- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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Firing defensive coordinator Al Groh wasn’t a surprise. Georgia Tech’s defense has been terrible. Doing it midseason, though? That was harsh. It was the kind of knee-jerk reaction fans make, not coaches. After an ugly 2-4 start, including just one ACC win (ironically against Groh’s old Virginia team), Paul Johnson needed a scapegoat. Groh was it.
The challenge now will be finding the next one.
How many coordinators out there want to coach a defense that has to practice against the triple option every day, only to face an offense like Clemson one week and Virginia Tech the next? How many coordinators out there more knowledgeable than Groh will take that job? Groh has his faults, but ask just about anyone in the business and they’ll tell you he knows defense. That’s not enough, though, and Johnson didn’t hesitate to point that out last week with this pre-emptive strike:
“I’m not going to sit here and try to defend how we’ve played the last couple weeks,” Johnson said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’d be stupid because we’ve played terrible, but I don’t think the man forgot everything he knew in the last couple weeks. But, ultimately, we’re responsible. We’ve got to get it on the field. It doesn’t matter what you know, it’s what happens.”
Johnson should have considered that before he hired Groh.
Finding a seasoned defensive coordinator to work alongside Johnson isn’t going to be easy. The most likely scenario might be a younger assistant willing to do what he’s told while Johnson hovers.
Johnson said at his news conference today that he will likely be more involved in the defense. That’s good, because the defense needs some help when Johnson decides to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the opponents’ 37-yard line only to put the defense right back on the field.
Johnson also acknowledged today that Georgia Tech’s problems aren’t only on defense. He said the entire team and staff have to do a better job, and he’s right. The majority of Johnson’s success to this point has been with former coach Chan Gailey’s recruits. Johnson’s critics love to point that out, but the truth is, until the staff starts recruiting better players all around, it won’t matter much who the defensive coordinator is.
Groh's firing was almost inevitable, but ultimately, Johnson is the one who will be held accountable for Georgia Tech’s failures and successes, and right now, it’s not looking good for the program. A midseason firing isn’t going to suddenly catapult the Jackets to the top of the division standings. Nor will it help Georgia Tech tackle better. The best thing the program has going for it right now is a bye week to regroup and let everyone within the program digest this news and adjust to it. One thing that won’t be changing anytime soon is Johnson.
His current contract runs through 2016, and according to Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it would cost the athletic department $10.485 million to fire Johnson after this season. Georgia Tech is already on a tight budget.
Not to worry -- Georgia Tech already found its scapegoat.
1dMatt Fortuna and Andrea Adelson