It’s a done deal.
Virginia has a new offensive coordinator but now the real questions begin.
To explain Groh's recent decision to bring in Gregg Brandon who was recently fired as head coach at Bowling Green, we need only go back to January of this year.
It was the ultimate clash of wills in the 2008 Gator Bowl.
On one hand you had the offensive juggernaut of the Texas Tech Red Raiders and their off-the-wall coach Mike Leech.
On the other hand you had Mr. Defense, smash-mouth and hard-nosed Al Groh.
Groh has run standard pro sets he's known from his years in the NFL with mediocre success and it appeared to be enough to pull off the victory until quarterback Jameel Sewell injured himself in the fourth quarter leading to an epic collapse in the final five minutes.
Well Groh decided if you can't beat them, join them.
That summer the Virginia football staff took a trip down to Lubbock to study the spread offense. It appeared Al Groh's son, Mike, was going to implement elements of the spread in the Fall of 2008.
Appearances can be deceiving.
Did Virginia try it at times? Yes. Was it successful? Eh.
To be fair, the Cavaliers had a great deal of turmoil on the offensive end considering that they played with a third-string quarterback for the majority of the season and an injured backfield.
It's hard to run a completely new offense when the Grohs were just trying to keep Verica upright.
In the end, Virginia's offensive offense cost Mike Groh his job and had Cavalier fans looking for their torches and pitchforks.
However, with Brandon on board, it appears Virginia has finally decided to commit to a specific offensive identity.
The Cavaliers have become a jack of all trades these past few years, changing every season to fit the strengths and weaknesses of each quarterback. That lack of continuity has certainly not helped Virginia's anemic offense which never ranked in the top 100 in scoring offense in the three years under Mike Groh.
So will this new philosophy work?
Well that probably depends a great deal on Groh and his ability to delegate authority.
Groh, long schooled in the Belichick mode, has been a strong micro-manager of his teams throughout his coaching career.
We barely even see the assistants on media days, let alone get to talk to them. Yet they have had some opportunities because of their connection to Groh.
Al Golden at Temple, Danny Rocco at Liberty, Mike London at Richmond and Ron Prince who was recently fired from Kansas State are all former Virginia coordinators who were able to take charge of a program themselves.
Well Brandon has been there done that and achieved some success himself.
His record of 44-30 was simply not good enough for the bigwigs at Bowling Green but he had one of the more potent offenses in the country his first few years at the helm when he replaced Urban Meyer after his departure to Utah.
In his first two years, the Falcons averaged over 44 points per game (the same amount Virginia scored in its last four games combined!).
Will Brandon’s experience and personality mesh well with a Virginia program in desperate need of a spark? Groh better hope so.
It’s clear the 2009 season will be a make or break campaign for Al Groh, not the best time to completely revamp the offense.
The offense does some key losses coming into next year with the rugged Cedric Peerman, talented and lanky wide receiver Maurice Covington and future NFL pro Eugene Monroe moving on.
However, the talent may be there to run a spread offense.
On one hand you have two very different options at quarterback.
The pocket passer Marc Verica has shown an ability to throw the ball around but has made some terrible decisions. Jameel Sewell should be returning and although he has proven to be an effective leader his arm has been suspect at the very least.
Still, Sewell’s feet have been impressive and when you add the speed of Mikell Simpson, the hands of Kevin Ogletree and the use of versatile Vic Hall in the Virginia version of the “Wildcat”, The Cavaliers certainly have the potential to spread the ball around.
Brandon will have the difficult task of finding the strengths of this team and committing to them. He will have to take charge of a playbook that has used a little bit of everything but could not execute at key times.
Some of that blame relies with the play-callers but some also resides with the players themselves.
That is why Brandon’s largest task may be more mental than the X’s and O’s.
He has to change a “defense-first” culture at UVA where the Cavalier defense is expected to carry the team game in and game out. That may work for the Baltimore Ravens but the Virginia offense clearly was letting everyone down in November.
Virginia must embrace the bold approach that Bill Musgrave used by running at least one trick play a game and leaving defensive coordinators scratching their heads.
If the Cavaliers find an offense, they may just find the level of success Virginia fans have wanted since 2003.
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