Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Oh, to dream

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- The dream never materialized here Monday.

The dream? Al Groh walks into his weekly press conference, sits down, clears his throat and begins:

"Thank you all for coming," he says. "Athletic director Craig Littlepage and I had a discussion this morning and have agreed that this will be my final game as coach at Virginia. Circumstances dictate that this will be last I'll say about that until after Saturday.

"Now. Questions about the Virginia Tech matchup?"

How appropriate would that have been? Granted, we're working under the assumption that this will be the last game for him.

At this point, that's sort of like working under the assumption that Jupiter is not made of Laffy Taffy. The Cavaliers, at best, will finish 4-8. More likely they'll be 3-9. Attendance has reached critical lows. The fan base is fed up.

The assumption is safe.

If only they'd just say it, put it in black and white, silence all the speculation. There's no better time to do that than right now. While program outsiders would continue to prod for answers -- Whose decision was it? Who will be the next coach? -- the benefits of such a move would be felt Saturday when the Cavaliers face the Hokies.

For one thing, Groh could get the send-off he deserves. And no matter what you think of him, an alumnus who has spent nine seasons guiding the biggest sport on campus does deserve some sort of positive goodbye.

Odds are he'd get it, win or lose, if people knew this was officially the end for him.

More importantly, perhaps the Cavs would get that extra modicum of motivation that would help them beat their in-state rivals for the first time in their last six tries.

From all indications, the majority of these UVa players like and respect Groh. They have to know that they've been playing for his job all year.

We've seen how that's gone.

Why not give them one game where they're simply playing for Groh the man and not Groh the Virginia employee?

And the fans -- oh, how they'd benefit from some sort of announcement.

If you think Scott Stadium is going to be hopping Saturday, just imagine how electric it would be without the inner struggle that has raged inside so many this season, with half of their hearts wanting victory and the other half hoping things get bad enough to force a change.

Alas, Monday's Groh press conference hardly resembled the dream. It resembled ... well, a Groh press conference. Groh wore a black mock turtleneck, a brown jacket and an intermittent smile as he joked with reporters.

He praised the playmakers on the Hokies, lauded his senior class, talked about leadership, and desire and effort.

When asked about his job status, Groh repeated a familiar mantra.

"It's really not about me," he said. "It's about the team, and it's about the players."

Right. And that new movie "Ninja Assassin" is not really about a ninja assassin; it's actually about an elderly woman's search for true love.

Of course this is about Al. This whole UVa season has been about Al. The only way to turn that negative into a positive would be for the university to remove the albatross.

But Groh can't be blamed for taking the position he has. Groh is a lot of things, but he's not a quitter.

So this really needed to come from somebody above him, somebody who could see the big picture, somebody who could identify the benefits of such an announcement for the team, the fans, and even Groh himself.

UVa apparently doesn't have that person.

Oh, well. A man can dream.

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