Family Business or Nepotism on High?

Virginia’s offensive performance against Maryland Saturday night might not have erased the collective showing in the previous four outings, but in at least one way it more than equaled it.  Virginia scored four TDs, more than the three totaled over the first four games.


One performance does not a season – or career, for that mater – make.  OC Mike Groh did his best and now steers the ship of the #111 total offense in the nation, ahead of UCF, undefeated Vanderbilt, Army, NCSU, Temple, Wyoming, and FIU.  It’s doubtful that he won over many supporters, especially given this year’s performance comes off the heals of two consecutive seasons with total, score, rushing, and passing offense rankings all outside the top 80 nationally.  Thanks to David Teel for pointing this out in last week’s blog entry entitled “wrong man for the job.”


Beyond the results which seemingly speak for themselves at this point (even with a big performance under pressure against Maryland), there’s the last name issue.  Hiring family members is always dicey and almost begs for added criticism when times are rough.  When the relative is perhaps underqualified and has never worked for a non-Groh, it’s hard for any not to criticize.


In 2000, Mike served one season as Offensive Assistant/QC coach – the entry-level coaching gig in the NFL – for his old mean in East Rutherford.  From 2001-2004, the younger Groh coached wide receivers and/or quarterbacks at Virginia under AG (via Bill Musgrave & Ron Prince).  In 2005, he added Recruiting Coordinator to his QB Coach title.  At the end of the 2005 season when Prince accepted the head post in Manhattan (Kansas), Mike & then-receivers coach John Garrett called plays and directed the offense in a Music City Bowl win over Minnesota that saw 34 points and 268 yards put on the board.  By March, Dad Al had found his man in then-34-year-old Son Mike, who said at the time “I think, certainly, that I’ve stepped out of the background and into the foreground.”  Hopefully he did mean that in terms of public speaking or media relations.


Upon accepting the coordinator-ship, Mike admitted that he was certain to face “more scrutiny,” and Al said the hire would help “stay the course before eventually turning it over to someone else,” “rather than disrupt the progress we’ve made.”  The only other logical internal candidate would have been Garrett, who was promoted to everyone’s favorite title “Assistant Head Coach-Offense” (see Saunders, Al & Callahan, Bill) before joining his brother in Dallas a year later.  Garrett, by the way, had been a position coach in the NFL with two teams for nearly a decade.  Mike’s two predecessors had considerably more experience, both in total and in variety.  Before becoming a position (OL) coach at Virginia, Prince had served in a similar capacity at four other schools and was Virginia’s line coach for several seasons before the promotion to OC.  Musgrave had worked for three NFL teams, including two where we served as the OC at that level.


While Mike may have been the most inexperienced son promoted to a coordinator role by his father, he certainly hasn’t been the first to work for his dad.  Jay Paterno currently serves as QB coach for his old man, having been on PSU staff for 14 seasons after serving as a grad assistant at Virginia and a position coach at JMU & UConn.  Steve Spurrier, Jr. coaches receivers in Columbia for the former Heisman-winning OBC.  The young ball coach apprenticed briefly under Mike Stoops at Arizona and Bob Stoops at Oklahoma.  Naturally, he also spent two seasons with the Redskins as WR coach and got his start in Gainesville.


Perhaps mostly infamous was Jeff Bowden, who succeeded Mark Richt as FSU’s OC in 2001 after coaching for nearly two decades.  While most of his career was spent working under one Bowden or another, he at least have a brief stint at Southern Miss.  Bowden suffered harsh criticism as his Dad Bobby’s program fell from grace and eventually resigned after a 30-0 home shutout at the hands of Wake Forest.  The ‘resignation’ – negotiated behind Bobby’s back and against his wishes – included a $537,500 buyoff from the Seminole Club, paying him more than ¾ his salary annually until 2012.


This week’s coaching opponent is no stranger to nepotism himself.  ECU’s Skip Holtz indicated “it’s great from a family standpoint to have the opportunity to work together,” but certainly it’s not all peaches & cream.  Skip Holtz told reporters on a conference call yesterday.  Holtz left the head post at UConn after five seasons to work as OC under dad Lou at South Carolina, with at least an understanding that he would be the programs’ successor when the old man retired.  USC’s AD at the time commented that “no formal or informal guarantees” were in place, but that “it’s always helpful to have potential succession in a staff.”


Skip had previously worked under the elder Bowden at FSU and his dad at Notre Dame, including two years as his OC there.  However, it didn’t take long for things to sour while in the same role in Columbia.  After two bowl wins and seasons ending with top-25 rankings, 2002 & 2003 brought 5-7 records and a demotion to QB coach as part of a staff change that saw four members fired, including the other (defensive) coordinator.  Can anyone imagine that happening at Virginia? 


A year later, Lou had retired and Skip was out of a job briefly, landing on his feat with the head job in Greenville.  This week, Skip commented on the “challenge” presented in working for his dad.  He also sympathized with Mike Groh, saying that “every time we did something well it was [because of] Coach Holtz and his experience. And every time we did something poor, it was that stupid son of his calling the plays.”


Most Virginia fans haven’t stooped to the Gamecock level by calling Mike Groh “stupid.”  Inexperienced and sheltered within the staff of a defensive-minded taskmaster, perhaps.  But certainly not stupid.  After all, he does have a degree in Rhetoric and Communication Studies Haven’t you heard how smart he is in interviews?





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