Jan. 5, 2001
By HANK KURZ Jr.
AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - The University of Virginia is "a place you belong to forever," Al Groh said Friday, and its football coaching job is the only one that could have pried him from the New York Jets.
Groh, who left the Jets last Saturday after one year as coach, was formally introduced Friday as George Welsh's replacement, and the man expected to lift the Cavaliers into national championship contention. Virginia was 6-6 this season, the first time in 14 years it failed to win seven games.
"I feel very humbled," Groh said at a news conference.
Groh was a defensive end at Virginia in 1965, two decades before Welsh elevated the program to national prominence. He said taking the job was more of a surprise to him than to others.
"While I did not take the counsel of very many people on this, those few that I did all were of the conclusion that this was a great situation for me to come to long before I came to that conclusion," he said.
"This was not something that I anticipated would happen," he added, crediting the determined efforts of athletic director Terry Holland and university president John Casteen III with "reeling me in."
Holland, Casteen and two other members of the administration met with Groh for two hours last Friday at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, N.Y. Groh was offered the job and accepted the following day.
The decision has been widely criticized in New York, where the Jets finished 9-7 after a 6-1 start and lost their last three games when a victory in any one would have clinched a playoff berth.
In the end, Groh's attachment to the school where his son, Mike, was a star quarterback, the fact that much of his family lives here and the opportunity to build Virginia into an elite program brought him home.
"It was a very difficult decision," he said.
"I was fortunate enough to be the coach of the Jets last year. I enjoyed it tremendously, was challenged by it greatly. It was only for this particular opportunity that I would have ever left."
Groh will be involved in all aspects of the team and accountable for all aspects of the team's performance.
"When the team doesn't do well, you know who to blame," he said.
Groh said his philosophy will be the same he's used throughout his coaching career, which included five years at Wake Forest from 1981-86.
"You have to run with authority and power because that brings an element of toughness to your team," he said. He'll also seek a quarterback capable of spreading the field to allow for a wide-open passing attack.
Groh didn't see Virginia play this season. He has spoken to Welsh, however, and plans to meet with him again.
Groh's introduction was greeted with a rousing round of applause from a large gathering of former players, teammates and administrators.
Among them was Chris Slade, a Virginia graduate who played under Groh with the New England Patriots from 1993-96.
"I owe a lot to that guy. That's why I'm here today," Slade said. "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 with him."
Groh was moved by the large turnout and warm welcome.
"There's been a lot of elation and excitement about coming back to Charlottesville," he said, "but no chills up the spine until I saw so many of my family, teammates, former players and alumni stand up back there.
"That's the first chill of many, I hope."
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