Al Groh is a Georgia Tech man. Specifically, he’s fond of the players he coaches and people he works with.
It’s all about the relationships.
Though he will be facing Virginia, the school he recently coached as well as his alma mater and that of his two sons, on Saturday Groh wanted to make it clear that there won’t be any issues of allegiance this week.
He drew on an example of his days coaching in the NFL to emphasize his point.
“When I coached at the Patriots I was a Patriots guy,” Groh said. “We went to the Super Bowl and 10 days later were with the Jets, getting ready to play the Patriots twice a year. I was a Jets guy then.”
It’s the relationships, not the history, that Groh cherishes.
He was hired as defensive coordinator by Paul Johnson after spending nine up-and-down years as head coach at Virginia. In the end, he was fired by his alma mater after going 59-53 with consecutive sub-.500 seasons in his last two years. Many reasons were floated: the fan base had turned on him, recruiting was falling apart and, in something that Tech fans can relate to recently, an inability to beat their rival, Virginia Tech.
But Groh said on Tuesday that there are other parts to that history: teams he led posted some of the best wins, had the best seasons and featured the best players in Virginia’s history.Groh sounded neither affectionate nor aggravated when discussing the past. Possibly because, as he said a few times, history can’t be changed.
Groh did show warmth when talking about the men he once coached and coached beside. He said some of those people are his best friends, and that he hopes to build that kind of relationship with the Tech players he’s coaching now: “This is my team, a team that’s going to give me my sense of satisfaction and my relationships, or my sense of loss on an ongoing basis.”
In his last postgame press conference, following a 42-13 loss to the Hokies, Groh read a poem: “Guy in the Glass,” by Dale Wimbrow. It was a moment, which some described as bizarre, in which Groh told his supporters and detractors that he had devoted every day — vacations, Christmases, Thanksgivings, included — to thinking about his team and how he could make it better. He knew that he could look at his reflection and say he did the best job he could.
After Groh was let go, he said he got a lot of advice from well-meaning people who suggested that he had done enough to earn some time to do whatever he wanted: go to Europe, spend more time with family, which now includes two grandsons.
He said he turned to his wife, Anne, and said that coaching lets me be me.
He wanted to coach. Hence, the guy in the glass had no issue with becoming a coordinator again when Johnson reached out to him.
It will be an interesting encounter. Virginia’s new coach, Mike London, was hired by Groh as an assistant coach in 2001. They were together for six of seven seasons. There are other assistants that Groh hired who were retained by London.
Groh said that in terms of familiarity, Virginia will have an advantage on Saturday. They know better how Groh thinks because he spent hours teaching and working many of them. They have his playbook and his cut-ups.
“There’s no dilemma up there understanding how Al Groh thinks,” he said.
But Groh also knows the offensive plays, a few of which the Cavaliers’ new staff hasn’t changed.
But in the end, after Saturday’s game is over and Groh said he’s either feeling the satisfaction of a win, or the haunting disappointment of a week’s worth of work not being enough, it’s the people that are ultimately what’s important to him. He received a three-word message from a former staff member at Virginia which said ‘Good luck Saturday.”
It’s about the relationships.
“I’m not sentimental toward institutions, whether they are NFL institutions or NCAA institutions,” Groh said. “My sentiments, my emotions, my affections, my appreciation is for individuals.”