Nov. 4, 2009: U.Va.'s $2-million error: Not firing Al Groh last year

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Mere days after season's end, if not sooner, the University of Virginia will dismiss football coach Al Groh.

The question isn't why. The declining performance, plummeting attendance and overriding despair infecting the program are indisputable and untenable.

  • David Teel
  • David Teel
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The question isn't how. Whether packaged as a resignation or termination, the effect — desperately needed change — will be the same.

The question is worth. Was it worth delaying the inevitable for a year to save $2 million?

Inevitable because only their most loyal (delusional?) supporters envisioned this year's Cavaliers repairing the earth scorched from losing seasons in 2006 and '08 and Groh's incurable conceit.

Yet rather than swallow a $6-million buyout — a byproduct of the ridiculous contract university president John Casteen awarded Groh in 2005 — athletic director Craig Littlepage settled for a makeover of Groh's staff. And if circumstances dictated Groh's exit after this season, well, at least the severance was trimmed to $4 million.

Talk about fool's gold.

Sure, the economy was toxic. And yes, the men's basketball program was teetering — Littlepage fired basketball coach Dave Leitao in March, complete with a $2.1-million parting gift.

But Groh had been given eight years, twice as long as Leitao. The Cavaliers had closed on a four-game losing streak, their longest season-ending skid in 26 years, and attendance was in free-fall.

Now look — if you can bear it.

Virginia is 3-5 and will be an underdog in each of its remaining four tests, starting Saturday at Miami. The Cavaliers lost to William and Mary and Duke at home and squandered a 17-point lead at Southern Mississippi.

Most telling, the paying customers continue to abandon the product.

The season opener against William and Mary attracted the smallest announced crowd since Scott Stadium's 2000 expansion, 54,587. Attendance has fallen at each subsequent home game, to 41,713 — a generous estimate to be sure — Saturday for Duke.

Unsold tickets, lost donations, recruiting setbacks. The costs of that damage, short- and long-term, are incalculable.

Still, some suggest that waiting was wise.

There is, after all, no guarantee that a new coach could have avoided this season's defeats. Moreover, the delay gave the people's choice to replace Groh, second-year Richmond coach Mike London, more time to prove himself in his first turn occupying the corner office.

But new leadership would have engendered hope and goodwill. New leadership would have commenced the big-picture healing needed to compete with ACC rivals such as Miami, Georgia Tech and, most pointed, Virginia Tech.

Instead, the Cavaliers compete under a pall that includes hecklers in the crowd and malcontents among the masses.

Groh insists that he's unaffected.

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