year's team, said afterward. "I know me and the seniors talked this week, and we were just doing everything we could to get this win for him and for the coaches, because none of the coaches know what their futures are going to be like after this game. It's just tough.

"I hope the best for Coach Groh. I love Coach Groh like he's a father, and he's been a father figure to everyone here, and I don't think anyone can really say otherwise."

Groh began his postgame press conference with these words: "We made a pretty good go of it for a little while."

He was talking about the game, but he might as well have been talking about his time at Virginia.