October 14, 2009

Road Map to Relevancy, Part I


Apologies to my loyal Wahooze readers --- I've been having a hard time battling the depression of an 0-3 start to the football season. Now I'm fighting to wrap my mind around the win at North Carolina and the 47-7 shellacking of a decently solid Indiana team. What does it all mean?

Like Ben Gibson summarized, it's just Al Groh's annual October charge to save his hide. Nothing more, nothing less. Virginia Football is just not very good, as far as programs go. Top to bottom, there are damning problems holding our team back. We have a rickety infrastructure.

I think that deep down, we all know that this football program can be so much more than a .500-type outfit. But yet, here we are, wallowing in more mediocrity, losing games we shouldn't lose (WILLIAM AND FREAKING MARY), blowing late leads (Southern Miss), and then rubbing the fans' noses in the regret and disappointment by winning games it doesn't seem like we should win (UNC) and blowing out decent opponents (Indiana). At the end of the day, we're 2-3 and beelining toward 5-7... not good enough. Not nearly good enough.

UVA Football has become equal parts depressing, confusing, and grind-your-teeth-and-slap-your-momma frustrating. The Indiana win was nice, but I couldn't keep the vivid flashbacks of the William & Mary pick six out of my mind. And so it goes... Virginia Football will drive you completely nuts.

So how do we go from this point -- maddening inconsistency and a low overall ceiling for how high the program can rise -- to where we want/need/deserve to go? How can we transform a schizophrenic 6-6 also-ran program into a gritty, tough, consistent 9-3/10-2-type team that nobody ever wants to face? How can we repair the infrastructure, rattle Virginia Tech's cage by gaining a toehold on in-state recruiting, and obtain some degree of national respect? How can we make Virginia Football relevant?

Here is one fan's road map...


Step #1 -- Fire Al Groh and hire a new coach. Hire the right coach.

Seems obvious, right? Well, it's easier said than done. I don't want to spend too much time beating on this drum that has already been pounded to death, but we need to find a charismatic leader who can sell and properly promote the program. All Xs and Os aside, we need a media-friendly coach who can breathe some life into this deflated fanbase and repair our damaged public perception. (See also: Tony Bennett's effect on Virginia Basketball.) Also, we need our coaching hire to be somewhat "splashy" from a national perspective. We need college football fans around the nation to either say: "Wow, Virginia was able to get THAT guy?" (Tommy Tuberville) and/or "Wow, Virginia really did the right thing by hiring that guy!" (Charlie Strong, Derek Dooley, maybe Mike London.) Once we generate some forward momentum via a nice splash with the coaching hire, we can move headlong into...


Step #2 -- Lure the fans back into the fold.

Get the right coach, and most hardcore fans will return to the stands. But how do you bring back the casual fans? The ones that make the difference between 50,000 butts in the seats and a packed house for a Saturday in Scott Stadium? Well, it starts on the fundamental level of actually appreciating the fans and making that appreciation apparent. Make the ticket prices more palatable, offer a sincere apology for the reseating disaster, put the program on the line with a REAL "commitment to excellence" -- declare that this is an also-ran program no more; that Virginia Football is headed in a new direction and will not accept mediocrity. Have that message echoed in everything the coach says (and he should be saying a lot, working every media outlet that will have him.) Here's the master stroke: break away from the Al Groh policy of "one voice" and allow the assistant coaches to get out and work the media themselves. Sell the product, build excitement, develop some forward momentum, and get the fans excited. Virginia fans are great fans; they'll come back in droves.
To be continued...

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