Al Groh is so old-school his teacher was a schoolmarm. He coordinated defenses for Bill Parcells and worked under Bill Belichick. He served as position coach for Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks. Heck, Groh was offensive coordinator for the Todd Ellis-led South Carolina team that handed Vince Dooley the bitter first loss of his final Georgia season.
Groh, 66, was born the month after D-Day. He has worked 14 different places, including Army (coached the plebe team) and Air Force (coached the defense). Among his final acts as Virginia’s head coach was the reading of a poem — “The Guy in the Glass,” written in 1934 by Dale Wimbrow. Its final verse:
You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.
The guess here is that Groh won’t cheat himself or his latest employer. Hired to coordinate a Georgia Tech defense that was largely offensive in 2009, he’s not here to win Mr. Congeniality. He’s here, as Groh noted at Tech’s Media Day on Saturday, to hold down the number on one side of the scoreboard.
Said Groh: “The No. 1 objective of every defense as it measures itself statistically is points allowed. Ultimately that is a total team function — punts run back and interceptions run back count toward the team total — but by and large points scored against a team come against the defense. That is the No. 1 reason, apart from getting the ball back for your team, we play defense.”
It was an old-school lecture — instructive bordering on pedantic — from an old-school coach. It gave away no secrets, but the subtext was clear: I’ve been around a long time, folks. I know what I’m doing.
Twice in his briefing Groh invoked baseball, an old-timey sport. He was resistant, he said, to making comparisons regarding Tech’s defensive personnel “because it is like saying, ‘Who’s the greatest hitter ever?’ The year has changed and circumstances have changed, so what you do is evaluate those hitters relative to their particular eras.”
Later, asked about the outside linebackers in his 3-4 defense, Groh said: “If I would compare their relationship to the other spots to a baseball batting order, those are the guys that should be your 3-4-5 hitters.”
Here we should note that Groh, who has standing on many subjects, has exalted standing regarding OLB’s. In Taylor and Banks, he worked with the best pair of 3-4 corner men ever. The 3-4 wasn’t invented by Parcells and his minions — just perfected.
It’s not yet known whether Groh can turn Jacket linebackers Anthony Egbuniwe, Anthony Barnes and Albert Rocker into wreakers of collegiate havoc, but it’s fair to say Tech has found a coach who isn’t afraid of the job.
Referring to Tech’s 2009 ACC title, he said: “These players know what it’s like to drive up to the stadium with a lot on the line.” So does the new DC, who has worked two Super Bowls.
There were concerns when Groh was hired that he and Paul Johnson would be a bad match, each being accustomed to having his way. But if you can work for Parcells and Belichick, who are crusty enough to be crustaceans, you can probably handle Johnson. Indeed, when asked how his partnership with Groh was evolving, PJ smirked a PJ smirk and said: “Going fine for me.”
Groh believes in the rote method.”We aren’t doing much evaluation,” he said. “We’re just trying to plow through every day. The process is simple: We meet, we install, we go practice, we meet again and correct, we go to bed and we come back and we do the same thing … There is no light at the end of the tunnel. We just keep grinding our way forward.”
The idea is stop the other team from scoring. It’s not a revolutionary concept, but it seemed foreign to Georgia Tech last season. That part is subject to change. There’s a new instructor on campus, and he isn’t known for giving easy A’s.