After all the losses to Virginia Tech, all the recruiting failures, all the staff instability and all the disappointment, the relationship just couldn't go on — and so it ended.
Virginia coach Al Groh was fired Sunday.
Groh's ninth and final season came to an end Saturday when U.Va. lost 42-13 at home to rival Virginia Tech. It was Virginia's school-record tying sixth consecutive loss to Tech and left Groh 1-8 against the school's top rival.
Groh, who will receive $4.33 million for two remaining years left on his contract, finished 59-53 overall and 36-36 mark in the ACC at his alma mater. He was a two-time ACC Coach of the Year (in 2002, 2007) and led the Cavaliers to five bowl games.
However, Groh finished his last season 3-9 overall — Virginia's worst mark since 1982 — and a 2-6 mark in conference.
"My coaching philosophy and method of building teams has trust and teamwork as bedrocks," Groh said in a statement released by U.Va.'s athletic department. "We were poised to solidify our position as a top team. Instead, as that trust and collaboration deteriorated, I could see this day coming.
"We arrived with a set of principles that we have tried to remain faithful to, and we leave with those principles intact."
Virginia will begin an immediate search for a coach. Hampton native and University of Richmond head coach Mike London will be chief among the candidates.
"Our goals for the U.Va. football program will remain the same," athletic director Craig Littlepage said in a released statement. "There are a number of excellent coaches whose backgrounds and styles align with our goals and values."
Sophomore wide receiver Jared Green said he and several of his teammates met Sunday with Littlepage to discuss the future of the football program. Groh didn't attend the meeting, but Virginia sports-information director Jim Daves said Groh left his office open to players all day Sunday and that there was a line out the door at one point to speak to the coach.
"My relationship with him was good, but it was good at the McCue Center (U.Va.'s football training complex)," Green said. "That's as far as it went.
"I want a coach that's going to be just a really personable, relatable guy. I love coach Groh. I really appreciate what he did for me, giving me an opportunity to play in orange and blue. I'm forever in debt to him for that, but I would really like to have a coach that really is just a family man — a coach that really has a tight relationship with his players."
Green said while the team is in this period of transition Bob Price, who was the tight-ends coach and recruiting coordinator under Groh, will continue working on U.Va.'s efforts for the '10 recruiting class. Also, U.Va. alum Anthony Poindexter, who was defensive-backs coach and assistant special-teams coordinator under Groh, will remain on staff for the time being.
U.Va. has 11 players committed for the '10 class, including Bethel High defensive back Rijo Walker.
"I'm still solid on U.Va.," said Walker, who considered scholarship offers from East Carolina, South Carolina, Wake Forest, West Virginia, North Carolina State and Northwestern before committing to U.Va. "When I committed, I committed with the thought in mind I'd be playing under coach Groh and his assistant staff. I heard the rumors for a couple weeks that things were going to turn around and coach Groh might be gone or whatever.
"It's not really a surprise to me, but it's still something I'm going to think about and continue to keep up on who they're hiring as a new coach and see how he stands with me and if he's still committed to me like I'm committed to the University of Virginia."
Groh, a '67 U.Va. graduate who coached the New York Jets to a 9-7 record in 2000 before returning to his alma mater, had several factors contribute to his program's decline.
After going 7-5 in '05 and defeating Minnesota in Music City Bowl, four of Groh's assistant coaches left Charlottesville.
In '06, U.Va. signed a 24-member recruiting class, but eight of the players didn't qualify academically. Under Groh, U.Va. often shifted its focus to recruiting players in the northeast portion of the country, and struggled with its in-state efforts.
From '05-08, only 38 of 89 signees came from within the state of Virginia. During that period, U.Va. also couldn't effectively recruit the talent-rich Hampton Roads area, known in football circles as the "757" in association with the area code. U.Va. picked up just eight players from the 757 area code during those four years. In addition, U.Va. signed Glouecester High's Aaron Taliaferro and Christchurch's J'Courtney Williams.
Last year, U.Va. went 5-7 in a season in which Groh dismissed starting quarterback and heralded recruit Peter Lalich three games into the fall because of legal probation violations. Groh made several changes on his coaching staff after the season that included firing his offensive coordinator and son, Mike, and bringing in former Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon, an innovator of the spread offense.
The addition of Brandon didn't translate to offensive improvement.
U.Va. ditched the spread offense after starting 0-3 this season — including a season-opening 26-14 home loss to William and Mary – and began to incorporate the pro-style offense Groh used before Brandon's arrival.
U.Va. is 118th in the nation in total offense (270 yards per game) this season. The Cavaliers were 105th last season, 101st in '07 and 113th in '06.
"There is not a coach in the college game who has worked harder than Al Groh in trying to build a football program," Littlepage said in the released statement. "Football is his life and he dedicated himself to the University and to our football team."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun