Tech’s new/old defensive coordinator: He’ll Groh on you

Al Groh at work. Not the message on the blocking sled. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Al Groh at work. Note message on the blocking sled. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

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.






133 comments Add your comment

gmoney

August 9th, 2010
12:05 pm

Mark Bradley

August 9th, 2010
12:11 pm

Gmoney takes the prize money, so to speak.

ManUp...

August 9th, 2010
12:14 pm

Looking forward to watching the offense and Groh-fense this year!

By Dodd

August 9th, 2010
12:14 pm

Mark,

Every now and then, you present an unbiased opinion. This, while brief, is among your better works. Groh and Johnson have a chip on their shoulders this Fall, with something to prove. Let’s get it on.

Just askin

August 9th, 2010
12:15 pm

Would love to know how many Tech football players are actually taking the same curriculum as the average Tech student. Or, are they taking courses at Atlanta area colleges and taking only the minimum amount of courses at Tech in order to stay eligible. I believe this has happened it the past hasn’t it? I know Tech is a good/tough school, so don’t go ballistc.

Steve

August 9th, 2010
12:17 pm

Groh is a good defensive mind, and I think GT is lucky to have him as their DC. If he stays long enough, GT could develop a pretty solid defense.

With that said, I think a lot of people are setting themselves up for disappointment if they think that Groh will make the defense great this season. It’s typically difficult for a team to adjust to a new scheme in the first year of a coaching change, and Groh is drastically changing GT from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Expect growing pains in 2010. (The same goes for UGA.)

Adam

August 9th, 2010
12:17 pm

Really, who cares???

louisville slugger

August 9th, 2010
12:18 pm

MB, I think the 3-4 fits Tech’s (somewhat) undersized personnel much better, do you agree? And has there been any talk as to how the secondary is expected to perform?

Tim

August 9th, 2010
12:19 pm

Mark Bradley

August 9th, 2010
12:20 pm

Think you’re right, Louisville Slugger. But the secondary is still a concern.

BPPS

August 9th, 2010
12:20 pm

Just askin, you are full of ——

JacketFanInCali

August 9th, 2010
12:21 pm

Most (I would say 70%) take 15-18 hours a semester, and they have to be taking classes at Tech they aren’t allowed to take classes at other schools (that should be obvious). The thing that allows Tech and many other student athletes the ability to suceed in the classes is all the free turoring provided by the schools.

Tim

August 9th, 2010
12:21 pm

The defense just has to improve. It doesn’t have to “be great.” The offense will continue to score points and the special teams couldn’t get worse than last year. I think we will still be playing for the ACC again this year… I’m just sayin…

louisville slugger

August 9th, 2010
12:22 pm

Just askin’: not sure how it is today, but when I was at Tech in the 80’s, most athletes were Industrial Management majors and had plenty of opportunities (easy classes, tutoring, etc.) to keep the GPA up to acceptable levels. But all the classes were Tech classes, not outside school classes. But the average GT athlete still performed pretty darn well academically (certainly as well as I did!).

Been around the block « Get The Picture

August 9th, 2010
12:23 pm

[...] around the block Jump to Comments Shorter Mark Bradley:  Al Groh is so old that he makes banal coachspeak sound profound to [...]

baldy87

August 9th, 2010
12:23 pm

I’m a Dawg fan, but I have to admit – Johnson is definitely on the right track at Tech. He does his thing and doesn’t worry about what critics say. He just points to the number of W’s at the end of the year. Adding Groh to the coaching staff only made them that much better. The end-of-year game is going to be hotly contested every year as long as he’s there. There won’t be any more 40 point victories over Tech for awhile. But, it’ll just mean that much more when we beat a Tech team that is ranked or is highly-touted in the ACC. Go Dawgs!

Just askin

August 9th, 2010
12:23 pm

Why does it matter? Because arrogant Tech alums and fans claim they only recruit “student athletes”, nothing like UGA. If that is the case, and they do take many of thier courses at other colleges around ATL, that would and should raise some eyebrows….

George Stein

August 9th, 2010
12:23 pm

If the defense goes from horrific to just bad, we’re going to win a lot of games.

Dog Kicker

August 9th, 2010
12:24 pm

love the Beat Georgia signs. P.J. must have brought that from Navy ( Beat Army ) If we were to lose every game and beat the flea scrachers I’m happy

George Stein

August 9th, 2010
12:24 pm

Apparently Adam cares. Well, at least enough to read the column (blog?), decide to post a comment, think of something witty to say, come up blank (shocker!), and post a decidedly stupid remark anyway.

louisville slugger

August 9th, 2010
12:25 pm

MB, I liked the news that Tarrant is moving to safety, I think he’s the kind of freelancing playmaker that needs to be there. If Cooper Taylor returns to form, the D might be pretty good.

When are you coming back to the ‘Ville?

Just askin

August 9th, 2010
12:26 pm

LSlugger, like I said, Just Askin..I thought some questions were raised in more recent years…Thanks

JB

August 9th, 2010
12:26 pm

This Dawg fan thinks Tech Defense will be better coached this year, but unlike the offense, where Johnson can take a system and make it work with less talented players ( not a slap), defense is another story…..Tech has few stars and little depth on defense, and although fundamentally they may be better, results may be about the same. Tech has a tougher schedule this year, better teams to play and 4 or 5 studs I know they wish they had back. Dawgs and Jackets will scrap hard this year for 8 or 9 wins…..

Chad Cookler

August 9th, 2010
12:27 pm

Steve I don’t think anyone is asking them to be the 85 Bears. We’re asking this defense to be serviceable, fundamentally sound and put in a position to be successful. Those things were all missing last year.

T-Bone

August 9th, 2010
12:33 pm

Great article, MB. Two hard-nosed, crusty old Football coaches on the sidelines (I think Groh coaches defense from the sidelines, not the box), each knowing and believing in their systems–gotta like it! Tech may not win a NC this year (they may in the years to come), but they will be competitive.

Engy

August 9th, 2010
12:33 pm

Just askin, most of our football players major in Management, colloquially known as the “M Train” among the Tech student body. It’s regarded as a “joke major” in the traditional sense, yet our management program is top 20 in the country.

louisville slugger

August 9th, 2010
12:35 pm

JB, I can’t disagree too much with you, except to say I do think Tech has pretty good athletes at linebacker and DB, but not so much on the D-line. UGA, on the other hand, has to find a QB quick. I think we’ll know about both by the end of week 3 (Tech after playing at Kansas and at UNC, UGA after playing at USC and Arkansas). If either are 3-0, it could be a really good year; but if they are 2-1 or 1-2, yes, 8 wins will be a struggle.

Just askin

August 9th, 2010
12:40 pm

Engy, if I am a Tech fan, just don’t know if I would want the media digging too deep…

Nothing "joke" about any classes at Tech...

August 9th, 2010
12:44 pm

…but the average student carries a caseload of 14 – 17 hours (depending upon the major). I doubt that ANY athlete takes more than 15 (the usual), with most taking 12 (the minimum to be considered a “full time” student).

However, The “Joke by Coke” moniker does refer to the institute as a whole…

Athens Dawg

August 9th, 2010
12:47 pm

I love PJ – great coach! Just wish he wasn’t coaching at Tech. We don’t need another SEC caliber team on our schedule that Johnson brings to Tech. Guess it could be worse. He could be another one of the star studded coaches in our conference.

POAD

August 9th, 2010
12:52 pm

Nothing “joke” didn’t you mean The Joke by Coke does NOT refer to the institute as a whole? Look at the endowment money Tech gets. That is not a JOKE.

wardo

August 9th, 2010
12:52 pm

Just askin…I played fball at Tech in the late 80’s and every class we took was on the Tech campus. Half the football team might be required to take summer classes on campus to meet minimum hour requirements, but all classes were the same as the rest of the student body. The same is true at UGA. The school work still must get completed. I will say that about half of the professors disliked athletes and made life difficult but The AA did a good job of scheduling our classes with “sports-friendly” professors. By that I mean that they were understanding to travel for events (mainly basketball and baseball) as these teams are traveling quite a bit during their season. The AA also offered / required study hall based on your GPA. The system works but there were still guys who just didn’t want to put forth the effort to get the work done. Those guys usually found their way back home. If lazyness is one of your traits then college athletics is not for you.

dawgfan

August 9th, 2010
12:53 pm

Points given up by UVA defense in 2009:

26 to William & Mary

30 to TCU

37 to Southern Miss

34 to Joke By Coke

28 to Duke

52 to Miami

34 to Clemson

42 to Virginia Tech

This guy’s a genius I tell ya!!!

My God what a joke.

FisheriesDawg

August 9th, 2010
12:54 pm

Nice to see Tech looking 12 weeks ahead on the schedule. That’s always a good sign of success for your season.

To “Dog Kicker”:

“love the Beat Georgia signs. P.J. must have brought that from Navy ( Beat Army ) If we were to lose every game and beat the flea scrachers I’m happy”

I’m not sure your esteemed coach would even begin to agree with that sentiment.

dawgfan

August 9th, 2010
12:54 pm

to fellow dawg fans, lets stay away from the academic crap. these tools will throw it in our faces no matter what. lets stick to football shall we?

dawgfan

August 9th, 2010
12:55 pm

There’s nothing dumber than a Georgia Bulldog.

Reality Check

August 9th, 2010
12:56 pm

I do agree that both GT and UGA will have to have a lot break right for 9-10 wins. I have not coached but switching to a 3-4 is bound to cause some growing pains. For GT defense their is nowhere to go but up. There problem will be talent as much as anything, it may take a couple of years recruiting the best defensive talent to fit the scheme. UGA has had the supposed “talent” if you go by recruiting rankings, so maybe the switch will help them a little sooner than GT. UGA defensively has been inconsistent with bad penalties at inopportune times. UGA fans are looking for more consistency and well coached, tough minded defensive teams. If UGA wins 8-9 games and appears to be a better coached team I will be optomistic for the future. I would bet most GT fans are the same minded as well.

POAD

August 9th, 2010
12:57 pm

Even Tech Managemnet majors have to take more math courses in a year, than the UGA players take in their whole college career.

POAD

August 9th, 2010
12:59 pm

Mark will you be LIVE for the Game tonight? Bring the good MOJO to the Braves and MINOR for his debut in THE SHOW.

hmmm....

August 9th, 2010
1:00 pm

i guess the children must be back in school…..the acerbic comments are at a minium today.

POAD

August 9th, 2010
1:01 pm

Mark I know you will not be at the game but are you going to watch and run the LIVE BLOG?

Andy

August 9th, 2010
1:03 pm

I think it’s kind of sad that Tech makes beating UGA their main goal, as seen on the blocking sled. How about winning an ACC championship or god forbid a national championship. How about beating an ACC school they are actually in competition with within their conference? Just goes to show that they are still a lower level team that is focused on beating their in-state rival.

papadawg

August 9th, 2010
1:04 pm

The difference between the DAWGS and the Jackets is the DAWGS have the athletes but NO coaching last year. All of GTs athletes are on the offense so no matter who the DC is GTs defense will be weak once again

Tech

August 9th, 2010
1:05 pm

Honestly, the switch to the 3-4 scares the beejezus out of this Tech fan. Not only is it a tough transition, but I’m not sure our defensive personnel fits it. But, the only solice I take from it is that surely it can’t be worse than last year (no punts forced against UGA, Clemson, etc.), and hopefully Groh will be a better teacher and make better adjustments than our last DC. Our defensive secondary is stacked luckily, so hopefully that will give the front 7 time to adjust to the scheme. And our schedule is backloaded so we have time for growing pains.

Millions of Peaches, Peaches for Free....LOOKOUT!!

August 9th, 2010
1:05 pm

he must be a great DC!!!

great enough to be FIRED by the Mighty Virginia Cavaliers!!!!

papadawg

August 9th, 2010
1:06 pm

Enter your comments here

Tech

August 9th, 2010
1:07 pm

Andy, I believe the “Beat Georgia” slogan is a reference to Paul’s Navy days that had “Beat Army” on everything. I wouldn’t think too much about it. Trust me, the #1 goal is to repeat in the ACC and win a (big) bowl game.

papadawg

August 9th, 2010
1:09 pm

Why does he have beat Ga. on everything when he said the Georgia Game wasn’t that important just last November

Reality Strikes Back (just like the Empire did)

August 9th, 2010
1:10 pm

Georgia Tech’s rally cry: “Beat Georgia”

Georgia’s rally cry: “Go Dawgs”

It really is sad how much the Tech “fans” and players are obsessed with UGA.

Gee

August 9th, 2010
1:10 pm

If “Dawg” fans refer to Georgia Tech as the “Joke by Coke” , Does that make UGA the “Irrelevants to the right of the Elephants”? Just Wondering…