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Sports

NFL / Groh Is Defiant With No Regrets

Charlottesville, Va.

IT IS FIVE DAYS after his stunning decision to resign as the Jets' coach,

and Al Groh is walking onto the field at the University of Virginia's Scott

Stadium.

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

former players.

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

Baltimore.

"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

long time."

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."

New York Sports