Mere days after season's end, if not sooner, the University of Virginia will dismiss football coach Al Groh.
The question isn't why. The declining performance, plummeting attendance and overriding despair infecting the program are indisputable and untenable.
The question isn't how. Whether packaged as a resignation or termination, the effect — desperately needed change — will be the same.
The question is worth. Was it worth delaying the inevitable for a year to save $2 million?
Inevitable because only their most loyal (delusional?) supporters envisioned this year's Cavaliers repairing the earth scorched from losing seasons in 2006 and '08 and Groh's incurable conceit.
Yet rather than swallow a $6-million buyout — a byproduct of the ridiculous contract university president John Casteen awarded Groh in 2005 — athletic director Craig Littlepage settled for a makeover of Groh's staff. And if circumstances dictated Groh's exit after this season, well, at least the severance was trimmed to $4 million.
Talk about fool's gold.
Sure, the economy was toxic. And yes, the men's basketball program was teetering — Littlepage fired basketball coach Dave Leitao in March, complete with a $2.1-million parting gift.
But Groh had been given eight years, twice as long as Leitao. The Cavaliers had closed on a four-game losing streak, their longest season-ending skid in 26 years, and attendance was in free-fall.
Now look — if you can bear it.
Virginia is 3-5 and will be an underdog in each of its remaining four tests, starting Saturday at Miami. The Cavaliers lost to William and Mary and Duke at home and squandered a 17-point lead at Southern Mississippi.
Most telling, the paying customers continue to abandon the product.
The season opener against William and Mary attracted the smallest announced crowd since Scott Stadium's 2000 expansion, 54,587. Attendance has fallen at each subsequent home game, to 41,713 — a generous estimate to be sure — Saturday for Duke.
Unsold tickets, lost donations, recruiting setbacks. The costs of that damage, short- and long-term, are incalculable.
Still, some suggest that waiting was wise.
There is, after all, no guarantee that a new coach could have avoided this season's defeats. Moreover, the delay gave the people's choice to replace Groh, second-year Richmond coach Mike London, more time to prove himself in his first turn occupying the corner office.
But new leadership would have engendered hope and goodwill. New leadership would have commenced the big-picture healing needed to compete with ACC rivals such as Miami, Georgia Tech and, most pointed, Virginia Tech.
Instead, the Cavaliers compete under a pall that includes hecklers in the crowd and malcontents among the masses.
Groh insists that he's unaffected.
"I don't think probably that I'm a very hard book to read, 'cuz I don't really try to do things with any pretensions," he said Monday at his weekly gabfest. "And I've got this sign on my desk that says, 'Just coach the team,' and that's what I like to do, and that's my responsibility, and I try to coach the team the best way I can every day."
Admirable aim. Good luck executing.
At 65, and after 42 years in the business, Groh knows this is his last stand. Yet Monday he harkened to the Cavaliers' 2007 season, when they won six games by five points or fewer en route to a 9-4 record.
"You win nine games, you're pretty good, and if you lose those same games, (it) doesn't make you that much different than the other team," he said. "It's just a play here and there, but that's what it is. You've got to find a way to make those plays."
Without naming names, Groh then referred to a sequence from Saturday's 28-17 loss to Duke.
Virginia led 10-9 midway through the third quarter as the Blue Devils faced third-and-14 from their own 47. Cornerback Dom Joseph could have intercepted Thaddeus Lewis' pass and might have returned the pick for a touchdown.
But Joseph dropped the ball, and Duke punted, pinning the Cavaliers at their 19.
"I'm not trying to put it on a player," Groh said. "I'm just answering the question. It's one or two plays like that that make the difference, and that's why it is such a fine line."
Indeed, but this isn't about the players. This is about those most culpable for Virginia's steady decline: Groh and his staff.
They have mismanaged personnel, witness the use of 14 true freshmen this season, eight primarily on special teams. They have failed to develop a reliable quarterback since Marques Hagans' 2005 departure and have saddled the offense with ineffective schemes, Gregg Brandon's acclaimed spread formations included.
Soon the Groh era will be over. Soon Virginia will complete its fourth losing season in his nine years, twice the number the program endured in George Welsh's 18 years.
But it never should have come to this. Not for $2 million.
The 2009 season should have been a fresh start, not a dismal end.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime
Next game On Page 3Next game WHO: Virginia (3-5, 2-2 ACC) at No. 16 Miami (6-2, 3-2).
WHEN: Noon Saturday.
TV: Raycom ACC network 27 35.
On Page 3 • Groh continues to burn redshirts
• Late Duke touchdown pass against U.Va. defense still stings
• Hokies have had troubles recently in Thursday games