IT IS FIVE DAYS after his stunning decision to resign as the Jets' coach,
It is here, in the foothills of the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, that
the 57-year-old Groh plans to coach for the remainder of his career; the
setting makes it feel like a million miles away from the turmoil he left
behind. It probably will feel even farther when Groh is introduced today at a
news conference as Virginia's coach.
But the Jets are not far from Groh's thoughts as he peers up at the empty
stands and talks about the effects of his departure. He speaks proudly of the
team he left behind, yet offered no regrets about his decision. But there is a
defiant tone when asked about the criticism leveled at him by some of his
Center Kevin Mawae was particularly strident about Groh's coaching
techniques, saying that the players had requested that he back off on physical
practices and complaining that the Jets were burned out by the end of the
season. Groh, who said he was unaware of Mawae's comments until yesterday,
momentarily smiled when they were relayed to him.
"[Mawae] was always one of the guys who didn't want to work," said Groh,
who signed a seven-year guaranteed contract worth more than $5 million with
Virginia, his alma mater. "He was one of those guys where he didn't have to say
it, but he was one of the players who didn't want to work. He always worked
hard, but I knew that he was one of the players who wished that it was the
other way around."
Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde also was critical of Groh's practice
regimen, saying the team ran out of gas by the end of the season. Groh did not
immediately comment on Testaverde's contention, but he offered a revealing
gesture when it was suggested that there were times during the season when
Testaverde intimated that others were often to blame for his poor performance,
which included 25 interceptions, with four turnovers in a season-ending loss to
"What did you just say?" Groh asked. "That he didn't want to take the blame
himself for what went wrong." Groh simply turned his head, put his lips
together and looked up at the sky.
"Look," he said a few seconds later. "I don't want to get into a
point-counterpoint in the press. But one of the things you have to do to be the
coach is you can't care what people say about you. If there's a situation
where you know you shouldn't punt the ball, but everyone else is saying you
should punt the ball, you can't be bothered by the fact that everyone is
telling you to punt.
"So it doesn't bother me when they say that stuff about practices," he
said. "I thought we needed a physically and mentally tough team that proved
that it would endure through very challenging circumstances. I'm not talking
about being a jackass about killing players [in practice]. But you don't become
a tough-minded, physically tough team by just fooling around."
Groh said he found it interesting that several New Orleans Saints players
cited rookie coach Jim Haslett's discipline as one of the biggest reasons for
their NFC West title and last week's playoff victory over the defending Super
Bowl champion St. Louis Rams.
"I read where the New Orleans players say this guy [Haslett] killed us
[during practice] and that's what we needed," Groh said. "When we left New
England [after the 1997 season], the knock on the Patriots was that they [Pete
Carroll's coaching staff] didn't work them as hard. It's always going to be the
opposite, and that's just the way it is. That's why the sign on my desk says,
'Just coach the team.'
"Look, I have a pretty good affection for this [Jets] team," he said. "They
played their [butts] off for me, and I coached my [butt] off for them. It's a
two-way street, but they reciprocated. I'm proud to have been the head coach of
that team, and I feel a strong bond to that team."
Groh also feels a strong bond to Jets director of football operations Bill
Parcells, despite his decision to leave so abruptly. The two men spoke for more
than half an hour on New Year's Day, when Groh went to the Jets' training
complex for the final time. Until that conversation, Groh was uncertain about
the status of his 30-year friendship with Parcells.
"You know, he was the head coach at Air Force for one year [in 1978] and
then left to go to the Giants," said Groh, who was on Parcells' staff at Air
Force. "I was the one to drive him to the airport for his flight to New York.
He said, 'Hey, we've done this before.' Bill has been a special friend for a
Any second thoughts about his decision?
"I can't look back," he said. "I knew that whatever decision I made, this
is it. I can't say after two years that I shouldn't have gone if things don't
go the way I had planned here. And I can't say that I should have stayed [with
the Jets] if they're in the Super Bowl. I knew I had to establish in my mind
that there is no looking back."