Wednesday, November 18, 2009

the replacements: Jim Grobe

Wednesday again, and that means another look at a potential next head coach. But first, a few articles about the current one. The ACC Sports Journal weighs in, as does Jay Jenkins of the CDP and Doughty in Roanoke. Two games left means it's time for the media to start writing the postmortems.

Jerry Ratcliffe outdoes them all, though. His analysis of "what went wrong for Groh" is Pulitzer stuff. Seriously. Columnists are on deadlines, and a lot of the time they just mail it in. This is not one of those pieces. It's the sort of above-and-beyond stuff that UVA fans would be well advised to arm themselves with the next time they find themselves in yet another shouting match about the head coach.

I don't agree with 100% of it. So our tough academic standards are being held against us in recruiting? I don't doubt recruits are being told, "You don't want to go to Virginia. Players there run the risk of getting kicked out even though the NCAA says they're eligible. You'll set your career back." But there's a simple response: "Son, I don't care what Coach Beamer or Coach Friedgen say. We don't think you're too stupid for UVA. Maybe they do."

Most of it, I'm entirely on board with. For example, Littlepage was wrong - dead wrong - to unilaterally dismiss Peter Lalich last year. That's the coach's call, not the AD's. As I've harped on in the past, it sends the message that the coach isn't in control, and further, as Ratcliffe points out, it put a giant monkey wrench in the staff's plans.

Anyway, go read it if you haven't already. Finally, also check out the list of Harris poll voters - there's a nice UVA presence with Dick Bestwick and Jim Dombrowski. It's also a fun list to scroll through and see a name you remember and go, "hey, that guy!" Besides the UVA names, for me those were Touchdown Tommy Vardell, the former Lions fullback, and Danny Kanell. Besides being the guy who handed off to Warrick Dunn only to watch him get stuffed at Scott Stadium's 2-yard line, Kanell resurfaced all of a damn sudden as the broadcaster for the Duke game a few weeks ago. Weird. Now, the rest of this space belongs to:

Jim Grobe

Main qualification: Unfucked Wake Forest's program. Also, is UVA alum.


1975: Virginia (GA)
1978: Emory & Henry (LB)
1979-83: Marshall (LB)
1984-94: Air Force (LB)
1995-2000: Ohio (HC)
2001-present: Wake Forest (HC)

Let's start with the good. Wake Forest, before Grobe came along, was a graveyard of a program. They wallowed in the bottom of the ACC, told all their opponents except Duke and UNC to "just wait til basketball season", and were thought of as basically automatic. Grobe didn't actually turn that perception around right away, but in the middle of this decade he delivered a surprise ACC championship to Winston-Salem. For the latter part of this decade, people have actually been taking Wake Forest seriously, which is going to be Grobe's legacy there as long as this not-so-good year is an anomaly and not a new pattern.

Grobe is solid people and a solid head coach and not the kind of guy it's easy to bash. Plus he's got that Virginia sheepskin. So it's with a bit of trepidation that I write the rest of this. Grobe is simply the wrong choice for the next head coach.

First off, the similarities between he and Groh run deep. Virginia alums, head coach at Wake Forest, 9th year on the job, basically the same name even - it's kind of eerie. In fact, if Groh had been fired two years ago and Grobe been poached at that time, the general feeling would be that we had replaced Al Groh with Al Groh's good side. But we had that inconvenient 9-win season, which makes it tough to fire a head coach. Now, in my book it's not a bad thing to be compared to Al Groh. Both he and Grobe are quality individuals. But, part of the reason Groh is on the hot seat is that the donor money is drying up and fan interest is dwindling. Littlepage specifically mentioned fan interest in his "we're firing the head coach after the season but I'm not saying that right now" press statement of a couple weeks ago. To be sure, there are still many fans who believe we'd be getting the 2006 version of Jim Grobe and not the 2004 or 2009 one, but overall this isn't a hire that would energize the fanbase much. Or the checkbooks, which is what the administration listens to.

Because here's the thing: Winning record is another area where the two coaches share similiarities. Groh is 59-51. Grobe is 56-50. The difference in total games is, of course, bowl games, which Groh has been to more of. The general argument from Grobe supporters is "look what kind of program Grobe had to work with at Wake Forest." True, they were kind of the dregs and don't have much history. But history matters only a little. What happened in 1975 or 1985 doesn't affect what happens in 2005. (Thank God.) What does matter is what happened in the year or two prior. That's where rebuilding projects are born. Let me show you a set of four season records:


The first two are Wake, 1999-00. The second two are UVA, 2008-09, assuming the last two games go as expected. Would Grobe really be walking into less of a rebuilding project than he did at Wake? The assumption of course is yes - I'm not so sure. And here's what the first five years of that rebuilding project looked like:


If Grobe is hired at UVA and his first five years look like that, there will actually be no fifth year. There may not even be a fourth year. Dave Leitao was punted two years after earning a #4 seed to the NCAAs. Groh was in hot water for going 5-7 once. The 2006 season 5-7 year was so horrendous, Beta Bridge was painted after game 1 of the following season, and the campaign that followed was perceived as a miraculous job-saver. The above is not what we're looking for.

Grobe is essentially the safe hire. Fraidy-cat, even. It's playing Marco Polo in the shallow end when you could be having fun on the diving board. At least, it's as safe as you can be when you run the risk of pissing off a fellow conference denizen by poaching their coach. The reward isn't worth the risk. Grobe will be 58 when next year rolls around, so we'd get, what, maybe seven years out of him if you really stretch it? If we want to go for an older, established coach, Tommy Tuberville is looking for a job. If we want an alum, at least have a look at Derek Dooley, whose remaining coaching usefulness is measured in decades, not years. Grobe could probably get us back to a bowl game in pretty short order, but hiring him would be an acknowledgement that the next coaching hire isn't far off, and in the meantime, a self-consignment to bowl games in Washington, DC and Mobile. I want to shoot higher than that.


TimmyG said...

I think in the Groh pre-post mortems, most of the press is missing the obvious reasons for Groh's downfall: he's not a very good coach to begin with!

AG continually makes bad coaching decisions on the critical issues.

Case in point, consider how he's always had a hard time locking in on one quarterback. The last 3 years are obvious (from Olsen to McCabe to Sewell to Verica to Lalich to Hall, with several repeats in there), but the same indecision has been present since vacillating among Spinner, Schaub, and Hagans in his early years. (Thank goodness Bill Musgrave was around to speak up for Schaub.)

We've seen similar personnel indecision at running back over the years.

One other pure coaching areas that we've seen Groh continually have a problem with: clock management.

None of these are fatal flaws, but collectively, these decisions explain why his career HC record across now 15 years os 6 games under .500.

Brendan said...

I don't really agree about the quarterbacks. He did go back and forth between Schaub and Spinner, but neither was all that good in 2001. Once Hagans was given the job and then fumbled it away in 2002, Schaub had two solid years. Then Hagans came in and had two solid, uninterrupted years of his own where there was no vacillating.

In 2006, once McCabe and Olsen proved themselves ineffective, Sewell took over and had another two uninterrupted years, and would have had a third if he hadn't been ineligible. At that point Groh pretty definitively handed over the job to Lalich until the rug was pulled out from underneath Groh and Lalich was booted.

There's really only been one season under Groh in which the quarterbacks swapped in and out all year for reasons that didn't have anything to do with injury or ineligibility: 2001. Other than that, you can point to a specific guy each year: Schaub '02-'03, Hagans '04-'05, Sewell '06-'07. Lalich would have been the guy last year, but it's not Groh's fault he wasn't around. Groh wanted to keep him. This year, he settled on Sewell, except for when Sewell's been hurt.

TimmyG said...

My recollection of 2002 was that Schaub won the job....until the 4th qtr of ColoSt (1st game), when he went with Hagans, who then started the next game, with Schaub eventually winning the job FT for the next year and a half (I think there was an injury-induced Anthony Martinez sighting too, but I won't count that).

To me, giving a new starter 3 quarters (or 2 quarters in the case of McCabe) isn't giving the starter a real shot - it's a sign that the HC can't decide. We also saw this again this year, with 3 different QBS in the first game.

I'd also argue that while losing Lalich wasn't Groh's fault, a technically good coach will always have a good 'Plan B,' especially if you have 85 scholies to offer. This year's results show that we clearly don't have a Plan B, and it would be worse if Sewell hadn't been re-admitted.