-- University of Virginia Coach Al Groh said Thursday that he is close to signing a new contract that could keep him coaching at his alma mater for the next 10 years. The new deal also could make Groh the sixth football coach in the ACC to earn $1 million per season.
Groh, who is 30-21 in four seasons at Virginia, said the new contract could be signed before the Cavaliers' Sept. 3 opener against Western Michigan at Scott Stadium. When asked if the contract would be long term, Groh said, "Yes."
When asked whether the contract could be as long as 10 years, like the one former Virginia basketball coach Pete Gillen signed in 2001, he said, "It could be of that nature, yes."
Virginia Athletics Director Craig Littlepage said Groh's new contract "would be done soon," but he and Groh declined to disclose the exact length and financial terms. Groh, 61, has about three years left on the seven-year deal he signed in January 2001, which pays him almost $800,000 per season.
After leaving the NFL's New York Jets after only one season in 2000 to replace George Welsh in Charlottesville, Groh has guided the Cavaliers to at least eight victories in each of the past three seasons. Virginia finished the 2002 and 2003 seasons by beating West Virginia and Pittsburgh in the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte. Last year, the Cavaliers were expected to challenge Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech for the ACC title, but they lost to all three opponents and then were defeated by Fresno State, 37-34 in overtime, in the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, Idaho. Virginia finished 8-4 and lost three of its last four games.
During Thursday's Meet the Team Day at Scott Stadium, Groh seemed like a coach who was confident in the direction of his program. The Cavaliers lost seven players who were drafted in the NFL, including all-American tight end Heath Miller, a first-round selection by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Virginia returns six starters on both offense and defense, and in preseason media voting was picked to finish third in the ACC's Atlantic Division, behind defending champion Virginia Tech and Miami.
"I'd say crossroads come when you've been having bad times," Groh said. "This team played the last game last year with the opportunity to play for the conference championship. We're not happy with the results, but, hey, we're just trying to move on."
Hokies Coach Frank Beamer, who was paid more than $1.3 million last season, also is about to begin contract negotiations with Virginia Tech. His contract, which was redone after he interviewed with North Carolina and was contacted by Alabama after the 2000 season, expires on Jan. 1.
Junior Brandon Gore is finally playing up to his enormous potential at left guard, so Hokies senior Will Montgomery has moved back to center, where he started 13 games last season.
Gore, from Liberty High in Warrenton, has always been one of Virginia Tech's strongest and most imposing players. In 2002, he tied for the top bench press among freshmen by lifting 380 pounds; he bench pressed 430 and squatted 605 last year. But Gore hasn't turned his strength into performance as he was redshirted as a freshman and played mostly on special teams the past two seasons.
"This is my fourth fall and I think it's finally my time to play the way that was expected of me," Gore said. "I think my coaches have confidence that I'm going to do it."
The Hokies allowed 10 sacks in their first scrimmage last Saturday, and offensive line coach Bryan Stinespring made the changes in practice this week.
"We're going to wait and see what happens," Beamer said after Wednesday's second practice.
"I think Montgomery gives you a confidence boost in there because he's making calls and did it last year."
Sophomore inside linebacker Keith Lisante, who quit the squad last week to focus on academics, was reinstated Wednesday after his teammates decided he could come back.
Staff writer Jon Gallo contributed to this report.