Sometime during the 13 years Virginia head coach Al Groh spent working under Bill Parcells at several NFL stops, the now-Dallas Cowboys' coach gave Groh a piece of advice he still has not forgotten.
"Do you really care what people think?" Groh recalled Parcells asking him. "Good, then you have a chance."
Parcells followed up on their conversation a few days later, giving Groh a locker nameplate with the phrase "Just coach the team" inscribed on it.
Parcells' advice will ring truer than ever this year for Groh, who, in his sixth year at Virginia, will have to deal with numerous holes created by the graduation of last year's key contributors. All the while, the school's notoriously cranky fan base continues to grumble that despite a good deal of success-including four straight bowl games-Virginia is still not considered among the ACC's elite teams.
"Everybody's going to have an idea about what you should do-the players, the assistant coaches, the administration or ownership, the coaches' wives, the fans," Groh said. "If you start making decisions based on what everybody else thinks, you're making decisions for the wrong reasons."
There may be more questions this year than any since Groh's return from the Jets to his alma mater in 2000.
Though the Cavaliers return six starters on both sides of the ball, several important departures could be difficult for the team to overcome. The core of the offense, including left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson-drafted fourth overall in last April's NFL Draft-running back Wali Lundy and quarterback Marques Hagans, is gone. On defense, the Cavaliers must deal with replacing the dynamic linebacker duo of Kai Parham and Ahmad Brooks.
All told, the 11 starters lost from last season had combined to start 385 games during their time at Virginia.
"It's been challenging for sure," Groh said of his team's relative youth. "Given the large number of them all doing it at the same time, for each one it's had its rough moments."
Still, not all is lost in Charlottesville, Va.
Wideouts Deyon WIlliams and Fontel Mines, who combined for 1,112 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in 2005, lead a talented group of skill-position athletes for the Cavaliers.
On defense, cornerback Marcus Hamilton, who led the ACC with six 2005 interceptions, returns to lead the young corps. In addition, three-year starter Tony Franklin, whom Groh had suspended during spring practice, rejoins the squad to help make up a formidable secondary for the Cavaliers.
But until the questions at linebacker, quarterback, tailback and offensive line are answered, Groh will continue to feel the heat.
"There's been some challenging moments, but... that's the way it was for their predecessors too," Groh said. "It was that way for D'Brickashaw, it was that way for Wali.
"That's just the challenge of it and even though it might be a demanding type of fun, that's the fun of it for us trying to put it together."
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