For Georgia Tech, Al Groh Must go
By Matthew Osborne
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Al Groh is a likeable character who has an advanced knowledge of football principles, but it has been proven that his system is not a good fit at Georgia Tech.
For a Georgia Tech program that was seemingly on the brink of asserting itself as one of the ACC’s premiere programs heading into the season, the 2012 campaign has produced little more than anxiety and frustration for Yellow Jacket fans. An offseason permeating with the clamoring of a potential ACC Coastal Division title has materialized into an underwhelming 2-3 start to the season.
While early-season overtime losses to conference foes Virginia Tech and Miami were certainly painful, they did not induce widespread panic across the Georgia Tech fan base. Heartbreaking losses to quality conference opponents are understandably disheartening, but they seldom serve to extensively derail a team’s season.
In the case of Georgia Tech, however, it appears that the squandering of late leads in contest against the Hokies and Hurricanes has caused the program to fall into a violent, uncontained downward spiral.
The height of that metaphorical spiral could be seen this past Saturday in Atlanta, as the Yellow Jackets were dismantled 49-28 by Middle Tennessee State, a team which lost to FCS McNeese State early in the year.
The Blue Raiders’ surprisingly resounding victory over Georgia Tech has reverberated throughout the Yellow Jacket program and community. Coaches and players are searching for ways to resolve their current shortcomings on the gridiron, while impassioned fans have been left frantically looking for the individual to blame for the season’s disappointing start.
Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson is obviously the easiest scapegoat in the current situation, but he is by no means the individual most at fault for the lackluster start to the season.
The head coach is always responsible for the complete oversight of his program, but in Paul Johnson’s case, his realm of influence over the team is mostly limited to offensive play-calling and situational decision-making. More simply stated, Johnson is an offensive coach who just so happens to also assume the responsibilities of the head coach.
Looking at Georgia Tech’s numbers on the season, it is abundantly clear that the offense has not been the primary culprit in the team’s three losses. The Yellow Jackets have averaged 27 points of offense in their three losses this season; not a dominating number, but certainly not extraordinarily sub-par for a BCS offense. More importantly, in both of Georgia Tech’s ACC losses, the Yellow Jacket offense put the defense in a prime position to win the game.
Against Virginia Tech, Tevin Washington threw a touchdown pass with 44 second remaining to give the Yellow Jackets a 20-17 lead. The defense was unable to make a clutch stop, though, as the Hokies promptly marched down the field to set up Cody Journell’s game-tying field goal.
Three weeks later against Miami, Georgia Tech’s defense would surrender a 14-point fourth quarter lead, as the Hurricanes drove 91 yards in less than two minutes to force overtime, where they would eventually emerge triumphant.
Al Groh has been the recipient of an exceeding amount of criticism for his perceived deficiencies as Tech’s defensive coordinator, and the criticism is unquestionably warranted.
Statistically speaking, the Yellow Jackets are ranked in the middle of the pack in most major defensive categories nationally. For a team playing in a BCS automatic-qualifying conference, however, a mid-level national ranking translates to an overtly inferior performance.
Coupled in with Georgia Tech’s defensive struggles over the past two seasons, the solution to the Yellow Jackets’ problems is amazingly simplistic: fire Al Groh.
Georgia Tech’s defensive struggles have not been limited to the three losses this season; they stem back all the way to the beginning of Groh’s tenure in Atlanta.
Bringing his 3-4 defensive scheme from the University of Virginia where he was ousted as head coach, Groh immediately set out on a mission to successfully implement his new system at a program which had historically utilized the more traditional 4-3 scheme.
Initially, it was thought that the players were having a difficult time adjusting to an unfamiliar system, and that the defensive performances would improve as the unit began to familiarize itself with the playbook.
Unfortunately for pro-Georgia Tech observers, the improvement was not to come.
After finishing with a top 25 defense in two of the three seasons prior to Groh’s arrival, the Yellow Jackets have finished no better than 57th in scoring defense in either of Groh’s two complete seasons at the school. Through five games this season, the defense is once again on pace to finish below 70th nationally in total defense, allowing 397 yards per game, with the heart of the schedule still to come.
It hasn’t just been about disappointing defensive statistics either. Groh’s defenses have failed to make key stops in clutch situations and in Georgia Tech’s biggest games.
Groh supporters have attempted to justify his defenses’ failures by saying that the defense would continue to improve as the team adapted to his 3-4 system. Rationally speaking, though, 2.5 years is more than enough time for a team to learn a new scheme. If anything, Tech’s defense has slowly regressed during Groh’s time on campus.
The triple option offense lends itself to criticism because it is different, and many people consider it to be “gimmicky”. But looking at the empirical evidence, the offense has not been to blame for the vast majority of Tech’s losses since 2010.
Mid-season coaching changes are generally frowned upon because they leave a team susceptible to confusion and discontinuity. In the case of Georgia Tech, though, getting rid of Al Groh is the right thing to do.
Groh is a likeable character who obviously has an advanced knowledge of football principles, but it has been proven that his system is not a good fit at Georgia Tech.
While many Georgia Tech fans are certainly already feeling that the season is a failure, it is not too late to start generating positive momentum for the remainder of this season and the impending offseason.
Parting ways with a coach is never easy, but if Paul Johnson wants to save his job in Atlanta, cutting ties with Al Groh is the only way to go.