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Lots of Moving Parts at Georgia Tech, but Al Groh Rumor Is Cause for Optimism

TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 28:  Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas #8 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets rushes upfield against the Clemson Tigers in the 2009 ACC Football Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium on December 5, 2009 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Zachary OstermanCorrespondent IJanuary 8, 2010

(Bye-bye, Bay Bay, and Dave Wommack too. But is Al Groh on his way in?)

Whoa.

That about sums up the last couple of hours down on the Flats. The days after a bowl game, particularly one like the Orange Bowl, often involve a hangover period where everyone steps back to digest what's happened, take stock of NFL prospects, and generally lay low.

Paul Johnson does love breaking the mold, doesn't he?

First, the expected news: Demaryius Thomas, the ACC's leading receiver, is forgoing a final season of eligibility and entering the NFL Draft. Thomas made the announcement at an afternoon press conference, but the goodbye-and-good-luck messages coating his Facebook wall gave away his decision hours beforehand.

Thomas is a good NFL prospect—big, physical, and strong with solid hands and more than enough speed for a receiver his size. He's not going to be a first-rounder, but it would be surprising to see him slip past the mid-fourth round at worst.

Now for something I didn't see coming: Dave Wommack is out as Tech's defensive coordinator. Obviously, the Jackets weren't world-beaters defensively, finishing 54th in the country. But I thought losing 75 percent of his defensive line plus key returnees like Kyle Jackson and Cooper Taylor might be enough cover for Wommack to earn one more season.

I thought wrong.

This sends the right signals from Johnson's program. It's another clear departure from the Chan Gailey way of doing things, when it seemed like no idea was too bad not to give up on.

But it also says that Johnson recognizes the difference between a great year and a great program. The Jackets did some impressive things this season, but having a defense that was rarely anything more than a liability in its best moments clearly held Georgia Tech back. When plays needed to be made, they often weren't, as was the case late in the Orange Bowl. 

It became clear that Wommack, while not being a bad defensive coordinator, also wasn't ever going to put together a unit of difference-makers that could win a game all on their own. If Georgia Tech wants to avoid the "one-year wonder" status that befell Wake Forest and Maryland before it, the Jackets need to take their newfound clout and find a coach that will create a defense that only opposing coaches—not those on your own staff—will worry about.

And just who might that coordinator be? Glad you asked.

Early reports indicate Al Groh, the former Virginia and New York Jets coach, is a leading candidate. For his part, Johnson denied such contact. (See the above-linked report.)

Who knows? Maybe Groh isn't a candidate. But the fact that a name with that much weight behind it—Groh has been a head coach at both the college and professional levels, and his defenses at Virginia were often better than their talent—is already linked to the position is a sign the Jackets are aiming high and expecting to hire accordingly.

There is a lot worth celebrating about Georgia Tech's 2009 football season, and there will be plenty of times and places for such celebration. But in college football, success can only be replicated if it is built upon.

The Jackets got a taste of success this season, and now they're moving forward accordingly.

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