Virginia Beat: A History of Controversy

When Phillip Sims announced his transfer from Alabama to Virginia this summer, many people figured it would be the start of another quarterback controversy in Charlottesville.  It might have been more accurate to say it continued the one that’s been going on for at least a decade.  The recent history of UVA’s quarterback position might conservatively be described as “tumultuous”; the last time UVA had a quarterback that was the clear starter in the eyes of both fan and coach was 2005.

Quarterback controversy looked Al Groh square in the eyes the moment he arrived, and never went away.  His first season, 2001, was riddled with it.  When Dan Ellis had pulled up gimpy the previous season, he’d been replaced by Bryson Spinner, and Spinner entered the 2001 season with a tenuous grip on the starter’s job.  But Matt Schaub was always in the background, and both played in almost every game.  (In fact, they ended up splitting the season’s plays almost evenly, with Schaub in for 273 and Spinner for 266.)  Groh told the media that players rotated in and out all the time at other positions, so why should quarterback be any different?  He adopted a “play until you suck” strategy, allowing Spinner to start until he was ineffective, then inserting Schaub and letting him do the same.  Naturally, nearly everyone had an opinion on who should really be the starter, with a third camp throwing up their hands and saying “please just pick SOMEBODY.”

Spinner appeared to solve the controversy by transferring to Richmond in the offseason, but another running quarterback moved up to take his place during the summer of 2002: Marques Hagans.   Schaub was pulled from the season’s opening game against Colorado State, and despite fumbling away a potential game-winning touchdown, Hagans started the next week’s game.  It didn’t last: Schaub returned that week, and finally put a grip on the job strong enough to last until he was drafted following the 2003 season.  Hagans took over for 2004 and 2005, and it seemed UVA could finally settle into a succession plan at quarterback.

Ha.  We should have been so lucky.  Though UVA entered 2006 with a quarterback competition in camp, it seemed sure that at least one of the candidates could play well enough to seize the job.  UVA stumbled out of the gate, with neither Christian Olsen nor Kevin McCabe playing well enough to win the job.   Groh dropped the known quantities and turned to the unknown: freshman southpaw Jameel Sewell, who was no superstar but at least played well enough to keep the job the rest of the season.  (2006, by the way, might well have been the nadir of the whole story – the three quarterbacks combined to throw just six touchdown passes all season.)

2007 brought an apparent savior: Peter Lalich, hailed as the solution to all of UVA’s quarterback troubles.  The Hoos hadn’t recruited a top-flight quarterback in at least ten years if not ten thousand, and fans felt the sooner Lalich learned the ropes and won the job, the better.  Sewell started the whole season, but Lalich was given a number of chances to get game-speed experience, culminating with the Gator Bowl in which Lalich was forced to try and win the game after Sewell went down with an injury.

It looked like UVA would have an embarrassment of riches at quarterback in 2008, with an experienced veteran and a hotshot young gunslinger.  But offseasons have a way of screwing everything up.  Sewell was found academically ineligible to play and had to spend the year fixing his grades at community college, and Lalich couldn’t stay away from his favorite girlfriend Mary Jane, resulting in his expulsion from school.  With neither potential starting quarterback enrolled at UVA, Groh had to turn to third-stringer Marc Verica.  Verica’s propensity to throw inexplicable interceptions never, for some reason, endeared him to the UVA fanbase, who in turn never really supported him.  He stepped aside in 2009 as Sewell returned and struggled through trying to run the short-lived attempt at the spread offense; Sewell’s standing was also not helped by the fact that Al Groh had come thisclose to beating Virginia Tech the previous season by trying Vic Hall at quarterback, and fans were extremely eager to see that extended for a whole season.

Verica returned in 2010, and approximately one second after he took his first snap of the year, most fans decided it was a lost season and clamored for “the future,” which at the time was either true freshman Mike Rocco or redshirt freshman Ross Metheny.  Verica spent an entire season starting and the same season having nearly everyone who watched him wishing he wasn’t.  After his graduation, “the future” became “the present,” and Mike Rocco earned the starting job all to himself halfway through a fairly disastrous platoon with freshman David Watford.

Which, of course, brings us to the present day: Rocco maintains a fingernail’s grip on the job, and if it were up to the fanbase, he’d have lost it long ago in favor of Phillip Sims.  (By the time you read this, he may already have.)  “The future” became “the past” in less than two years.

In case your head spun too much for you to keep up with all this, the UVA quarterback succession has looked like this since Al Groh took over:

  • 2001 – Spinner/Schaub/Spinner/Schaub
  • 2002 – Schaub, then Hagans, then SCHAUB!
  • 2003 – SCHAUB!
  • 2004 – Hagans
  • 2005 – Hagans!
  • 2006 – Olsen.  Wait, no, McCabe.  Wait, no, Sewell.
  • 2007 – Sewell, but gimme Lalich
  • 2008 – Sewell.  Wait, no, Lalich.  Wait, no, Verica.
  • 2009 – Sewell, but gimme Hall
  • 2010 – Verica, but gimme anyone else
  • 2011 – Rocco, sometimes Watford, then Rocco for real this time
  • 2012 – Rocco, but gimme Sims

Sims had better not get comfy.  UVA recruited Greyson Lambert and signed him this past spring, and he’s apparently impressed in practice, though the words “for a true freshman” must be appended; if Sims falters, no doubt there’ll be a contingent of fans calling for Lambert instead.  All this Virginia fan wants is for the carousel to stop turning and land somewhere; I’m getting nauseous.

Brendan’s bio: I’m just this guy … this ordinary Virginia graduate and fan who woke up one day realizing his opinions on everything UVA could no longer be contained in one space. Thus was born From Old Virginia, a labor of love where you can find obsessive opinionating on Virginia football, basketball, lacrosse, baseball, and whatever else when the mood strikes. And if that’s still not enough for you, go to the Twitster and follow @MaizeNBlueWahoo for the dumb stuff that pops into my head when I’m watching the Hoos.

Follow Inside the ACC on Twitter at @InsideTheACC. Get your ACC links at ITA’s Daily NewsLink Page. Talk about ACC sports on the ITA Forums.

1 Responses You are logged in as Test

Leave a Reply