Al Groh goes, but the question about Tech’s talent remains

A sight seldom seen: Georgia Tech actually tackles somebody. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

A sight seldom seen in recent months: Georgia Tech actually tackles somebody. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Paul Johnson had two options: Keep losing the same game the same way or try something different. Not much of a choice if your job depends on winning, is it?

Said Johnson, speaking Monday afternoon: “We’ve been ahead in some games and we haven’t seemed to win any of them.”

Also this: “The way we’ve played is not acceptable. That’s not why I came here.”

It is, however, why Al Groh is gone. To fault the defensive coordinator for everything that has gone wrong at Georgia Tech would be a gross overstatement. (Pretty sure Groh hadn’t been tutoring the Jackets in the art of turning a kickoff into a safety.) But he was given a task to perform, and he failed. A team that’s 90th in the land in total defense, 89th in scoring defense and 103rd in third-down defense — and, as Johnson noted of the latter category, “we tried to make that a point of emphasis” — cannot be said to have given ground grudgingly.

And the really bad thing about Groh’s really bad D was it got worse as it went. Of the 181 points Tech has yielded, 80 have come in the fourth quarter and beyond. If we throw out the Presbyterian game, Tech’s opponents have scored 77 points in 75 fourth-quarter minutes (plus two overtime possessions). That’s point-a-minute stuff. That’s bad beyond belief.

“The Virginia Tech game,” said Johnson, referring to the Jackets’ first loss of this 2-4 season, “was eerily similar to the [Sun Bowl, in which Tech also lost in overtime], and the Miami game [yet another OT loss] was eerily similar to Virginia Tech … There were a lot of recurrent things.”

Firing Groh in midseason can’t do any harm and might do some good. “To me, [the decision] was inevitable,” Johnson said. “I didn’t want to give up the rest of the season.”

But — and this is a humongous “but” — Al Groh wasn’t the guy missing tackles on third down. The scariest Tech loss wasn’t any of the three in which the Jackets wasted a late lead but the Middle Tennessee game, in which Tech last led 7-0. Middle Tennessee plays in the Sun Belt, which isn’t a BCS league. Georgia Tech plays in the ACC, which is, and back in 2009 it claimed the conference title (since vacated). On manpower alone, Tech should have been able to line up in the same defense on every snap and beat the Blue Raiders. Instead it lost 49-28. Instead it saw Middle Tennessee score seven touchdowns, the first five on drives of 68 or more yards.

That suggested — heck, it did more than suggest — that Tech’s failure had less to do with Groh’s X’s and O’s than the X’s themselves. Third downs are those moments when good players make plays; Tech’s players, alas, get blocked and blow coverages and miss tackles. “I don’t think you’ve got to trick people,” Johnson said, and then, sensing where this might be heading: “I’m not sold that we don’t have great players.”

On that, he’s surely in the minority. Johnson said he plans to be more involved with the defense, and toward that end he reassigned duties among the holdover coaches. (Charles Kelly, who last coordinated a defense in 2005 at Nicholls State, will be the interim coordinator.) Johnson knows what needs to be improved — “i.e., tackling and i.e., pursuit,” he said — but being able to run fast and hit hard are functions of ability. All the scheming known to man won’t turn a barely adequate collegiate linebacker into Lawrence Taylor.

See, Al Groh once coached Lawrence Taylor. Say what you will, but Groh does know football. Even Johnson conceded the point before saying: “The communication part wasn’t transcending to the field; we were having a hard time getting lined up.”

There can be no real defense, if you will, of Groh’s Tech tenure, no real argument with Johnson’s decision to dump him now. “To do what you’re doing,” Johnson said, “you have to know what you’re doing.”

Can’t dispute that. But to do what needs to done, you have to be physically able to do it. Al Groh tried for 2 1/2 years and couldn’t make these Jackets play good defense. Still unclear is whether anyone can.

By Mark Bradley

197 comments Add your comment

Jon

October 8th, 2012
6:45 pm

Jon

October 8th, 2012
6:46 pm

CPJ demonstrated moxie to make the move mid-season, but I can’t fault the reasons. What do we have to lose? Go Jackets!

LakeDawg

October 8th, 2012
6:46 pm

“The way we’ve played is not acceptable.”

Hmmmm. I wonder who else that quote could apply to. BTW Mark, you’ve had a busy last few days haven’t you?

Billyho55

October 8th, 2012
6:52 pm

GREAT ARTICLE AS ALWAYS MR. BRADLEY! THE WRITING HAS BEEN ALL OVER GRANT FIELD FOR A LONG TIME! I’M SORRY IF THIS OFFENDS ANYONE BUT A MAN OF GROH’S AGE AND DEMEANOR CAN NOT REACH COLLEGE KIDS! PLAIN AND SIMPLE! NOW WE SEE IF PJ REALLY IS THE MAN FOR THE JOB! 2 COORDINATORS FIRED IN ONE TENURE, JUST SAYIN….

Big Crimson 75

October 8th, 2012
6:54 pm

Bradley — thanks for making sense of the situation.
Fire the DC, because he has no talent to work with!!

Johnson is now officially out of excuses — well, maybe not, he did finally join the 21st Century & hire a Special Teams Coach.

Answer This

October 8th, 2012
6:55 pm

The question now remains if CPJ will ever realize if he has to throw the ball more than 10 times in a game to win!? We all know you can coach a team in how to run the ball but can you coach a team on in the passing game? Can you coach a QB on how to read in the passing game….can you do that coach. Thats the real question….stop with that running down your throat every game and try to have some balance in your play calling!

:-) Tech Man

October 8th, 2012
6:56 pm

You may be right Mark but it is up to the coach to motavate and get the best from his players. It is my understanding that Grogh had lost the confidence of his players and his practice organization was not what it used to be. His players were not prepared.

Mike S.

October 8th, 2012
6:56 pm

Good article, Mark. Womack wasnt a whole lot better before Groh. I think the only thing you can possibly pin on Groh is the 3-4. I believe that’s what he ran. Maybe it just wasnt a good fit for the athletes he was able to recruit. Still, Womack was no better. Johnson’s offense was far more effective during Womack’s years and often had to outscore teams for wins. The recruiting has to get better for Tech to expect much better results.

Hillbilly D

October 8th, 2012
6:57 pm

When you fire a coordinator, guess who’s next?

Dawg in Sewer

October 8th, 2012
6:58 pm

WEs going to Shrevepostss whesls jacketsses satas insts lantaas Ruffss, Ruffs

chas_jacket

October 8th, 2012
6:59 pm

Sorry but our defense frequently looked lost this year. How many times did we line up with one cover guy on two receivers? That’s as basic as it gets and I saw it happen several times. I don’t care if you have Deon Sanders on your team , he can’t cover two receivers – that’s a basic coaching breakdown. That’s the kind of thing CPJ saw on the tapes and why Groh had to go sooner rather than later.

BobbyDodd21/20

October 8th, 2012
7:01 pm

If I were the other teams offense, ever since Iowa 2 yrs ago, ..and I needed 7 points, center field is always open for long strike…2 min offense, and, likewise Tech is going have to have a passing game to offset the option offense….

.

October 8th, 2012
7:02 pm

So, was “The Genius” implying that Tech players were not smart enough to learn the defense after 2+ years? We hear on these blogs all the time about how smart Tech players are compared to everyone else.

StingerSplash

October 8th, 2012
7:07 pm

So Mark, a coach who’s been in the college ranks for 30 years and has won two national championships says the talent is there. You say it isn’t.
And we’re supposed to believe whom in all this?

Mark Bradley

October 8th, 2012
7:11 pm

PhilSC

October 8th, 2012
7:13 pm

The state of Georgia is in bad shape! The dawgs are overhyped and the yellow jackets are rags!

Gordon

October 8th, 2012
7:13 pm

Unlike Paul Hewitt, Paul Johnson can coach. Unlike Paul Johnson, Paul Hewitt can recruit. Unfortunately, you have to do both to be successful.

I fear the handwriting is on the wall. Johnson’s offensive system does work (just look at the stats), but it doesn’t work so well that it can overcome talent that is decidedly superior. Tech will never get all of talent that UGA and others get, but it needs to get some of that talent, and that talent needs to be well coached.

Etech1

October 8th, 2012
7:13 pm

you can’t recruit 4-5 star players with a wishbone offense and mediocre coaches. They want to play big time nfl type ball and play for top coaches. Tech needs to clean house, get a real coach and stop playing this high school type ball.

USMC

October 8th, 2012
7:14 pm

CPJ did the right thing. Groh was growing fungus and needed to go. sorry.
I admire CPJ for taking it on the chin and manning up.
Tech is a decent defense away from being tops in the ACC.
Can CPJ please do the same thing in Athens to CMR… Oh wait! :-)

Stinger 2

October 8th, 2012
7:16 pm

Billyho55: About your comment that Groh is too old to coach college kids: What is his age and what is the maximum age a college coach should be? Do you know The FAA allows pilots to fly commercial jumbo jets until age 60.

PhilSC

October 8th, 2012
7:17 pm

Forecast for next years South Carolina vs. UGA is already out. They are calling for a mostly Clowney day again…….,,

GTBob

October 8th, 2012
7:17 pm

According to rivals, CPJ has recruited 7 four star defensive players and 24 three star defensive players since 2009. That is roughly 2 four stars and 6 three stars a year. What exactly is happening to these players that makes them not be able to tackle or have any idea what to do defensively. Rod Sweeting turned down Bama and came to Tech. If he had gone to Bama, do you really think he would be having issues tackling? The talent argument does not explain why we are worse defensively then Mcneese St. There was something going horribly wrong in the Al Groh regime.

StingerSplash

October 8th, 2012
7:22 pm

Etech1,
How does Tech’s offense have any impact on how well it recruits and performs defensively? Don’t say because that’s all they see in practice because they don’t – that’s a gigantic misconception. They practice against the offense they’ll see that week.

Portmanteur

October 8th, 2012
7:24 pm

Mark, if you’re going to kick our team while it’s down, at least do it with a decent copy-editor.

What Talent

October 8th, 2012
7:26 pm

There isn’t any talent to worry about. This is CPJ trying to save himself. Sorry CPJ, devense wins championships

Mike Lum

October 8th, 2012
7:38 pm

Passing more won’t change things, at least as long as Tevin is under center. Tech’s running game worked well against Clemson, until CPJ inexplicably changed to the shotgun, The TV announcers were baffled. Even while passing as the clock was running down, GT took too long between plays. The Clemson game would’ve been closer if Tech had a reliable kicker (again, recruiting). Unable to convert field goals, CPJ was forced to go for it on fourth down.

KBP

October 8th, 2012
7:40 pm

Billyho55. . . Spurrier is 67 and Snyder at K-State is older than Spurrier.

Concerned

October 8th, 2012
7:44 pm

The reason it is not a gigantic misconception is the players running the other team’s offense were recruited to run the triple option. Consequently, no one can throw the ball accurately, no one knows how to run routes correctly, and no one knows how to protect the passer without trying to cut block. Therefore, the defense never gets an adequate look at what other teams will do.

GTBob

October 8th, 2012
7:48 pm

The reason it is not a gigantic misconception is the players running the other team’s offense were recruited to run the triple option.

Just because they were recruited to run the option offense at some point doesn’t mean that they have no idea how any other offense works or that they only ran that type of offense in high school. You make is sound like CPJ is only recruiting from triple option factories that are oblivious to the rest of the world. He isnt. He is recruiting the same guys everyone else is recruiting.

Mulk

October 8th, 2012
7:56 pm

I love coach Johnson and I know he has to defend his recruiting/players, but Tech doesn’t have the athletes to play decent defense. They are too slow (arm tackling) too weak (cant get off blocks) and lack football IQ (3rd down conversions) I’m not trying to defend Coach Groh but Saban himself couldn’t get these players to pursue and tackle. No one is going to fix this problem this year.

Supposedly, the state of Georgia is a hotbed for talent. Surely, the 4th or 5th rated linebacker in the state is fast and strong enough to play good defense on the D1 level. UGAG can’t get all the athletes, can they? Maybe, Tech will find a young coach that can belly up to the kitchen table and reel in some of these athletes.

Paul in NH

October 8th, 2012
7:56 pm

Only surprise here is doing the firing in mid-season. However, it is never the wrong time to do the right thing. GT should go after Randy Shannon after the season.

chas_jacket

October 8th, 2012
7:58 pm

Despite what many people think of him, I believe CPJ may be to tender hearted with respect to TW. Tevin is a great kid and an extremely hard worker, but CPJ should have bit the bullet and made the switch sooner. I do think you will see Vad under center at least half the BC game – and he will air it out. I predict we average 200 YPG passing the rest of the season.

Scrod

October 8th, 2012
7:59 pm

@billyho55: A MAN OF GROH’S AGE AND DEMEANOR CAN NOT REACH COLLEGE KIDS! PLAIN AND SIMPLE!
No Groh fan here, but you do realize the three oldest HC in D1 are undefeated this year? I don’t think it was age that got Groh in trouble.

lxUn1c0

October 8th, 2012
8:05 pm

Our players aren’t really the problem. Recruiting has improved since Gailey left. We have talent. The problem was that the scheme didn’t fit the players we have. It doesn’t matter how good your scheme is our how talented your players are if you can’t find a way to fit the two together.

We know Groh’s a good coach. He just wasn’t the right coach for us.

Big Crimson 75

October 8th, 2012
8:05 pm

He is recruiting the same guys everyone else is recruiting.
—-
You’re right Bob.
Problem is their all turning him down, for better opportunities!!
Hunt-Days maybe starts on half the SEC Teams. Maybe half. Maybe.

Fact is Bob, coming from a quasi-Tech supporter, Johnson is the Head Coach.
He’s not the OC. It’s his Program. He calls the shots.
Where is the improvement?
Bobby, what you & many other Johnson zealots don’t comprehend is the criticisim of Johnson aren’t necessarily attacks on the trip-option, their attacks on the State of the Program!!
He does run Program, correct?

GTBob

October 8th, 2012
8:06 pm

Tech doesn’t have the athletes to play decent defense

Name some of the current Tech defensive players who are woefully untalented and would have no chance at playing defense at any other school. Our two biggest disappointments have been Rod Sweeting and Isaiah Johnson. Sweeting had offers from Bama, Auburn, Clemson, SC, Tenn, etc. Johnson had offers from UGA, Miami, SC, Ok St, and Stanford. How could these two guys be so coveted before leaving high school yet have no idea how to tackle or do anything else after they get to Tech?

GTBob

October 8th, 2012
8:10 pm

He does run Program, correct?

Yes, and I will be happy to send him packing if he can’t turn things around. He appears to be trying to improve the absolute worst aspect of the team and he should be applauded for that. I know its fun living at #1 all the time Crimson, but for those of us who support a program that is going to struggle a lot naturally then we have to have a little patience and let things play out. Otherwise we would be firing coaches every other year.

Concerned

October 8th, 2012
8:10 pm

To go a step farther, great talent does not want to come to a school that runs the triple option because it does not prepare them for the next level. Consequently, the caliber of the scout team is not adequate enough to challenge the defense. A defense that is not loaded with talent because the great players do not feel they will be prepared for the next level due to what they practice against.

Like I have said before, Chan Gailey will recruit very good players, underachieve, and win 7 to 9 games. Paul Johnson will not recruit very good players, overachieve, and win 7 to 9 games. If you do not believe this, just look at the number of draft choices Gailey produced as opposed to Johnson.

garcia

October 8th, 2012
8:12 pm

I am need of some education.

Week after week, I see people post that our defense has trouble playing against other teams because they rarely practice against a traditional offense.

Here is where I need some help. Didn’t Nebraska have some of the most dominant defenses in their days of glory? And, didn’t they run the option during those days of greatness?

bill

October 8th, 2012
8:13 pm

Even if you want to base your comment on the fact that Tech’s defense doesn’t practice against “normal” offenses, you can’t dispute the fact that the defense is getting worse year by year. Tackling isn’t an issue of how you line up against a type of offense in practice.
Groh called a great game vs Va Tech only to make a grave decision on the last play before the game tying FG. He blitzed and placed the safeties in position where they were way too close to the scrimmage line. All Tech needed to do was play a zone or Cover 7 when VT needed to get into FG range. The slant was there for VT and Johnson overplayed the pass that put VT in FG range. Granted kids have to tackle, but when you put kids in the wrong formation when the game is on the line….you lose.
Perhaps it’s just the talent isn’t good enough on defense. Or the OC/HC is calling poor games….we’ll see. But PJ knows his situation. He is on somewhat thin ice. If this team goes 2-4 or worse last 6, he may very well be gone. Groh should have been fired after Utah last year…..we’ll see if it’s the talent if the kids still can’t tackle the rest of the season. Personally, think it’s more of the coaching…. We’ll see.

Coach

October 8th, 2012
8:16 pm

Go after Slyvester Croom– he is a good DC that will help recruiting

lxUn1c0

October 8th, 2012
8:22 pm

Anybody who says tech’s offense isn’t good because they don’t practice against normal offenses is full of it. They prep, just like any other team, against the scout team O.

Likewise, anybody who says it’s because we can’t recruit with the triple option is delusional. Recruiting has improved since CPJ got here, and the statistics bear that out.

Anybody who says CPJ’s offense doesn’t prepare players for the NFL is living in a fantasy land. Just look at Georgia Tech’s recent draft picks and compare them to the number of players we put in the pros before he got here. If you’re talented enough and work hard enough, you can get there from any system that teaches you how to play football.

GTBob

October 8th, 2012
8:29 pm

If you do not believe this, just look at the number of draft choices Gailey produced as opposed to Johnson.

Awesome. I can pull out my usual response to the Gailey was a great recruiter and CPJ is terrible myth. Lets see (Recruiting Rankings each year):

Chan – 63, 50, 79, 62, 57, 18 — Average: 54.8
CPJ – 49, 49, 43, 41, 56, 48 — Average: 47.6

Chan had 15 four stars and 47 three star players, the rest 2 stars or lower
CPJ so far has had 12 four stars and 80 three star players, the rest 2 stars or lower

Techster

October 8th, 2012
8:35 pm

When Tech can start gaining pledges from the highly-regarded sons of former Tech players, things will turn around. For example, don’t let players like 5-star DE Carl Lawson and 4-star DE/LB Naim Mustafa slip away to teams like Auburn and the hated dwags.

lxUn1c0

October 8th, 2012
8:38 pm

Anybody who says GT’s defense doesn’t practice against “normal” offenses has no idea how football works. The D practices against the scout team O. Football players know this, so they don’t care what the first team O runs, as long as it works. And GT has been putting up plenty of points.

Anybody who says we can’t recruit now that we have the spread option ignores the fact that recruiting has improved since CPJ got here. The statistics bear that out. Stop acting like Chan Gailey’s 2007 class was normal for GT before Johnson. It wasn’t, and Gailey might never have won the ACC with them.

Anybody who says players don’t want to go to a school that doesn’t prepare them for the NFL is delusional. All players have to put in work before they can play after going pro. Almost none are ready out of college. But look at the number of players we’ve sent to the NFL under CPJ, and you’ll see what scouts know. It doesn’t matter what system you ran in college. What matters is talent and hard work.

lxUn1c0

October 8th, 2012
8:40 pm

Sorry for posting two similar comments. It looked like it didn’t go through the first time.

DawgBeater

October 8th, 2012
8:41 pm

Mark – You cannot say talent is lacking unless you ask whether we had a better defense before Johnson got here? (of course we did… Tenuta) and if we did, look at out recruiting rankings year after year for a 5 year sample for both coaches and compare them. Tenuta/Gailey had 1 decent recruiting year, and the rest are exactly what recruiting is now. Don’t tell me there is a significant talent gap. Gailey is to offense what Groh is to defense – they both lack the ability to scheme effectively and develop the players. Your argument just doesn’t make sense. A coordinator is everything. Uconn has the 6th ranked TOTAL D in the country right now. All because of superior talent? Garbage! You make so many good points but this is not one.

techster

October 8th, 2012
8:41 pm

Nothing against Groh – nice man and knew defense – but GT had to make a change. I don’t know if the talent is good enough or not. TW is not talented enough yet he continues to play but I am CPJ supporter and a season ticket holder. There were undoubtedly times this year the defense appeared confused and weren’t lined up. That is a coach’s responsibility. But regardless of it all I agree with CPJ decison to not be afraid of a change. I relly think Coach will do everything he possibly can to get this current mess straightened out and will. He has the right attitude. Don’t mean to be mean or throw stones and it’s true GT has its own issues, but Richt needs to get a bit more business-like. Am glad our coach is not standing paralyzed. Tech is a hard place to coach and you aren’t going to get great players and win without working at it. Will be interesting to watch the change. The players seem to like Groh so hope they don’t quit.

Hank

October 8th, 2012
8:45 pm

I’m more concerned about player development. I haven’t seen many of the defensive payers brought in develop into better players as they got more experience. Tenuta didn’t necessarily pull in better talent every year, but players seemed to progress better under his system.

RochesterJacket

October 8th, 2012
8:49 pm

The word is out. Kirby Smart was seen having dinner with DRad. CPJ is out after the season and Kirby is in.