Al Groh is leaving the New York Jets after one disappointing season to return to his alma mater and succeed George Welsh as the coach at Virginia.
Groh, who took over from Bill Parcells, announced his sudden resignation six days after the Jets were eliminated from the playoff race.
“I realize there will be some criticism of this, but only I know my heart,” Groh said Saturday in a statement released by the Jets. “Too, this provides the type of long-term security and stability not commonly found in the NFL nowadays.”
Welsh retired at Virginia on Dec. 11 because of health reasons. The Cavaliers lost to Georgia 37-14 on Dec. 24 in the Oahu Bowl, the last game for the 67-year-old coach.
Reported $5 Million Deal
Groh’s deal is believed to be worth $5 million over seven years, The Boston Globe reported on its Web site.
The Jets said they would defer all comments about their next coach until Tuesday. There was no comment from Parcells in the team statement.
The Jets began the season with four straight victories but finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. The Jets lost their last three games, needing to win just once to make the postseason.
Virginia athletic director Terry Holland had said the school would not announce a new coach until after Jan. 1. A university spokesman said the school would have an announcement later in the day.
The Jets completed their season with a 34-20 defeat at Baltimore. Quarterback Vinny Testaverde threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles in that game.
But two days after the final loss, Groh announced that Testaverde, the hero of the 1998 run to the AFC title game under Parcells, would go into summer training camp as the starter.
Jets Struggle For Stability
Groh’s departure guarantees further instability for a franchise that has had little success since winning its only Super Bowl in probably the biggest upset in NFL history.
Groh became the 12th head coach of the Jets last Jan. 24, following the retirement of Parcells and the sudden resignation of his designated replacement, Bill Belichick.
Belichick held the job for just one day, then sued to gain his release from the Jets. He eventually signed to join the England Patriots, and the Jets were without a coach for about three weeks before promoting Groh, the team’s linebackers coach.
Groh was a head coach in the NFL for only one season after 12 years as an assistant for the Jets, Giants, New England and Cleveland.
Before that, Groh’s only head coaching experience was at Wake Forest, where he was 36-40 from 1981-86. He was an assistant at Virginia from 1970-72 after graduating in 1967 following a four-year playing career at defensive end with the Cavaliers.
Strong Ties to Home
Groh’s ties to Virginia weighed heavily on his decision to leave the Jets.
“The University of Virginia is my school. I wore that jersey and it means a great deal to me,” he said. “My mom lives there and my dad is buried there.”
Groh’s son, Mike, also attended Virginia and was the quarterback on the Cavaliers team that stunned then-No. 2 Florida State 33-28 in 1995, becoming the first Atlantic Coast Conference team to beat the Seminoles.
Mike Groh also was a member of his father’s staff with the Jets.
Since Welsh announced his retirement after 19 seasons, Holland revealed little about the search for a new coach. He said this week he was planning to bring several of the candidates to Charlottesville for additional interviews.
Mark Richt reportedly was offered the job before he decided instead to replace the fired Jim Donnan at Georgia. Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky twice visited the campus for interviews.
At Virginia, Groh will inherit a team that failed to win at least seven games for the first time in 14 seasons, and one that has taken a decided back seat to the state’s other Division I-A team, Virginia Tech.
That divide had become an increasing burden for Welsh, who frequently was criticized for running a conservative offense.