Al Groh: The Four-Million Dollar Man?

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst INovember 30, 2009

Our long national nightmare is over.

Okay, so maybe it's not Watergate, but Al Groh was officially fired Sunday, a mere 18 hours after another humiliating loss to Virginia Tech.  Groh's exit to stage left after nine tumultuous years as coach of the Virginia Cavaliers was much like the man himself: complicated.

As I have said many times, Al Groh is not a bad guy. 

He may be stoic and stern, but he is far from a brute or a bully.  In a small group, he can be downright jovial.  However, this final year will not be anything that anyone looks fondly upon. 

In fact, Groh's entire career could probably be described in one word: meh.

For you see, Groh's tenure in football is the epitome of mediocre.  He has made his career piggy-backing off the fame of others like his mentor Bill Parcells. 

Groh adopted just about every mannerism of Bill Parcells whom he worked under for years and was handed his only NFL head coaching job when Parcells left the New York Jets.  The desk in his office has a gift that was given to him by Parcells, famous words of wisdom that say: "Just coach the team."

Even Groh's bizarre departure, reading a poem entitled "Guy in the Glass" in his final press conference, was the exact same poem that Parcells read in his final press conference as the New York Jets coach.

He then added a smug final stanza in which Groh explained that when he looked in the mirror he saw a man of integrity, dependability, accountability and commitment among others things.

What he fails to see in the mirror though is the man he has tried so hard to emulate.  He also fails to see the success he promised in 2001 when he spoke of taking Virginia football to the next level.  Instead, what Virginia fans see in the glass is a man who lost eight out of nine games against Virginia Tech and has three losing seasons out of the past four.

Now "Guy in the Glass" has a rather pertinent message and if most coaches read it, it would probably be well received.  After all, approval from the media, the fans, and even your colleagues mean nothing if you don't approve of yourself. 

However, "Guy in the Glass" fits into the perception we all have of Al Groh.  As much as Groh cares about X's and O's and thinks he knows everything, he just does not get it.

In Groh's mirror world everything may be shiny and bright, but in the real world his program is crumbling and he does not seem to see it.

Of course, before you start to feel sorry for the slightly out-of-touch Groh, remember that he left with quite the parting gift.  Groh's three wins garnered him a four-million dollar bonus to sit at home and never come back.

In 2008, following a 5-7 season, the Athletic Director sat down with Al Groh and asked him if he would be willing to restructure his contract.  The thought being that if Virginia struggled again, it would lower the astronomical buy-out clause.

Groh, as you may imagine, refused. 

It may not be all that shocking, after all, most people are not inclined to throw money away.  Even if the new number would still have been more money than most of us will see in our lifetimes.

However, former Virginia basketball coach Pete Gillen, a man who had no previous ties to the University, selflessly, agreed to restructure his deal. 

He thought of the University first and even admitted that Virginia deserves better than what he provided.

After nine years, we have yet to hear Groh, a Virginia alum, admit that he failed to live up to his promises. 

He has made excuses, he has played the blame game and he has stuck to his guns about instilling these young people with traits beyond the gridiron.

However, Groh could mend many fences by simply apologizing and admitting that he made some mistakes in his time.  Is it fair for us to expect this from coaches?  Maybe.

Does Groh have to apologize? 

Of course not. 

He does not owe the fans anything, but I think he would find that a simple statement could really help the program start anew and not wallow in its past frustrations.

Time will tell what the future holds for Al Groh.  He very well could pack it up and call it a career, but that does not seem to be what he wants. 

In a statement released by Groh, he claims that he is ready for "his next game." Now, perhaps Groh was using poetic license, but I would not be surprised if he does not attempt to return to the NFL, a place he never should have left.

A college coach takes a particular type of person, one that Groh was not fully suited for, but he does know how to coach up his defenses and that should make him a viable candidate. 

The question is, will people be interested in someone who has been out of the NFL for nine years?

We all know that Groh certainly does not need the money.  However, he does not seem like a home body, his love for football may force him out on to the gridiron one more time.

It is hard to assess just how Groh will be remembered in perhaps the darkest period of his tenure at Virginia.  A career that held such promise for the former two-time ACC Coach of the Year has now turned into apathy and frustration. 

Virginia is at the precipice of a new regime and Littlepage needs to make a big splash to re-energize the fan base. 

However, in a bad economy with a half-full stadium and four million dollars down the drain, finding the funds necessary to sway a big name to Charlottesville will be more difficult than most people realize.

For you see, no matter who Virginia brings in as the next "guy in the glass," he will surely see some major dollar signs in his reflection.


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