Some notes from Paul Johnson’s news conference regarding the dismissal of defensive coordinator Al Groh:
1. On Groh: “Nobody worked harder than Al. Nobody put in more time and I certainly appreciate everything he did while he was here.”
2. Johnson said he arrived at his decision Monday morning after taking time to mull it over and watch game video. He saw errors in communication and alignment that kept repeating themselves. As he said multiple times, Groh’s game plans were sound and he didn’t lack for knowledge. Rather, the communication of his plan wasn’t getting onto the field, in Johnson’s opinion.
3. Johnson’s involvement will be setting parameters and framework and from there will be provided as necessary. As is his wont, he said he prefers to give the assistants the leeway to do what they feel is best. One parameter he’ll stress is to keep the defense simple enough to be played without error.
“Certainly, we want to be multiple enough that we can play, but we want to be sound,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to come in Monday and have 40 missed assignments. It’s not going to do you any good.”
3. The scheme won’t completely change, although he said the line won’t play as much “two-gap” as it had, although the defense had been doing less of that. (In a two-gap scheme, linemen line up directly across from an offensive linemen and is responsible for the gap on either side of the offensive lineman. The idea is to “build a wall,” a phrase Groh often used, to force running backs to run laterally.)
In a one-gap scheme, a lineman sets up between two offensive linemen and is responsible for that one gap. It typically requires more players to commit to run-stopping, since the linemen are responsible for one gap each instead of two, but Tech’s personnel is probably better suited for it.
That said, Johnson has never been married to one defensive scheme or another.
“I don’t think you’ve got to trick people,” he said. “I think you line up and know what you’re doing and play fast.”
4. Johnson said the decision was based on a body of work and his conclusion that the problems weren’t going to go away. He acknowledged that Tech’s issues go beyond defense, but he felt the defense’s problems could be addressed with a change.
“It’s a chance to move forward and see how we can do,” he said. “I think that we can play better than we’ve played. So we’ll see.”
5. Johnson on player reaction: “I’m sure that you have mixed emotions. I’m sure that a lot of the players are disappointed. I’m sure Coach Groh was very well-liked. They also understand that we haven’t played as well as we’ve needed. … They’re fairly resilient. You’ll know in a week or two what their reaction is, I guess.”
6. Johnson said the defense will practice at a higher tempo moving forward with more live-hitting and full-speed drills. He acknowledged it being philosophically different from Groh.
“It’s not like we didn’t tackle in practice, but the pace of practice is a little bit different than what it will be,” he said.
He wants the team to spend more time on tackling and pursuit, “some of those things that we haven’t been as good at.”
7. Johnson said he was encouraged by the team’s play in the first couple games of the season, but “it became apparent that it was short-lived.” Notably, the third-down defense was worse despite attempts to address it long before the season began. Tech’s defensive conversion rate was 42.4 percent last year and is now 47.8 percent and 67.4 percent in the past three games.
“There was some recurring themes that we weren’t getting better,” he said.
8. Johnson said he didn’t think Groh’s firing will impact recruiting. He said he planned to call committed defensive players that night, which he evidently did. Michael Carvell has a post with reaction from Tech commits, including Darius Commissiong, a defensive tackle from Maryland who called Groh “like a father figure.”
9. Johnson on the difficulty of the decision: “It’s really disappointing and frustrating. You never want to do these things. You never want to have to, but to me, that’s part of being a leader. Sometimes you have to do hard things. I have a great deal of respect for Al. He’s, in my mind, had a very good career and may still coach. I don’t know what his future holds, but it just wasn’t working here. It doesn’t mean that it won’t work the next place or whatever, but it just wasn’t working right now.”
10. Johnson on the talent level: “I’m not sold that we don’t have good players. I’m confident in our players’ abilities. We’ll see.”
11. On possible replacements: “There’ll be plenty of time to worry about that and to evaluate that as the next six games play out.”
12. Johnson said he was hopeful that giving the remaining defensive coaches more responsibility will energize them. He said that Groh’s philosophy was that he often coached the defense as a whole, giving the position coaches less responsibility.
Johnson’s plan is to have players spend more time with their position groups.
Meeting with the entire offensive unit, he said, “I can’t get into the details and into the weeds like if I only met with the quarterbacks. I can get way more in-depth with them or way more in-depth with the receivers if I’ve just got the receivers in there because they don’t have to worry about what the offensive line’s looking at or doing. It’s just a different philosophy.”
Thanks for reading.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog