In a surprising turn of events, the collective Virginia football braintrust announced late Wednesday that starting QB Peter Lalich would not be making the trip to The Constitution State with his teammates to take on the UConn Huskies Saturday evening.
The decision comes roughly one week after news of Lalich’s failure to obey a court order while on probation charge broke, which came on the heels of an underage drinking charge, which came on the heels of several traffic violations. The Daily Progress first reported the latest charge, citing leaked court documents which showed that on August 26 – four days prior to the USC opener – Lalich voluntarily “admitted to using alcohol and marijuana” while on probation, “was unable to provide a urine sample that day for drug testing” but returned the following day “and provided a sample that proved negative for alcohol and drugs.”
In response to this news – which hit newspapers on the eve of last weekend’s game against Richmond – came a statement from the Virginia athletic department offering no comment but stating “it would be premature to comment prior to the resolution of the matter that is pending before the court.” By Friday afternoon, another statement had been issued stating Lalich, whose underage drinking arrest occurred on the corner of Wertland & 13th in close proximity to former Pete Gillen haunt St. Maarten Café, would play against the Spiders.
Postgame, head man Al Groh went from chilly to abrasive to lecturing in responding to questions about playing Lalich in the 16-0 win: “Why would there be any hesitation to play him? He’s our starting quarterback. We’re here to talk about football. It’s unfortunate that some people have chosen to misrepresent the player without having all the facts. Those people should examine themselves.”
On Monday, Groh continued to both show support for Lalich and chastise the media on his radio show, offering that “there’s some reporting on this young man that probably would fall under the category of tabloid reporting” and “lacks facts, and in some cases it lacks reality.” From Groh’s perspective that reporting is a “shame” and Lalich is “entitled to a private life like other 19-, 20-year-old students are. We’re satisfied with how Peter is conducting his circumstances and what he’s being asked to do.”
Just a day later, both Groh and Lalich addressed the media (separately), and the questions naturally came up again. Groh continued to show support: “In life, whatever circumstances any of us are involved in, certainly in any of those circumstances all of us bring some of it on ourselves, whether it’s good or bad. In this particular case it seems like in some circumstances a rush to pile on.” Captains John Phillips and Clint Sintim (Lalich’s hotel roommate on game weekends) both supported their young, embattled QB as well. Lalich’s most notable comments came during the following exchange:
Lalich’s first public denial stemmed from a question he was asked near the end of the press conference.
“On a more serious note, did you admit to smoking marijuana while on probation? What do you have to…”
“[Lalich] has not commented that that’s what he did,” Daves stated before Lalich answered. “That’s an allegation so I would like you to rephrase your question.”
The reporter shifted gears, asking in a different fashion.
Without hesitation, Lalich proceeded with his proclamation [“I have not smoked or done any drugs while on my probation”], which upon completion drew another statement from Daves.
“This is a legal matter. It is in the court system,” Daves said. “He has a court date due, and I think it is fair to Peter to allow that court date to come up and let him have … his due process as well at the same time regarding this matter.”
All of this, and the listing of Lalich as starter in the UConn depth chart released Tuesday, make at least the timing of Wednesday’s statement extremely puzzling. In said statement, Groh indicated “we stand by Peter, and in talking with him have made a decision which is best in the short term for him, the team and our university. We have a strong set of standards and values on our team that reflect those of the university, and we do not compromise those values to win football games.” AD Craig Littlepage indicated that “over the past 24 hours I’ve had conversations with both Peter and Coach Groh. The focus of our discussions shifted from due process and fairness and moved toward what would be best for Peter and the team, at least until such time that matters were cleared up about his probation status.”
For his part, Lalich’s (perhaps ghostwritten) comments were about what would have been expected:
“I love my team and my teammates and the way they have let me know that they trust me and have my back. Because I care so much about our team, it is best for me to step back temporarily from my starting position so that my teammates can focus 100 percent on getting ready for the game . . . I appreciate that Coach sees me first as a person, then as a quarterback. I make mistakes like everyone, but I have followed the terms of my probation and I am committed to our team and the University of Virginia.”
A few questions:
- When, where, and by whom was this decision made?
- Was it “forced from outside the program” as the DP’s Jay Jenkins suggests today?
- If so, is this in any part a reaction to the recent legal & academic problems of others (to numerous to list)? What about the fact that some (read: Jameel Sewell) may have been playing despite shadows of doubt and/or known foregone conclusions?
- What does the “came to a decision” quote from CLP mean?
- Did new information become available between Tuesday and Wednesday?
- Should Groh have at least had backups Marc Verica (announced starter for UConn) and/or Scott Deke attempt a pass in the USC bloodbath to prepare somewhat to this situation?
- Who is the third-string / emergency QB? Vic Hall? Riko Smalls?
- Who will room with Clint Sintim? Sean Glennon perhaps?
Tags: virginia football