CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — For programs that rarely play and have very different football traditions, Virginia and Penn State share a number of personnel connections.
But perhaps most notable is the fact that Jerry Sandusky was one of the top finalists for the job when Cavaliers coach George Welsh retired.
Sandusky, who awaits sentencing on 45 counts of child sex abuse, was interviewed twice by Virginia officials in late 2000, and was visited in Pennsylvania by then-president John Casteen and then-athletic director Terry Holland.
Accounts from the Times-Dispatch at the time said Casteen and Holland “came away from (the) visit concerned that his involvement with the Second Mile, the charitable organization he founded in 1982, might prevent him from making the necessary commitment to coaching.”
Two days later, Al Groh announced his resignation as New York Jets coach to take the job at U.Va.
Holland, in an e-mail, said the search was waiting for Groh to finish the season with the Jets all along.
“We never got to the point of a background check for Coach Sandusky, so (I) don’t have any idea of whether or not that would have revealed anything, particularly at that time,” he wrote.
Of his reaction to hearing the charges against Sandusky, Holland said he was surprised: “Everything we knew of Coach Sandusky at that time indicated that he was an excellent coach and an even better human being.”
Sandusky was one year into his retirement from Penn State at the time, and did not coach again.
Speaking to the Times-Dispatch after Groh had been introduced as the U.Va. coach, he didn’t hide his commitment to the Second Mile.
“I’m a very complex person,” Sandusky said. “I couldn’t deny the importance of Second Mile in my life. I could have played a game and said I was something different than I am, but that’s not me.”
As for Rocco, the Wahoos’ starting quarterback grew up in Pittsburgh and remains a fan of sports teams from the area.
He had a greyshirt offer from the Nittany Lions, but turned it down for a full offer at Virginia. Still, he said he was troubled to learn of what had happened at the school.
“But it hasn’t been as devastating as it would have been if I was still that young boy that idolized Penn State football,” he said.