AFC East: Al Groh
New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro explores that daydream with the Jets about to play the New England Patriots in the playoffs.
The Jets and Patriots form one of the NFL's most intense rivalries, and Belichick's stunning decision to jilt the Jets is a prominent reason.
Belichick was supposed to succeed Bill Parcells as head coach 11 years ago last week, but his introductory news conference turned into a resignation. He joined the Patriots quickly thereafter.
The underlying, overriding issue was always the looming specter of Parcells. By the time Belichick held his "Blair Witch" press conference, he had clearly grown tired of his Parcellian link. Eleven years later, we know why: Parcells has never been to a Super Bowl without Belichick; Belichick has won three without Parcells. But in 2000, that notion would've seemed ludicrous. He had to strike out on his own.
Vaccaro notes Belichick's staff would have been in place with the Jets. Assistant coaches Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Al Groh and Eric Mangini followed him from the Jets to the Patriots. So did personnel executive Scott Pioli.
That's quite an infrastructure the Jets would've had in place.
But would the Jets have had the fortune of drafting Tom Brady?
The Patriots selected him 199th overall in 2000. The Jets had four first-round picks that year. They had three choices between the third and sixth rounds and another in the 218th slot. Based on Brady's profile leaving Michigan, there's a good chance he still would have been on the board then.
What do you think would have happened?
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:
With so many injuries, the Buffalo Bills might not be able to hang tough for long. The Bills have been remarkable in their competitiveness over the past two months. The Bills looked putrid through their first five games, so I explored what would happen if they played a UFL team. Since then, they are 2-4, with all of their losses by a field goal and three of them coming in overtime. But the Bills' iffy defense suffered two more casualties this week. Starting right defensive end Dwan Edwards and starting linebacker Reggie Torbor were placed on season-ending injured reserve, giving less experienced players more responsibilities. They must contain some serious offensive firepower Sunday in the Metrodome.
Miami Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall has been the year's most disappointing acquisition. Marshall on Thursday spoke of his restlessness and bemoaned his lack of production. He said, "I've been too boring this year" and asked reporters for help in coming up with ways to show his emotions without drawing penalties -- as he has his previous two games before missing last week with a hamstring injury. "Say something. Spark some controversy. It's too calm." Marshall has one touchdown reception. Bills undrafted rookie Donald Jones has that many.
Steve Johnson has taken over the lead in drops, but Wes Welker is right behind him. Johnson's awful afternoon against the Pittsburgh Steelers placed him atop the drop list ESPN Stats & Information tracks throughout the season. He now has nine on 99 targets. But there are established receivers high on the chart. Welker is tied for second with seven drops on 90 targets. Jets tight end Dustin Keller has six on 70 targets. Marshall has five drops on 95 targets. Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has five on 50 targets. Lee Evans of the Bills and Jerricho Cotchery of the Jets have four drops apiece. Only the Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts have dropped more passes as a team than the Patriots with 27. The Jets, Bills and Dolphins rank ninth, 11th and 12th, respectively. That's a lot of drops for one division.
Indianapolis is not New England's hottest rival. In our Double Coverage debate this week, AFC North blogger James Walker and I argued which rivalry was better, the Jets and Patriots or the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. One of Walker's main planks was the Jets aren't the Patriots' biggest rivals and proclaimed the Colts were. Here's what ESPN analyst and former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi had to say:
"Throughout my career, with all the rivalries -- Steelers, Colts, Jets -- I always felt it more coming from the coaches during Jets week. That's all the way back to Bill Parcells' years, when Al Groh was here, the whole drama of [Bill] Belichick being the 'HC of the NYJ' for one day and when Eric Mangini was here. You could feel the tension and motivation that coaches had to win this game when it was against the Jets. This may go back to when the coaches had ties. They coached you harder. When they were in front of you in defensive meetings, there was urgency in their voices. You knew it was Jets week and the coaches would lead the way. Colts, Steelers, we knew, and we really wanted to establish ourselves as the tough guys in the league against them. But this, against the Jets, was more of an organization versus another organization, and we really felt that."
Today's question: With the deadline to finalize the 53-man roster coming at 6 p.m. Saturday, what comes to mind when you think of The Turk, the mythological being who lets a player know he has been cut?
Rod Rust, former New England Patriots head coach:
"The name carries connotations that sound like somebody with a scimitar, going around and cutting people's heads off. It's not as heartless as it sounds. The coaches talk about how to minimize the moment. There's always a lot of thought put into it because there's a bond between the coach and player with all the hard work they put in. And then 'Oh, by the way, you're not going to be around.' It's not easy for anybody.
"Some places it's a messenger that says 'The head coach wants to see you.' More often than not, The Turk is not a person far up the organizational chart. He's someone near the bottom. It's pretty impersonal, but the person's not at any emotional risk because he clearly is not the one who made the decision. There's a psychology there, obviously.[+] EnlargeFocus on Sport/Getty ImagesFormer Patriots coach Rod Rust says roster cuts are difficult for everyone involved.
"I can remember being very, very depressed on that day. That's the hardest day of the year. A lot of coaches will tell you that. It's absolutely no fun."
Al Groh, former New York Jets head coach and Patriots defensive coordinator:
"The Turk has been many people and a much-storied individual, that's for sure. He's somebody that you don't want to know. I was never The Turk. I just had to deal with the aftermath of The Turk's visit. It was always very touching to see, really, how they were affected by it and, in many cases, realized how the course of their life was about to change.
"I did have a circumstance when I was coaching the linebackers for the Jets with Bill Parcells. His name was Chad Cascadden, a walk-on player and very bright. I had been his position coach, and now I was head coach of the team. I'd been in that meeting room with him every day for three years, spent a lot of time with Chad and admired him. My wife and I went to his wedding. And it was my chore to tell him he wasn't going to be with us anymore. That was particularly difficult."
Herm Edwards, former New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs head coach:
"When I went to training camp there were 125 guys. It was two months and six preseason games. The Turk was alive and well. They were cutting 10, 15 guys at a time. You'd get five or six on a Monday, then get another four or five on Tuesday.
"My rookie year in Philadelphia they used to slide a white piece of paper under the door. It would have the name and say 'Bring your playbook.' I was roommates with a guy by the name of Skip Sharp. We both were defensive backs. He was a draft pick. I was a free agent. The second week of camp, they slid the paper underneath the door, but you couldn't see the name. I was an early riser, and when the paper came under the door around 4:30 in the morning or so, I go 'You gotta be kidding, man. They're getting ready to cut me?' I thought I was doing pretty good. So I picked up the paper, and it had Skip's name on it. I didn't wake him up at all. I got out of there. I put the paper down, went to facility at about 6 in the morning and checked my locker to make sure my gear was still in there."
Ted Cottrell, former Buffalo Bills, Jets and San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator:
"Sometimes a player gets cut not because they can't play, but because you don't have a spot for them at the moment. A lot of times, you cut a player and you bring him right back as soon as there's an injury.
"I can tell you a story. When I was with Kansas City in 1981, we had a player I had gotten a tryout. I had coached him at Rutgers University. He signed as a punter and got an opportunity to play in the exhibition season. Because of some injuries, I got him an opportunity to play safety the last couple games. He did a great job, but he did not make the team. He was one of the last cuts. I said 'As soon as someone gets hurt, you're probably coming back here because of what you have done.' Three weeks later, he was brought back. He goes on to make six Pro Bowls. He's on their Ring of Honor. His name is Deron Cherry."
Groh is going to stay in the college game, deciding to accept Georgia Tech's offer to be its defensive coordinator.
The former New York Jets and University of Virginia head coach interviewed Wednesday for the Miami Dolphins' coordinator vacancy and might have been a candidate to fill the New England Patriots' opening created by Dean Pees' departure.
The Dolphins received another bit of bad news when Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler turned down an invitation to interview for the job, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Gary Dulac reports.
One possibility for Miami would be assistant head coach and defensive backs assistant Todd Bowles.
ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss broke down some of the names that could surface with the Patriots, among them a couple current assistants: defensive line coach Pepper Johnson and linebackers coach Matt Patricia.
Providence Journal beat writer Shalise Manza Young reports the New England Patriots have fired defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who was hospitalized with shortness of breath during the Patriots loss to the Houston Texans in the regular-season finale.
Three of the AFC East's four teams are in need of a defensive coordinator. The Dolphins fired Paul Pasqualoni on Monday. The Buffalo Bills basically don't have any coaches, and interim coach/defensive coordinator Perry Fewell reportedly is choosing between the Chicago Bears and New York Giants.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Wednesday the Dolphins interviewed Al Groh, the longtime associate of Dolphins football operations chief Bill Parcells.
But Groh also has close ties with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. They served together under Parcells with the New York Giants, New England Patriots and New York Jets. Groh also was on Belichick's staff with the Cleveland Browns.
The Patriots ranked 11th in total defense and fifth in scoring defense, allowing 17.8 points a game.
The interview was expected to take place because of Groh's long and successful association with Dolphins vice president of football operations Bill Parcells. Groh and Parcells were neophyte coaches at Army. Groh then served on Parcells' staffs at Air Force and with the New York Giants, New England Patriots and New York Jets.
When I spoke with Groh on Monday night, he claimed he hadn't been contacted yet by the Dolphins, who fired defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni earlier that day.
But Groh sounded ready to rejoin his old boss.
"I've done it five times," Groh told me. "Some people would say that I'm nuts. Some people would say that I'm fortunate. So, having done it five times already, yeah, obviously, there's a track record there."
Parcells handpicked Groh to succeed him as head coach of the Jets in 2000. Groh stepped down after one year to become head coach at his alma mater, the University of Virginia. He ran the program for nine seasons until getting fired in November.
"I have a criteria, and it starts with the people that are involved," Groh said. "Obviously, I've been very fortunate to have been associated with Bill Parcells for many years."
Multiple outlets have reported the Dolphins also will interview Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler for the defensive coordinator opening.
He's available. He has a long and successful history with Dolphins football operations boss Bill Parcells.
Fact of the matter is, Tony Sparano's the head coach. And maybe he wants to look around first.
Multiple outlets report the Dolphins will interview Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler for the job created Monday, when the Dolphins fired Paul Pasqualoni.
Sparano knows Butler from the two years they spent together on the Cleveland Browns staff under Chris Palmer. Sparano was the offensive line coach, while Butler handled linebackers.
Butler has been considered the heir to legendary defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau. But LeBeau has agreed to return to the Steelers next season, and Butler might be getting itchy. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin's staff has undergone some turmoil after the defending Super Bowls champs failed to make the playoffs.
Butler has coached linebackers for Pittsburgh since 2009. His pupils incluse Dolphins outside linebacker Joey Porter plus Clark Haggans, James Farrior, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.
"I have a few things on the table right now that I'm interested in, and that might be one more to put on there."
You could detect a low, rumbling chuckle as Groh said that.
Groh said he has learned the Dolphins had fired defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni about a half hour before I called him Monday night. Groh's name immediately comes to mind as a replacement because of his relationship with Parcells, the Dolphins' vice president of football operations.
Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano would need to sign off on any hire, but Parcells' influence will be tough to deny.
Groh and Parcells were defensive assistants together at Army in the late 1960s. Groh was an assistant on Parcells' first staff at Air Force. Groh also worked under him with the New York Giants, New England Patriots and New York Jets.
Parcells handpicked Groh to succeed him as head coach of the Jets in 2000. Groh stepped down after on year to become head coach at his alma mater, the University of Virginia. He coached there nine seasons until getting fired in November.
"I have a criteria, and it starts with the people that are involved," Groh said of choosing his next job. "Obviously, I've been very fortunate to have been associated with Bill Parcells for many years."
Groh declared he definitely will coach in 2010 and indicated no preference of whether he stayed in college or returned to the NFL. But he added being a defensive coordinator would "be a prime fit" rather than searching for another head coaching job. He has been mentioned as possibly the next defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech.
"My No. 1 criteria at this stage of my career is when the game is over, walking out of the place with a smile on my face," Groh said. "It's all about winning, and that's it. There's nothing else involved.
"I've got a lot of energy and the ambition to achieve. Nothing has changed from 30 years ago."
The Dolphins ranked 22nd on total defense in 2009, a year after being 15th.
The move might clear the way for former New York Jets head coach Al Groh to reunite with Dolphins football operations boss Bill Parcells.
Groh was Parcells' hand-picked successor with the Jets but left after one year to become head coach for the University of Virginia. Groh had been the head coach at his alma mater for nine years before getting fired in November.
The timing of Pasqualoni's departure is peculiar.
The Dolphins have had several days to conduct exit interviews and lost a pair of linebackers coaches last week. Inside linebackers coach George Edwards left to be defensive coordinator at the University of Florida. Outside linebackers coach Jim Reid scooted to be Virginia's defensive coordinator.
Reports out of South Florida state George Edwards, one of only two assistants Bill Parcells didn't fire after he came aboard, is leaving to become the University of Florida's defensive coordinator.
Edwards coached inside linebackers and came to the Dolphins as a member of Nick Saban's staff. Outside linebackers coach Jim Reid left to become defensive coordinator for the University of Virginia. Reid joined the Dolphins shortly after they hired Tony Sparano as head coach. Reid's history was with defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni at Syracuse.
The Dolphins probably won't have much trouble locating replacements. Parcells owns an impressive Rolodex, especially when it comes to defensive assistants. One possibility is former New York Jets head coach Al Groh, one of the most frequently overlooked branches on the Parcells coaching tree.
Groh was the head coach at Virginia for nine years before getting fired in November.
Perhaps it stands for Did Not Advance.
The Jets have maneuvered into the unlikely position of controlling their own destiny Sunday night against the Cincinnati Bengals at the Meadowlands.
It's essentially a postseason play-in game for the Jets. If they win, then they're in. If they don't, their season is over.
Jets fans are predisposed to heartbreak. The Jets have done little since Joe Namath wagged his index finger as he trotted off the Orange Bowl field after winning Super Bowl III.
In a feature story that ran this week, ESPN.com senior writer Greg Garber ventured to explain the miserable existence Jets fans have endured over the past four decades.
"Realistically, the glass is half full," legendary Jets defensive lineman Joe Klecko said of Sunday night's game. "But I can understand the [fans'] fatalism with all the bad cards they were dealt through this thing."
But I have some encouraging news for Jets fans.
When it comes to do-or-die games, they actually have won more than they've lost.
ESPN Stats & Information researchers Mark Simon and Mark Kelly compiled the list of finales the Jets had to win to get into the playoffs. The Jets have gone 5-3.
Dec. 20, 1981: Jets 28, Packers 3
Not only did the Jets put themselves into the playoffs by routing the Packers in the season's final game (the defense sacked Packers quarterback Lynn Dickey nine times), but they also helped the Giants clinch a playoff berth by eliminating the Packers.
The final game of the season was do or die for a wild-card spot. The Dolphins took the lead late in the fourth quarter on a fourth-down touchdown pass from Dan Marino to Ferrell Edmunds, but the Jets tied the game on a Raul Allegre 44-yard field goal as regulation time expired. The Jets won in sudden death. Allegre, in his first game with the Jets, made a 30-yard field goal.
Jan. 2, 1993: Oilers 24, Jets 0
The Jets were 8-5 but lost their last three games of the season, including an embarrassing defeat against the Oilers in the regular-season finale. A win in this Sunday night game (best known for Buddy Ryan punching Kevin Gilbride) would've put the Jets in the playoffs, but the loss knocked them out. This was Bruce Coslet's last game as Jets head coach.
Dec. 21, 1997: Lions 13, Jets 10
Jets fans remember this game well for a gamble by Bill Parcells, who asked Leon Johnson to throw a halfback option. Johnson's pass was intercepted in the end zone by Bryant Westbrook midway through the fourth quarter. The Lions held on for the win, keeping the Jets from a playoff spot. Barry Sanders cleared 2,000 yards rushing for the season earlier in a victory that clinched a playoff spot for the Lions.
Dec. 24, 2000: Ravens 34, Jets 20
The Jets were 9-4 and needed one victory to make the playoffs, but they lost three straight, including a deplorable loss to the Lions in Week 15. The Jets blew an early 14-0 lead to the eventual Super Bowl champs in the season finale and lost 34-20. Jermaine Lewis, returning after the tragic death of his son, led the way with two punt returns for touchdowns. Chris McAlister returned a Vinny Testaverde interception 98 yards for a score to put the Ravens ahead for good. Al Groh left the Jets after one season.
Jan. 6, 2002: Jets 24, Raiders 22
One week after John Hall missed a kick to cost the Jets a game, he nailed a 53-yard field goal with 59 seconds remaining to win at Oakland and put the Jets into the postseason. A loss would've eliminated them. The Raiders would beat the Jets in the playoffs a week later.
Dec. 29, 2002: Jets 42, Packers 17
The Jets needed some help in the 1 p.m. games and got it when the Patriots rallied late to beat the Dolphins in overtime. That put the Jets in a win-and-in scenario at 4 p.m. The game was a Jets romp. Chad Pennington threw four touchdown passes, and the defense shut down Packers quarterback Brett Favre. The win made the Jets AFC East champs.
Dec. 31, 2006: Jets 23, Raiders 3
To make the playoffs, the Jets had to win at Miami in Week 16, then beat the Raiders in the season finale. The Jets managed both under rookie head coach Eric Mangini. With the loss, the Raiders clinched the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Pennington was 22 for 30 for 157 yards and a touchdown in the win.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
A few reminders for fans getting too lathered up or excessively despondent over how great or awful their teams are two games into the season:
- The Buffalo Bills started out 5-1 last year and didn't make the playoffs.
- The Miami Dolphins opened last season 0-2 and won the AFC East.
- The Sports Illustrated cover curse will claim a victim or two before it's all over.
- The New England Patriots lost their first two games in 2001, including a seven-point loss to the New York Jets in Week 2, but claimed their first Super Bowl title five months later.
- Like Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, Ryan Leaf also started his NFL career 2-0.
- One significant injury can change the course of a season. There are players on each team a fan would dread losing to a torn ACL or a dislocated something-or-other.
- The 1998 Bills started 0-3 but made the playoffs.
- Rex Ryan joined two other rookie head coaches who started their careers by not allowing an offensive touchdown in back-to-back games: Red Miller with the 1977 Denver Broncos (AFC champs) and Kay Stephenson for the 1983 Bills (didn't make the playoffs).
- Four words: performance-enhancing substances policy.
- Pete Carroll won his first two games as Jets coach. He finished 6-10 and didn't return.
- Al Groh won his first four games as a Jets coach. He finished 9-7 and didn't return.
- The Jets have opened 2-0 nine times in franchise history. They've gone on to make the playoffs twice: in 2004 and 1968, when they won the Super Bowl. Their combined record in seasons when they win their first two games is 63-56-2.
- Jerod Mayo will be coming back for the Patriots eventually.
- If Terrell Owens can heat up, the Bills' already-surprising offense can do some damage.
- The San Francisco 49ers are 2-0, just like they were two years ago. They finished 5-11.
- The Bills shut out the Patriots 31-0 in the 2003 opener. SI put the Bills on the cover. They couldn't reach the playoffs, and the Patriots won the Super Bowl.
- The New Orleans Saints are the fifth team in NFL history to post 45 points in each of their first two games. Only two of the others reached the postseason.
- Saints quarterback Drew Brees tied Charley Johnson's 44-year-old record with nine touchdowns through the first two games. Johnson's 1965 St. Louis Cardinals went 5-9.
I provided Rang three needs. He projected the best-available candidates when the Patriots are scheduled to make their initial pick.
The Patriots are looking at cornerbacks and linebackers. I also added running back as a possibility. Keep in mind that when injury-prone starter Laurence Maroney was healthy last summer, they signed free agent LaMont Jordan.
Here is Rang's take:
The Patriots struck gold last year with Jerod Mayo and it would surprise no one if they elected to take advantage of this year's strong crop of outside linebackers. There are numerous players to choose from. USC's Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews Jr. are two that make sense due to their versatility. Cushing is the better player now, but there are some who feel Matthews, a former walk-on, will be a better player than either Cushing or Rey Maualuga in a few years. Former defensive ends Aaron Maybin (Penn State) and Larry English (Northern Illinois) each is athletic enough to play back in space. Bill Belichick's trust of former disciple Al Groh could lead him toward Virginia outside linebacker Clint Sintim. Sintim played outside linebacker in the Cavaliers' 3-4 alignment and, therefore, might be all the more ready to make an immediate impact.
The pickings aren't as great at cornerback as outside linebacker. Many of the top corners lack the size preferred for the position. Illinois' Vontae Davis is a notable exception, but is expected to get a late boost up the board with a strong workout and likely will be off the board. Vanderbilt's D.J. Moore and Wake Forest's Alphonso Smith are each dynamic playmakers, but may be too short for New England's taste.
Considering their willingness to spread the ball around a stable of backs, the Patriots may appear unlikely to take a running back in the first round. However, with underclassmen Chris Wells (Ohio State), Knowshon Moreno (Georgia) and Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy (Pittsburgh) all capable of making an immediate impact, the Patriots would be wise to consider them. At least one will almost surely be available at No. 23.