Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson had his reasons for firing defensive coordinator Al Groh midway through the season, and he candidly shared them on Wednesday during the weekly ACC coaches’ teleconference.
Johnson wasn’t defensive about his decision; rather he took the time to explain it.
“It was apparent to me that our guys were having a hard time doing what we were asking them to do,” Johnson said. “I think we had 47 missed assignments in the Clemson game. Some of the stuff we were trying to do was good stuff if you can do it, but we were having a hard time doing it.”
Johnson's reasons were all valid, and Groh's firing was hardly unexpected. It was the timing of it that caught many by surprise. The focus during the bye week will be getting back to basics and playing faster on defense, Johnson said. The Jackets aren’t going to shy away from Groh’s 3-4 scheme -- this year or next season -- but they are going to move away from the two-gap philosophy, which was giving the players fits, and revert to the one-gap. The two-gapping is rare at the collegiate level, but pro teams have stronger, faster athletes who can get it done. It requires a player to fight off a block, and make a tackle to his left or right.
“It became apparent to me we were struggling with it,” Johnson said. “We did not have the personnel to do what we were doing. Now do we have the personnel to do something else? We’re going to find out.”
Johnson said simplifying things will help the players, as will a more conventional approach. Johnson said every facet of the game needs to improve, but that the most glaring problems have been with the defense.
“The weakest link right now had been there and it didn’t seem to be getting better,” Johnson said. “In fact, it seemed to be going the other way.”
Johnson said his decision to fire Groh was about 12 games in the making, and was an “ongoing process” dating back to last season.
“It just came to the fact we weren’t playing very well,” Johnson said. “We’ve played football for a long time here at Georgia Tech, and we managed to give up 40 points in three consecutive games for the first time in the history of Georgia Tech football. Statistically we were 107 or 108 in the country on third downs. We were 91st in scoring. Any way you look at it, it wasn’t good. If you keep doing the same thing -- and I think Al Groh is a very smart man, he’s a good man -- but clearly it wasn’t working for us. He has a system and he runs his system. His system was not working for us, so we have to try to change. The definition of futility would be to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results. It wasn’t working.”
“We have to play better than that,” Johnson said. “In my opinion, we need to see if we can. Maybe we won’t be able to, but I feel like we will. I think we can play better than that. Ultimately, I’m responsible for it, so I have to do what I feel gives us the best chance to win.”
Miami coach Al Golden, who spent four seasons (2001-04) at Virginia as defensive coordinator under Groh, said he was surprised by the decision.
"I was shocked," Golden said. "I don't think there's any question. I think everybody knows how I feel about Coach [Groh] and what he's meant to my career, and the opportunities that he afforded me. But I'm not there, I don't know what's transpired. I know Al, if he wants to continue to coach, he'll bounce back. He's an excellent coach."