Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Change coming in Charlottesville shortly

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- We'll begin today by trying to make you laugh, or at least smile. Because even though it hasn't been much fun to be a college football fan in this state the past few weeks, you've got to remember to laugh.

Virginia running back Rashawn Jackson felt like crud Saturday evening. His team had just lost to Duke 28-17 in front of a sparse crowd at Scott Stadium. Somebody asked him if the team's sub-.500 record was truly indicative of its ability.

"You are what you are," Jackson said. "When you're born, your mom either has a boy or a girl, you know? There's no in between."

"But there are certain cases..." someone said.

"Of course," Jackson said. "But how many Jamie Lees are there?"

He's right, you know. The Cavaliers are no Jamie Lee Curtis, although to be fair to her, there's never been anything proven about the famous actress outside of her prodigious strength.

There's no such guesswork with UVa. The Cavaliers are bad, and their 3-5 record says they are bad, and their attendance says they are bad, and their schedule -- up next: at Miami -- says they'll probably still be bad this time next week.

And this is why Al Groh cannot stay. All the formulas that were thrown around earlier this year that would allow him to keep his job -- seven wins + bowl game + victory over Virginia Tech + semblance of hope in the grandstands = one more year -- aren't even worth discussing anymore. They were all predicated on improvement that has not been shown.

I don't think Groh has lost his players, because I don't think he'll ever lose his players. But his players still are not winning, which means that Groh has lost this town.

And he might be losing his mind. Groh peeled two more redshirts off true freshman Saturday, bringing the torching total to 14 this year. That's a ridiculous move this late in a lost season. The message -- intentional or not -- is clear: If Groh is going down, he's taking some of the future of the program with him.

Most weren't here to see this happen live. The crowd was announced at 41,713, nearly 20,000 shy of Scott Stadium's capacity. And while some would say that's a fan base turning its back on a struggling team, it's really not that at all.

It's a fan base collectively demanding change the only way it knows how, the only way that will resonate with the people who matter.

The UVa players are the unfortunate victims in all this. They happen to be playing here at the wrong time, in the midst of a movement.

"We don't control who buys tickets, who comes, who sits in the stands, who leaves," defensive end Nate Collins said. "It doesn't matter at the end of the day. Anyone who says the stadium helps, this and that, it doesn't help. It's all mental."

That's a square-jawed approach that you'd want the players to take, but it's also a reach. Noise helps. Atmosphere helps. And these guys notice even the minor encouragements.

"The fans that really stuck out to me were the ones screaming, 'Rashawn! UVa! Go Hoos!' " Jackson said. "Those were the guys that made this loss even worse, since they hung in there. I appreciate those fans, I appreciate that effort and I appreciate those people.

"They stayed to the end of the game, and I'm just disappointed we couldn't help their weekend go a little more smoothly. Hopefully they aren't getting bugged about it at work on Monday. I'm sure some of them might, and that's even more disappointing."

Oh, they will be. But they should be used to it by now. Their team is what it is, and they know it.

Still, they can take heart in the fact that their coach is what he is, too: Four games from being somewhere else.

Nobody should laugh when that happens. Any coaching change not involving retirement is sad on some level. But it's also a necessary first step toward bringing some smiles back to Charlottesville.

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