For all the talk of Virginia HC Al Groh’s ability to recruit, develop, and ultimately send talent to the next level, has he really improved the talent in the program?
Many certainly think so, and often argue that Groh has been unable to translate the higher talent level into victories. This generally is and has been the criticism of the HC from afar, with the sound-bite laden argument contrasting NFL draft picks with regular- & post-season mediocrity.
Bloggers have posted that:
- Groh’s NFL draftees & free agent signees represent “a lot of a talent for a team that has never finished better than losing the Gator Bowl… it is not the players fault but the coaches who are not able to implement a solid game plan.”
- People outside of Scott Stadium see ”a team of NFL talent and they wonder why Groh can’t win more.”
- Groh “produces a lot of NFL talent – first-round picks in fact – but can’t seem to win many games with them at Virginia.”
But it’s not just the blogosphere… Media ‘experts’ agree:
- The Sporting News’ Matt Hayes said “Groh has proven he can recruit, and has significantly increased the talent level in Charlottesville.”
- Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel, in ranking Groh the worst coach in America in 2007, stated Groh “has produced his share of talent in Charlottesville.”
- ESPN’s Even Mark Schlabach has argued that Groh has vastly improved the Cavaliers’ talent” but “has been unable to parlay that talent into much on-field success.”
Even Groh himself has said “I think the talent base has improved. It’s solidified. That was my first objective, to get the talent base at a level that would improve the play-making skill of the team. That is the key thing.”
I was driven to take a closer look when I saw Southern Pigskin’s recent “Perfect Ten” of Virginia’s top players since 1975:
- Thomas Jones, RB (1996-1999)
- Chris Slade, DE (1989-1992)
- Jim Dombrowski, OT (1982-1985)
- Tiki Barber, RB (1993-1996)
- Ronde Barber, CB (1993-1996)
- Herman Moore, WR (1987-1990)
- Chris Long, DE (2004-2007)
- Anthony Poindexter, S (1995-1998)
- D’Brickashaw Ferguson (2002-2005)
- Heath Miller, TE (2002-2005)
Only three – Long, Ferguson & Miller – were coached by Groh, and Miller was actually recruited by his predecessor, George Welsh. Welsh had a much longer tenure (to date), but still has much more of the list even if you remove Slade, Dombrowski, and Moore. Not to mention other Welsh players like Ray Roberts, Shawn Moore, Terry Kirby, James Farrior, Jeff Lageman, etc. who probably have a case to be in the Top 10. But that’s another subject for another day…
From 2002-2009, 27 Virginia players were selected in the NFL draft – an average of 3.4 per year in drafts after seasons in which Groh was the HC, including five first-rounder’s. In the prior eight drafts, 25 Welsh-coached players were selected (including four first-rounder’s) for an average of 3.1 per year. Groh may get a slight edge here, but consider that eight of the 27 (Antwoine Womack, Monsanto Pope, Chris Luzar, Billy McMullen, Angelo Crowell, Matt Schaub, Andrew Hoffman, Chris Canty) were on Welsh’s former team, and at least six others (Marques Hagans, Elton Brown, Alvin Pearman, Heath Miller, Pat Estes, Darryl Blackstock) were recruited to some degree by Welsh before he retired.
In the final five drafts after Welsh seasons, 3.8 players were taken each year, including six in both 1997 and 1999. Over that five-year span, there were seven 1st or 2nd round selections, more than in all eight of the drafts following Groh-led seasons (6). And that doesn’t even include some of Welsh’s best players – Slade (round 2), Dombrowski (1), Kirby (3), Roberts (1), Blundin (2), Herman Moore (1), Lageman (1), and John Ford (2).
Groh has coached 17 first-team all-ACC players, including a high of five in 2004, for a per-year average of 2.1. In Welsh’s final 8 seasons he averaged 3.9. Granted, the conference has been bigger of late (additions of Miami, BC, and VPI since Welsh’s retirement), but this one is still no comparison. During the aforementioned span, Welsh put 3+ players on the first-team in five of the eight years, including seven in 1998, and six each in 1995 & 1996. Groh saw five players on the 2004 first-team, but had 3 or fewer in every other year.