Nov. 29, 2009

By Jeff White

CHAROTTESVILLE — Whether the official announcement comes Sunday or Monday, Al Groh’s tenure as football coach at the University of Virginia is over.

As expected, UVa has decided to dismiss Groh, 65, who has two years left on his contract. He’ll receive a buyout of about $4.3 million.

Groh is a 1967 graduate of the University, where he played football and lacrosse. He coached Virginia’s freshman football team in 1970 and the varsity’s defensive line in ’71 and ’72 before leaving to become an assistant at the University of North Carolina.

His ninth season as head coach at his alma mater ended Saturday at Scott Stadium, where Virginia Tech humbled UVa yet again. The Hokies outscored the Cavaliers 28-0 in the second half and won 42-13.

Virginia (2-6 ACC, 3-9 overall) closed the season with six straight defeats. UVa finished with its most losses since 1982 and its fewest victories since ’86.

UVa’s 61,500-seat stadium was nearly filled Saturday, but only because tens of thousands of Tech fans bought tickets to the regular-season finale.

Attendance plummeted at Scott Stadium this season after the opener, in which Virginia suffered a shocking loss to William and Mary.

By staying away, Wahoo fans made clear their unhappiness with Groh’s leadership of a program that under his predecessor, George Welsh, usually ranked among the ACC’s elite. Moreover, the vacant seats had a significant financial impact on the athletics department.

Groh, the ACC coach of the year in 2002 and ’07, posted a 59-53 record at UVa. The ‘Hoos finished with a losing record in three of his final four seasons.

In ACC play, the Cavaliers were 36-36 under Groh. They appeared in five postseason games, winning three: the Continental Tire Bowl in 2002 and ’03 and the Music City Bowl in ’05.

Had Groh fared better against his school’s biggest rival, his tenure at UVa might have ended differently. But in nine games against Tech as Virginia’s coach, Groh went 1-8, the lone victory coming in 2003 at Scott Stadium.

The Hokies outscored the Cavaliers 258-133 in those nine games. In Tech’s eight wins, its average margin of victory was 17.4 points.

Groh’s fortunes turned abruptly. In the days immediately following Virginia’s 30-10 rout of Clemson on Oct. 7, 2004, his future in Charlottesville could not have looked brighter.

The Cavaliers, who had won nine games in 2002 and eight in ’03, were 5-0 and ranked No. 6 nationally that fall when they traveled to Tallahassee, Fla., for a nationally televised showdown with No. 7 Florida State.

With an opportunity to make a positive statement to the college football world, UVa stumbled. FSU embarrassed the ‘Hoos, 36-3, and Groh’s program never seemed to fully recover from that setback.

Beginning with that loss, Virginia went 32-36 in its final 68 games under Groh.

“We made a pretty good go of it for a little while,” Groh said Saturday night. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough to finish it off.”

He was referring to his team’s performance against Virginia Tech. He could have been talking about his tenure at UVa.

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