But Groh’s chops as a strategist, at least on defense, were undeniable. Put it this way:
Those credentials notwithstanding, Groh seemed an odd fit for
Sure enough, the Yellow Jackets' experiment with Groh and his 3-4 alignment imploded, and Monday, with his team 2-4 and riding a three-game-losing streak, Johnson turfed Groh. Effective immediately.
"To me, it was inevitable," Johnson said at a news conference. "I didn't want to give up on the rest of the season. I still think we can come back and have a good season. That's why I did it now."
Inevitable because Groh’s tenure was marked by steady decline that reached crisis proportions in recent losses to
Most glaring were the Yellow Jackets' failures on third down. Clemson converted 13-of-19, and Tech ranks 103rd nationally in third-down conversion defense.
Most damning was the Jackets’ penchant, dating to last season, for squandering second-half leads. They have yielded a combined 55 fourth-quarter points in this year’s four setbacks --
Halftime adjustments, anyone?
“Al is very smart man. He understands what's inside his head,” said Johnson, who fired defensive coordinator Dave Wommack after Tech’s 2009
Johnson is as wedded to his option offense as Groh is to his 3-4 defense, and pity that sap who dares to challenge either's expertise. Indeed, Virginia fans will recall this 2006 Groh classic, as unearthed by Darryl Slater, the Daily Press' former Cavaliers' beat hack, no to mention Groh's poetic farewell after his final game at Virginia, a 37-7 home knockout from Virginia Tech.
So although Groh, 68, is 13 years Johnson's senior, they seemed too much alike to mesh well.
In making the extraordinary midseason change, Johnson took swipes at Groh's strategy and practice routine.
"My big goal is to simplify and see if we can't get lined up and play faster, play harder," Johnson said. "I don't think you've got to trick people. You've got to line up and know what you're doing and play fast."
And this on Groh's apparent preference for more casual practices: "To me, defense is energy and playing fast and playing with enthusiasm," Johnson said. "It's hard to get that if you don't go live (full-speed drills) some of the time."
Whether Groh will coach again is uncertain. He may prefer to hang with his wife and their grandkids and coach vicariously through their son Mike, the former Virginia quarterback and offensive coordinator – talk about experiments gone awry – now coaching Alabama's receivers.
A NFL team likely would be more amenable to hiring someone of Groh's vintage. The older the player, the better prepared he'd be to handle the old-school Groh.
"It's really disappointing and frustrating," Johnson said. "You never want to (fire someone). But, to me, that's part of being a leader. Sometimes you have to do hard things. I still have a great deal of respect for Al. In my mind, he's had a very good career. Maybe he will still coach. I don't know what the future holds. It just wasn't working here."
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