PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Before the ACC got greedy, these men were gods.
Descending from on high in 2000-01, the trio of Ralph Friedgen, Al Groh and Chuck Amato returned to their mediocre alma maters and won immediately. Friedgen went 31-8 in his first three seasons at Maryland. Amato's third team at North Carolina State won 11 games and earned its highest national ranking (No. 8) in nearly 40 years. Groh didn't win that big at Virginia, but he talked enormously from Day 1 -- saying in one breath that Virginia should play for a national title, and in the next saying when we do ... Virginia fans loved it.
Two years ago, Virginia was on the way up. Maryland and N.C. State were already there. Their long-suffering fans puffed up to insufferable levels.
|The Terrapins are stuck watching the Hokies and other Big East transfers run wild in the ACC. (Getty Images)|
And the gods got exposed.
This season Maryland is trying for its first bowl bid since ACC expansion. Virginia is trying to avoid the sub-.500 season that looks likely. N.C. State is still trying to find its footing two years after quarterback Philip Rivers ascended to the NFL.
This is expansion's fault. Understand, on a whole, that adding teams was a huge success. The ACC was trying to evolve from a nine-school basketball league to a 12-school, all-sports monster -- and it worked. Last year, a record eight ACC football teams went to bowl games. Four baseball teams went to the College World Series. Three women's basketball teams reached the Final Four. The expansion issue is over. The ACC won.
In 2004, the ACC added Virginia Tech and Miami to reach 11 teams. Last year, Boston College made 12. Those three schools were added for their football, and they brought the hammer. In 2004, Virginia Tech won the league title and Miami finished third. In 2005, Boston College tied for the Atlantic Division title while Virginia Tech and Miami finished 1-2 in the Coastal.
Their hammer has fallen on the noggins of Friedgen, Groh and Amato. The Terps, Cavaliers and Wolfpack are a combined 1-11 against Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech. Average margin of defeat: 18.4 points.
Was expansion good for the ACC?
No: Being all about basketball was a good thing
Yes: I'm not losing sleep over Maryland N.C. State and Virginia's troubles
Total Votes: 4,416
The hammer has splatted no one worse than Friedgen, whose 31-8 start has been chased by two 5-6 years in the steroided ACC. And Maryland hasn't played Miami yet. The Terps have, however, played Virginia Tech. And lost 55-6. And 28-9.
Poor cornerback Josh Wilson was one of the two Terps brought to the 2006 ACC Football Kickoff this week. He's as frustrated as anyone over Maryland's struggles.
"Everybody has something negative to say," he said. "When we were winning, it was always optimistic: 'Are you gonna go undefeated?' Now it's, 'Can you win six games?'"
Virginia won seven games in 2005 but continued its trend under Groh of late-season fades. The '04 season was the worst, 5-0 becoming 8-4 with losses to Miami and Virginia Tech.
"It seems like every year we start strong, and then in the second half of the season ..." says Virginia cornerback Marcus Hamilton. "I'm not going to say we've folded, but we just haven't gotten it done."
Groh's recruiting has run the same fade route. Since putting together the best class in school history in 2002, it has trailed off. Not good, considering this season the Cavaliers replace quarterback Marques Hagans, three linemen with 124 career starts and back Wali Lundy, the ACC's career touchdown leader. Virginia also has three new coordinators, with the offense to be led by Groh's son. How good is Mike Groh? No one knows. He's never been hired by anyone but his dad.
Virginia's wins have dropped from nine to eight to seven in recent years, and another drop looms this season. Groh shrugged off the suggestion that this season is vital for momentum.
"I don't know," he said. "Every season is a season unto itself."
Groh repeatedly uses the word "rebuilding" to describe the 2006 season, a misleading spin that implies he built something in the first place. Groh's winning percentage (.587) is behind predecessor George Welsh's (.608), and his first five campaigns have produced just one more win than Welsh's last five -- in four more games.
At N.C. State, Amato's ACC record is two games under .500 (23-25). Wolfpack fans ran off basketball coach Herb Sendek, whose ACC record was better, and Amato could be next. There is scant reason for optimism, what with the loss of five NFL Draft picks from the defense -- including three first-rounders -- as well as three starting offensive linemen and the top three receivers. The ACC media picked the Wolfpack to finish fifth in its six-team division, barely ahead of Wake Forest, a prediction that had Amato saying, "I guess you (media) guys did your homework."
Amato is 2-3 against UNC coach John Bunting, another coaching alum who has been recruiting the dickens out of the state while Amato has tried to build his program on Florida products. For that, Amato isn't popular with state high school coaches. For going 12-12 since losing Rivers to the NFL, Amato is losing popularity with Wolfpack fans.
N.C. State's next coach? Possibly another coaching alum, a guy with only two years on his current contract and no sign of signing an extension. A guy who owns two homes in North Carolina, including a recently purchased $2.5 million house in North Raleigh.
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher.