Virginia's Al Groh Doesn't Mind A Helping Hand

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Virginia's Al Groh Doesn't Mind A Helping Hand
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Football is ultimately a team sport.

While you certainly would love to have a star or two that teams have to game plan against, it will mean little if the other players on the field cannot get the job done.

Winning and losing is a team business.

Well that team mentality in college football translates well to the sidelines as well.  Head coaches may be the figure head of the program but their success often depends on the coordinators under his wing.

One need not look far to see great coordinators under the wing of great coaches.

Virginia's coach Groh has had some strong coordinators in his nine years at the helm.  So much so that many have gone off to head coaching position themselves like Al Golden at Temple or Mike London at Richmond.

This success has clearly acted as both a blessing and a curse for Virginia football.  While it is nice to have such talented and ambitious coordinators for your team, the constant turnover has cost the Cavaliers consistency under Groh's tenure.

Since 2005, Virginia has had four defensive coordinators and three offensive coordinators.  This year, the Cavaliers have so many new faces and new positions for the coaching staff they probably needed name tags.

With all this turnover it is little wonder why the media aren't quite sure what to make of Virginia heading into the 2009 season.  The Cavaliers are clearly having to adjust to a new offensive scheme and new personalities in just a few weeks.  Transitions are rarely clean and painless, so it is little shock to see Virginia near the bottom of the ACC predictions.

However, when you dig a little deeper, it appears that the coaching staff may just be the key to success for the Cavaliers this season.  In fact, from top to bottom, it may just be one of the best in the countries.

New offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon is clearly the cream of the crop is the coordinator pool at Virginia.  Brandon has spent the past six seasons as the head coach of the Bowling Green offense.  Brandon went 44-30 while there, learning the spread offense from his mentor and one of the top coaches in the country, Urban Meyer.

Brandon's teams consistently put points up and four out of six seasons averaged over 400 yards of offense.  With over 30 years of coaching experience and a proven track record, Brandon has the talent to vastly improve a Virginia offense ranked consistently near the bottom nationally the past three seasons under former coordinator Mike Groh.

Even more importantly, his track record gives Groh confidence that he can trust and delegate authority to Brandon.  Groh's only chance for success this season requires him to have faith in his staff and allow them to take care of their responsibilities.  After all, Groh has his own coordinating responsibilities.

Groh has taken it upon himself to be the official defensive coordinator for the Cavaliers this season.  It is certainly not a revelation, Groh has been the de facto coordinator for some time now and he is probably the best defensive schemer in the country if you look at his track record.

When Groh has been given time to develop a defensive blueprint, the results are stunning, particularly in bowl games. 

Against Pittsburgh, Groh held current Arizona Cardinals stud Larry Fitzgerald to five catches for 77 yards and zero touchdowns.  It was the first time in 19 games that Fitzgerald had not found the endzone.

Against the Texas Tech Red Raiders, Groh's defense frustrated and contained Michael Crabtree for three quarters until an injury shifted the momentum.  Still, Virginia was the first team to hold the Red Raiders to under 40 points the entire season that year. 

Then there are the players he has developed in the Orange Crush defense.  Chris Canty and Clint Sintim in New York, Chris Long with the St. Louis Rams are just a few of the NFL talents.  Virginia also has one of the best secondaries in recent memory entering this season.

With an expanded role for Groh, expect Virginia's defense to once again be one of the top statistically in the nation.

Of course, we all know that special teams is an integral part to success.  Ever since the graduation of Connor Hughes, Virginia has struggled to find that clutch kicker and still look for those big punt and kick returns that make college football so exciting.

Hoping to turn that around is a familiar face, former Virginia offensive coordinator and Kansas State head coach Ron Prince.  Prince was unexpectedly ousted from the Wildcat program when it was announced the legendary Bill Snyder was returning to coach.

Prince has worked on the sideline for 18 years, mainly focusing on the offense.  He will bring that "score-first" mentality to a special teams unit looking to make a name for itself in 2009. 

Groh has spent most of training camp this season on special teams and if the hard work pays off, Virginia can win the important battle of field position.  Also, with the increasing competition at the kicker position, Virginia can look to improve upon a last place finish in the ACC in both total field goals made and percentage.

With three coordinators with head coaching experience, Virginia has its most experienced staff in, perhaps, school history.  However, experience does not end there for the coaching staff.

The new linebackers coach, Bob Trott, comes from the same Bill Parcells coaching tree as Groh.  Trott's NFL connections with the New York Giants and the Cleveland Browns make him a valuable asset to the staff.  He also understands and works well with the stoic curmudgeonly nature of Groh, a key since these two men will be working together throughout the year.

Then there is Anthony Poindexter, the legendary Cavalier safety.  After spending the past few years as the running back coach, Poindexter has a chance to coach the position he spent four years perfecting as a player in Charlottesville.

It was a long road for Poindexter to return to the secondary, but the timing now seems right.  He came to Virginia with virtually no experience coaching and the lessons he has learned, along with the talent in the defensive backfield, will make Virginia a dangerous team to throw against.

Ultimately, football games are always won on the field and not on paper.  The games will always come down to players executing and playing well down the stretch.  However, the coaching staff help put players in the position to be successful. 

With coaches like this, Virginia will be in a great position to win in 2009.  Most importantly, it gives Groh the chance to focus on his strengths and lets others take care of the rest.

Earlier this week, Groh mentioned that you have to "major in the major and minor in the minor." 

This sentiment is what will make or break Groh's reign at Virginia.  If he stays true to his strengths and allows others to bring their personal expertise, the Cavaliers will have an opportunity to surprise people.

Now they have to take advantage of the opportunity.

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