Having led the Virginia football program to a 37-26 record, including four bowl appearances, since he arrived on Grounds in 2001, the 2006 season will mark Al Groh's sixth year as the head coach at his alma mater.
When Groh was named the Cavaliers' head coach in 2001, he was part of 24 Division I coaching changes that season. Based upon the number of wins he has compiled, and in particular the program's success in post season bowl games, Groh and his respective assistant coaches have done a tremendous job elevating the UVa program.
Since a 5-7 mark during his first season, Groh has led Virginia to four consecutive winning seasons, all resulting in a bowl invitation. During that span his teams have come away victorious in three of their four bowl appearances, including last year's dramatic 34-31 win against Minnesota in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl.
When he was named the program's head coach on Dec. 30, 2000, Groh traded in a high-profile NFL head coaching job with the New York Jets for an opportunity to return to his alma mater, He succeeded George Welsh, who retired after 19 seasons at the helm of the Cavaliers, as the winningest coach in ACC and school history.
In addition to his 37-26 record, Groh's teams are 21-19 against ACC competition. His conference win total is the second-most in school history behind Welsh (85).
Groh's overall record in 11 seasons as a collegiate head coach, including six seasons at Wake Forest (1981-1986), is 63-66. In addition, he compiled a 9-7 record in his one season as head coach of the New York Jets.
To say that Groh and his exciting brand of pro-style football have already made a significant impact on the UVa program would be an understatement. Virginia concluded the 2005 regular season at 6-5, including upsets of No. 4 Florida State and No. 24 Georgia Tech.
Last season also marked just the second time in the program's history UVa has received a bowl invitation four consecutive seasons. A total of five Cavaliers earned All-ACC recognition, bolstered by first-team honorees OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, ILB Kai Parham, and PK Connor Hughes. Ferguson also earned first-team All-America honors by the Associated Press.
Virginia concluded the 2004 season at 8-4 (5-3 ACC) and made its third consecutive bowl appearance. The Cavaliers led the ACC in rushing offense, total offense, first downs, and third-down conversions and set a school record with 34. Groh was honored by his peers as the 2004 AFCA Regional Coach of the Year.
The Cavaliers were nationally ranked all season and finished 23rd in the final Associated Press poll. Virginia finished 8-5 (4-4 ACC) in 2003 and celebrated a return trip to the Continental Tire Bowl with a 23-16 win over Pittsburgh. With the victory, Virginia claimed consecutive bowl championships for just the second time in school history.
With his 2003 team at a crossroads (5-5) in mid-November, Groh brought an orange and blue Virginia flag to practice and used it to help convey a simple but powerful message.
"Every organization that accomplishes something, somebody's got to `carry the flag,' and it's got to be more than one person," Groh told his players. "Whether it be the toughness flag, the heart flag or the leadership flag, somebody's got to carry it."
The team responded by finishing the regular season with back-to-back must wins over Georgia Tech (29-17) and #21 Virginia Tech (35-21), and posting UVa's second consecutive bowl victory. Groh's flag, in turn, came to symbolize the team's unity and renewed commitment to turning the season around. It was carried onto the field by a player for the start of each game and held by players on the sidelines.
During his second season at the helm in 2002, Groh masterfully led the Cavaliers to a 9-5 overall record (6-2 ACC, tied for second), including a 48-22 triumph over #15 West Virginia in the Continental Tire Bowl. With the bowl victory, Virginia clinched its first season of nine-or-more wins since 1998 and the sixth in school history. UVa was ranked 22nd in the final Associated Press poll, the team's highest final ranking since 1998. Virginia was picked to finish eighth in the conference in the 2002 preseason.
Named the 2002 ACC Coach of Year, Groh became only the second coach in UVa history to lead the Cavaliers to a bowl game. Virginia made all 12 of its previous appearances under Welsh.
The coaching job Groh and his staff did in 2002 is even more impressive when considering the Cavaliers played one of the toughest schedules in the nation and were one of the nation's youngest teams.
Virginia's 2002 schedule was listed as the 11th toughest in the nation by Jeff Sagarin for USA Today. The Cavaliers played seven games against ranked opponents and faced 10 teams that earned bowl bids that season, a number topped by only three other schools.
At the same time, approximately two-thirds of Virginia's 2002 roster were comprised of sophomores and either true or red-shirt freshmen. A total of 14 true freshmen and eight red-shirt freshmen saw action for the 2002 Cavaliers, with as many as 10 freshmen starting at times during the season.
In addition to its bowl victory over West Virginia, Virginia claimed three other wins over ranked opponents in 2002. Among them were back-to-back victories over #22 N.C. State (14-9) and #18 Maryland (48-13) in November. The Cavaliers also defeated #22 South Carolina 34-21 earlier in the season.
UVa finished 5-7 (3-5 ACC) during its first season under Groh in 2001. Groh tied George Blackburn, who went 5-5 in his debut season at Virginia in 1965, for the most wins by a first-year coach in school history.
Among the Cavaliers' most notable victories in 2001 were a 26-24 upset of 19th-ranked Clemson in "Death Valley" and home wins over #20 Georgia Tech (39-38) and Penn State (20-14). Virginia faced a total of six ranked opponents in 2001.
Following his first season at Virginia, Groh was chosen defensive head coach of the Gray team in the 64th Annual Blue-Gray All-Star Football Classic, held December 25, 2001, in Montgomery, Ala.
During Groh's head coaching tenure at Virginia, UVa has produced 38 All-ACC selections. Five Cavaliers received All-ACC distinction in 2005, including first-team honorees- OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, ILB Kai Parham, and PK Connor Hughes.
Eight Cavaliers earned All-ACC distinction in 2004, including five first-team honorees- LB Ahmad Brooks, G Elton Brown, LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, TE Heath Miller, and TB Alvin Pearman- the most of any school. In addition, guard Elton Brown received the Jacobs Blocking Trophy for the second consecutive year as the most outstanding blocker in the conference.
Eight Cavaliers earned All-ACC distinction in 2003, including Heath Miller at tight end. In addition, Brown received the Jacobs Blocking Trophy and senior offensive lineman Kevin Bailey received the Brian Piccolo Award, presented annually to "the most courageous" football player in the ACC.
Ten players earned all-conference honors in 2002. Among them was quarterback Matt Schaub, the 2002 ACC Player of the Year. Schaub joined wide receiver Billy McMullen and linebacker Angelo Crowell as one of UVa's three first-team All-ACC selections that season. Three more Cavaliers were named to the second team, while four players received honorable mention distinction.
Seven Cavaliers earned All-ACC recognition in 2001, including first-team selection McMullen. McMullen was also named a third-team All-American by Football News.
Following his senior season in 2003, Schaub was selected in the third round of the NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons. Since Groh's arrival at Virginia four years ago, 13 Cavaliers have been selected in the NFL draft, while 19 others have signed pro contracts as free agents.
Groh returned to UVa with over 30 years of previous professional and collegiate coaching experience, including 13 seasons in the NFL. He is a long-time protegé of Bill Parcells, having worked for him a total of 13 years in college and the pros.
He was named head coach of the New York Jets before the start of the 2000 season and led that franchise to a 9-7 record in his one year at the helm. During the season, the Jets staged the "Monday Night Miracle" by overcoming a 30-7 fourth-quarter deficit to beat Miami 40-37 in overtime. Groh previously coached in two Super Bowls as an assistant under Parcells, winning an NFL championship ring with the 1990 New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV and later going to Super Bowl XXXI with the 1996 New England Patriots.
Before making a name for himself in the NFL, Groh was the head football coach at Wake Forest from 1981-86. He compiled a six-year record of 26-40, establishing himself as the second-winningest coach in school history at the time.
Groh was officially introduced at a press conference on Jan. 5, 2001. Addressing an overflow crowd of media, family, friends, and his former players and teammates, Groh said UVa's vacant coaching position was the only job that could have lured him away from the Jets.
"I was fortunate enough to be the coach of the Jets last year," he said. "I enjoyed it tremendously and was challenged by it greatly. It was only for this particular opportunity that I would have ever left."
In addition to serving one season as the Jets' head coach, Groh coached the linebackers for the Jets under Parcells for three seasons, from 1997-99. During his NFL tenure, Groh coached nine linebackers who participated in the Pro Bowl, including NFL Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor (Giants), Carl Banks (Giants), Pepper Johnson (Giants), Mo Lewis (Jets), Bryan Cox (Jets), Clay Matthews (Browns), Chris Slade (Patriots), Willie McGinest (Patriots) and André Tippett (Patriots).
Groh moved with Parcells when Parcells resigned as head coach of the New England Patriots to take over as the Jets' head coach in 1997. During Groh's tenure at New England, where he served as defensive coordinator, the Patriots' defense improved yearly in nearly every category and ranked among the league's best in takeaways, yards allowed and points allowed. The Patriots finished with an 11-5 record in 1996, winning the AFC championship and playing the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI. Slade, a former All-America linebacker at Virginia, was among the many defensive standouts whom Groh coached at New England.
"I owe a lot to that guy," said Slade, a 1998 NFL Pro Bowl selection. "He gave me my shot in '93 when I first got into the league. I learned so much, not only on the field but also off the field, from him."
Groh coached under Parcells for the first time in the NFL when he joined the New York Giants' staff in 1989. He coached the linebackers in 1989-90 and was defensive coordinator in 1991. The Giants won Super Bowl XXV following the 1990 season, bolstered by a defense that allowed an NFL-low 13.3 points per game.
Groh's other NFL coaching stops include one season as linebackers coach on Bill Belichick's staff with the Cleveland Browns (in 1992) and one season with the Atlanta Falcons (in 1987) as special teams and tight ends coach for Marion Campbell.
He began his coaching career as an assistant football coach at Charlottesville's Albemarle High School in 1967. The following year, he moved to Tom Cahill's staff at Army where he was the defensive coach for the plebe squad and worked with Parcells for the first time time in his career. Groh returned to UVa in 1970 to serve as the head coach of the freshman team and as the defensive line coach through the 1972 season. Groh's 1970 freshman team included the first African-American scholarship players in school history--Harrison Davis, Stanley Land, Kent Merritt and John Rainey.
From 1973-77, Groh served as an assistant at North Carolina where he coached Lawrence Taylor, whom he later coached with the Giants. He joined Parcells at Air Force in 1978 as defensive coordinator before moving to Texas Tech in 1980 and becoming head coach at Wake Forest in 1981.
While at Wake Forest, Groh guided the program to only its second winning season in 13 years with a 6-5 record in 1984. During his tenure, the school produced one first-team All-American, 12 first-team All-ACC selections, 15 All-ACC Academic selections, one ACC Rookie of the Year and one Jacobs Blocking Trophy recipient. Groh also helped develop 14 players who would later go on to play in the NFL, the most concentrated group of pro players produced in Demon Deacon history to that point.
In between his NFL coaching jobs with the Falcons and Giants, Groh served as offensive coordinator at South Carolina in 1988.
Vowing to build on UVa's remarkable tradition of success under Welsh, Groh hopes to take the Virginia football program to an even higher level of national prominence during his watch. "We'd like to play in the last game of the college season [for the national championship]," he said. "When we do, we want to have former players down on the sidelines encouraging the team, just as we see with some of the teams now that are on the top rung of college football.
"I've had experience playing in the last game of the season. I've been fortunate enough to have been with two organizations that have been in the Super Bowl. I have a pretty good idea of what type of team you have to create to play on that highest level; that's our ambition and we'll work until we get there."
In order for his vision to become reality, Groh said he must intensify UVa's efforts to recruit and develop the best high school players from around the country, with a strong focus on the state of Virginia.
"We want to have an important team," said Groh, "so it is very important to get really good players. We are going to be very aggressive and very active in accumulating and upgrading talent."
Toward that end, Groh and company landed UVa's fourth prized recruiting class in 2005. Virginia's first recruiting class of the Al Groh era was ranked in the top 10 nationally by most major recruiting services in 2002.
Groh's return to Charlottesville was preceded by his reputation as a motivator and tireless teacher of the game. "I think teaching is what I do best," he said. "I've always taken a lot of pride in my ability to communicate with players and to tell them in an honest and straightforward manner what they need to do to get better."
A legendary example of Groh's ability to motivate and inspire his players occurred during the 1994 season at New England, where the Patriots had gotten off to a 3-6 start. Groh decided he would grab an old shovel from his garage and bring it to work the next day. He is known to have told the players, "See this shovel, men? This is how we're going to get out of this thing. Everyone take a shovel, and you dig one shovelful at a time." The Patriots didn't lose another game that regular season, reaching the playoffs for the first time under Parcells. Groh brought his shovel to every game, keeping it on the sidelines as a reminder of what it took to overcome adversity.
As he has done throughout his coaching career, Groh takes a hands-on-approach to directing the UVa football program.
"I am the head coach of the team," he said. "As a result, I intend to be involved in every facet of the operation: offense, defense, special teams, off-season program, academic advisement and recruiting.
"I'm going to coach the team, day-to-day, the way I think it needs to be coached."
A 1967 graduate of UVa's McIntire School of Commerce, Groh was a member of the varsity football team from 1963-65, playing under Bill Elias and George Blackburn. He lettered at defensive end in 1965. He also lettered as a defenseman on the Cavalier lacrosse team.
Groh was born in New York City and grew up on Long Island. He attended Chaminade High School in Mineola, N.Y., where he was a standout athlete and earned All-Metropolitan honors in football.
Groh's ties to the University and Charlottesville extend well beyond his days as a former Cavalier player and assistant coach. His oldest son Mike--in his fifth year as an assistant coach at UVa--was the starting quarterback at Virginia in 1994 and 1995. Many of Groh's family live in the Charlottesville area, and his father is buried here.
Groh and his wife, Anne, are the parents of two sons, Mike and Matthew, and a daughter, Ashley Anne. Matthew played quarterback at Princeton and is currently attending law school at Virginia.
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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