Al Groh was a mistake. He was Paul Johnson’s mistake. It took about 2½ years for the Georgia Tech head coach to realize that.
Groh, who had success as a defensive coordinator in the NFL but was a disaster at Georgia Tech from the outset, was fired Monday by Johnson, who has seen the Jackets regress since Groh’s hiring in 2010.
It’s not surprising Johnson would fire an assistant. He fired Groh’s predecessor, Dave Wommack, even after winning an ACC championship in 2009. He fired a coach (Groh) whose defense had given up 42, 49 and 47 points in the last three games, collapsed late in overtime defeats to Virginia Tech and Miami and allowed 510 yards in offense to Middle Tennessee State.
The stunning part is that Johnson did this now. I had been asked several times by readers over the past two weeks whether I believed Groh would make it through the season. My answer always was yes, simply because it’s so rare for college assistants to get fired during the year. Clearly, it had become an unworkable situation.
Groh can’t complain that he wasn’t given a chance. Johnson gave him more than enough rope, even while reaffirming before the season that the defense had to get better.
Let me take you back to 2010. Georgia Tech lost 28-25 to a Kansas team that a week earlier had lost to North Dakota State 6-3.
After the game, I asked how Groh how an opponent (Kansas) that had managed only one field goal in 12 possessions against North Dakota State could score four touchdowns against Georgia Tech.
He bristled. The response: “That’s fantasy football. I just deal with what happened today. … That’s not the game coaches play. Coaches play the game that’s played today. The rest is talk radio, those guys who have all the answers.”
The problem being, it wasn’t fantasy. It was real. If it was fantasy, Groh would still have a job. But his teaching methods did not translate well to players and the change to a 3-4 defense also was questionable, given the Jackets’ difficulty in recruiting that kind of personnel (particularly a big enough and good enough defensive tackle).
Johnson is trying to save a season that has spun out of control since an impressive early season win over Virginia. I don’t know that this will do it. But removing Groh certainly removes a problem. For the increasing amount of abuse Johnson has taken lately, it’s not like the Jackets have been losing games because of his offense.
By Jeff Schultz
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