Al Groh | Weekly Press Conference
COACH GROH: Both, but more than that, more than curious or surprised, mostly gratified that they express their experience the way that they do.
QUESTION: Given the amount of respect that you have for Vic Hall and all of these seniors, I guess what would it mean for the team and what would it mean for you personally to see them be successful on Saturday?
COACH GROH: Those are some – they’re not the only ones, but those players that you cited are some of the players that have certainly put everything they’ve got into this for four or five years. So we always want – that’s one of the really nice things when you’re successful in a game, that you see the pleasure on the part of the players and reinforcement that they get from everything they put into it. That would be a great thing to be able to experience together.
QUESTION: You have only one win against Virginia Tech as the head coach, what is that makes it so tough to beat them?
COACH GROH: Good team, close games.
QUESTION: I know you prepare for every game the same way and coach the same way, but this particular game, does the coaching staff get a little extra blood flowing when you get ready for it?
COACH GROH: You know, without any doubt. Just like a number of our coaches said before last Saturday’s game, just in speaking with them at the pregame meal or on the bus to the stadium, they were like – “I love games like this. I love going against the best players and going against the best teams in games that really count for something in this type of environment.” I think we certainly feel that. The better the opponent, the bigger the game, the more juice. And then when you add a natural rivalry to that, that certainly makes it one of the most exciting games of the year.
QUESTION: How do you defend a mobile quarterback like Taylor?
COACH GROH: It’s like playing against 12 players. Tyrod, at least in conference games, is first in the conference in passing efficiency, so he’s obviously doing the principal thing that quarterbacks have to do is to pass the ball very well. And their yards-per-catch is extraordinary this year as a result of his passing.
But the threat that he poses as a runner or just as a passer out of the pocket, sometimes it’s more challenging when he’s just out of the pocket, and it doesn’t show up in passing statistics. But that’s what distorts the structure of coverages, when the quarterback is out and moving. They clearly had anticipated using his skills showing up that way, so you can see where the receivers are well schooled in terms of how to adjust their routes. It’s pretty evident that there’s been a good deal of attention spent on doing the scramble drill with the receivers to adjust to the quarterback, and tricky on their part because sometimes they’ve got to adjust two or three times because it’s not just in one direction that he leaves the pocket. He ends up going in the other direction pretty quickly sometimes.
So it’s very challenging for your rush guys, yes.
QUESTION: What is the in-state recruiting battle like between Tech and UVa.?
COACH GROH: I think that’s probably pretty accurate. I wouldn’t say – I don’t know if most would be a good word, but certainly a large percentage of players have their favorite team growing up along the way, and particularly we run into a lot of circumstances where players got either a parent or a close relative that was a graduate of one school or the other.
QUESTION: One of the ESPN shows Saturday morning said the surprise of the year was Virginia Tech’s running back coming out of nowhere and doing what he did. How impressive is he?
COACH GROH: No surprise at all. Only to anybody who never saw him play before. He was one of the most sought?after running backs in the country as a high school senior. I think he’s probably playing pretty much the way that everybody who was involved in his recruiting thought he was going to.
QUESTION: What about Jared Boykin? He’s become kind of a shortstop hasn’t he?
COACH GROH: Well, if he’s a shortstop, then he must be Derek Jeter, because he hits a lot of home runs. He’s got size, he’s got speed, he’s obviously got a real good sense of timing for the ball, makes a lot of plays, whether he has to adjust to the ball or jump on the run. He’s got a tremendous yards-per-catch number, one of the tops in the country.
QUESTION: After your fairly lengthy tenure here, do you see the results of this game either on a yearly basis or over time have an impact on recruiting?
COACH GROH: I think to say it doesn’t have impact would be – being oblivious to just all events that are going on. How much, you know, we ask players sometimes that, and I think first and foremost in the recruitment of players is the relationship that’s developed with a player over time. I think that’s what most players are principally interested in, but then there are certainly other factors. Sometimes there are factors that have impact on what the result is that gets the player’s attention as much as the result itself, if that makes sense.
For example, I read a statement on the airplane. I was trying to while away some time on Saturday coming back. I read a statement by one of the true freshmen players on the Clemson team about what the impact of the overall setup there had to do with his recruitment. That circumstance brought those type of players there that creates that type of team that brings about that type of result. Did you see that? I think he was probably right on.
QUESTION: (Question regarding injured players.) In basketball they try to start all the senior players. Do you kind of go into Saturday’s game hoping and looking for an opportunity to – I’m sure those guys that have practiced their butts off but just have never been quite good enough to get on the field? Do you look for opportunities to get some of those guys in the game?
COACH GROH: That would be a really nice thing if it could happen, but all the decisions that we make going into the game and all the decisions that we make at the game, every week, so this game is just like all that preceded, all those decisions are based on what gives our team the best chance to win.
QUESTION: With a guy like Nate over time, how do you see his intensity or focus increase?
COACH GROH: Significantly, here particularly during the course of this season, which is, we think, staff?wise, everybody feels that that is certainly a factor in the qualitative jump in his performance. He’s made himself now one of the more difficult players to block in the league, and I think probably there are a lot more people throughout the conference, whether it’s people such as yourselves who watch the game from the press box and see who makes the tackles or coaches and players who have to deal with him, either strategizing or blocking him, I think he’s probably a lot more known now than he was during the previous three seasons.
A lot of it has to do with just, as you say, his focus, not just focus on his technique, on his preparation in the big picture.
QUESTION: How did not playing last season affect Jameel’s outlook coming into the season?
COACH GROH: Well, he was very excited to be back and be a part of it. If a football player is removed from it for a significant period of time, you see the same thing with players who get hurt early in the season and miss the entire season, but I think there’s a certain feeling that goes with a certain reality, certain brotherhood, that goes with being part of a football team. What we’ve observed over the years is as much as the games themselves, that’s what’s really important to players. And when removed from that circumstance, you know, it’s not that many years, and obviously most kids who are playing college football, they’ve been on a team a good part of their life.
But in terms of their overall longevity, there’s not that many years that they get to spend on a team. There are very few people who really get to experience what it’s like to be part of a football team. And to be a part of it is a pretty special thing. So for somebody who was in Jameel’s circumstances when he was without that for a while, almost invariably either through sir or that type of circumstance, that’s what players really relate, that they’re just really glad to be back in the locker room and back with their teammates.
And then the second thing is all the things that go with it, the preparation, the competition. It’s not just a game thing, it’s an everyday thing really during the course of the year.
QUESTION: How much does emotion play for you and your staff during such a game as this rivalry matchup with Virginia Tech?
COACH GROH: You know, I really kind of keep saying the same thing, but at least for me it’s just the way that it is. For one to be that much greater than any of the others would say that we hadn’t paid proper respect to all those that preceded it. Every game, what it takes to win a game, deserves and requires the same level of respect for your opponent, the same level of preparation, the same level of emotional involvement, the same level of focus at the game. They all require the same thing.
So when you say one becomes that much bigger than the other, then you’re saying really there was more to give to the ones that preceded it, and I think that wouldn’t be a very positive thing to have to say or to admit to.
QUESTION: You probably saw Jameel was in third place on UVa’s all?time pass list. What does that say to you?
COACH GROH: I did not see that, so I just learned something through you. They say you can always learn something new. Well, it says how important his production has been to our team over the years that he’s been our quarterback.
QUESTION: If Jameel played a full four years, do you say wow?
COACH GROH: Well, I’m stopping and thinking about it now since you raised the point. I hadn’t thought about it before. But yeah, clearly. Clearly those not only would have been yards that would have went on Jameel’s records, but those would have been yards that would have moved the ball up and down the field for our team.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit your team’s leadership and how you view it this year?
COACH GROH: You know, it’s been a different group in that respect than some of their predecessors in that almost – in previous years, almost when we closed the locker room door on that season, when it concluded, it was evident to everybody what the leadership structure on the returning team would be, whether it was guys – whether it was going to be Matt Schaub or Alvin Pearman or John Phillips or Tom Santi or Chris Long, just all those guys who are really in those circumstances. Even beyond the ones that were designated by their teammates as out?front leaders by vote, by captain.
But this year’s team was not that way. And as we’ve discussed on other occasions, in the past we’ve voted for captains on the day preceding the spring game, and it was hardly ever any surprise the way that turned out. It was just kind of the official stamp of approval on what everybody could see was actually the case.
This particular year we didn’t do it until the start of training camp because it wasn’t clearcut other than Vic Hall who was a returning captain. It wasn’t clearcut who those fellows would be. It took throughout the course of winter program, spring practice, summer program, not only for those players to emerge, but they emerged because certain guys really decided, hey, I want to be one of those guys, and maybe certain guys decided that’s not my deal. And it took a while for the players to see who that was going to be, too. So we did a number of things to try to create some circumstances where guys could really do that.
In the offseason program, the competitive teams that we had, we had, for example, different – we invited everybody in every class to write a letter of application to be the leader of one of those offseason competitive teams, just to find out who, in fact, was interested. It might be somebody – rather than we’re saying, okay, you’re going to be in charge of that team or we’re going to be in charge of that team, maybe we’ll designate – since this was kind of a tryout, maybe we’ll be designating somebody who really didn’t want to rise to that level or maybe we’ll be overlooking somebody who really had it in them, maybe a player who was just waiting for kind of the deck to be cleared of some of the more elder leaders so he would have the opportunity.
That started the process. You could see some guys really grabbed onto that opportunity to do that.
For example, since we’ve been talking about Nate, Nate certainly is one who had become that – when he was a sophomore, Chris Long at his position was one of the team captains and very much a standard setter. So really nobody at that position was going to assert himself too much. Then last year right alongside of him was Clint Sintim. Clint was much the same way. It was clear that he was the voice of certainly the front seven and principally of the defense. So nobody else, even if they had that feeling about being a leader, was really going to be assertive in those circumstances.
Certain guys when they saw that, one, saw the opportunity because they wanted to do that, and then certain guys also saw the void and were willing to jump in and doing that. We’ve seen that develop throughout the course of the year, so it was a very different circumstance from what we had had in all the preceding seasons. You’ve spoken with some of them, or are going to today, and I think you can see how some of them very definitely took the reins. But it took a little while for it to develop, even into the season, for them to really see where their presence could make a difference in what they could do.
QUESTION: Being the last game of the season, can you talk about your job security?
COACH GROH: No, it’s really not about me. It’s about the team and it’s about the players. You know, that’s all I’m really thinking about, so I don’t really have any thoughts on it.
QUESTION: Is it as simple as execution that determines a winning and losing season?
COACH GROH: Well, it certainly can be the case. If he scores it all 38 to 7, if you’re going to have one of those type – for some of the teams that we see in that top three or four that their scores are that way every week, it’s probably not that case. But there’s so many components that go into winning, but certainly the key one that you start with is talent, and the more top-end talent is that is play making talent, guys who can just make the play, that makes the difference. Maybe a guy has got one more step and he can go get the ball that otherwise would be over thrown. So now that ball is completed and that team wins.
Players or coaches, really nobody did any different job if the ball had been over thrown, it’s just one guy can go get the ball, and that changes everything. So when that happens on a composite with many different circumstances, that continues to add up to the little edge that you’re looking for.
QUESTION: To take you back to your recruiting days when you first met these guys, do you think back to what they were like?
COACH GROH: These guys is a general question, but I think if I were to sit here and look at the list for each of the players for whom this will be their last game, I could probably pretty accurately – I’d get agreement from them, that my recollection of our first encounter would be pretty accurate as to when and what it all entailed.
QUESTION: You fooled Tech last year by playing Vic Hall at QB, you trying any type of trickery? Talk about Vic a bit.
COACH GROH: Well, we don’t mind relating actually a little bit before the game that we’ve made a trade with the Minnesota Vikings (laughter), and Brett Favre will be here, and Vic has agreed to give up his No. 4 for Brett Favre. (Laughter.)
We can’t pull Vic out of our hat this year, so we had to go a little bit higher level for that.
Really special person, really special player. I always feel very inadequate in trying to properly profile Vic for people who don’t know him. You just have to be around him on a daily basis to know his goodness and his values and everything that he’s about. That’s why I would extend it beyond saying he’s a special player. He’s a very special person. He’s one of those kind of players that – one of those kind of associations that make this a very fortunate profession to be able to be in. I just think about how many people my age get a chance to have this type of relationship with people of that age, whether it’s Vic Hall or Chris Long or Tom Santi or Branden Albert or Matt Schaub or any of those people. I’m always reluctant to cite names because that leaves out a lot of guys who say, that I say “hey, I thought I was in that group.” But they are. That’s a special part of it, and I’m sure that most coaches would speak of it that way.
QUESTION: Outside the Alabama game, how did Tech lose? It’s pretty rare for you to play them with three losses.
COACH GROH: Well, in very much the same circumstances that we just talked about, a play here and a play there, and sometimes two of those, three of those plays can add up to 10, 12 points or three points, and that’s the difference.
QUESTION: How good are they?
COACH GROH: They’re a real good team, real good team. As we spoke last night, those who were listening, I thought it was very eyecatching that there’s 14 or 15 categories of ACC statistics that Virginia Tech and Clemson are virtually piggybacked. Sometimes it’s up on top. Sometimes one is one and the other one is two. Sometimes it’s lower down, one is seven and one is eight in a particular category. But there’s 14 or 15 categories where they’re on exactly the same level.
So we see them as being a very, very comparable team to the team we just played, and of course that team is the division champion. It’s actually another one of our – I guess it would be another one of our stops on our trip to the top 25. I think this will make something like six or seven teams that we’ve played in the top 25.
QUESTION: Obviously Vic is not a novelty act, but for a fleeting moment, is that kind of neat that he was able to throw a touchdown pass to add to his collection of touchdowns?
COACH GROH: Yeah, it was. I thought about that after the game. He’s got them just about every way now.
QUESTION: Yeah, that punt return, that would have been another one.
COACH GROH: Yeah, that’s a shame. But he ran one, intercepted one, threw one, would have returned one, and not very many other ways that you can do that. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Was that one a little wobbly?
COACH GROH: This one? That’s a pretty good-looking ball.
QUESTION: He also run a punt that got called back at Middle Tennessee.
COACH GROH: I don’t remember. But as I said after the game, so typical of Vic. He really didn’t take any snaps during the course of the week. His participation was doubtful right up until warmup. Probably anybody who observed him, but not in Vic’s mind, that he was going to go whatever the circumstances, and it’s very likely there was some degree of discomfort in there. But for him to be as prepared to do his job as he was without having taken any snaps, just he knows how to prepare for the games, and even if he can’t – he prepares like a real professional. Even if he can’t be in there for the snaps in person, he’s got it. He knew what he was supposed to do, and not just on those plays. Blocking assignments and routes that he ran and conversions that he had to make based on the coverages that frankly he did a lot better than some people who took a lot of reps.
QUESTION: How have you seen this class maybe be different than some of the other classes and what’s going to be your lasting impression of them?
COACH GROH: Well, I think they’re all a little bit different. So much of it has to do with the personalities that each class takes on, which obviously is a composite of all the different personalities within that group. Some are louder, some are quieter, some are more determined, some are tougher. But this group has had a lot of players that really stick-to-it—ive-ness has had to be a part of. There’s a lot of players here who had to be very resilient and continue to work and grind to get their chance. I think there were some of those other classes that some of those players personally experienced some more me success.
QUESTION: With Vic and Jameel, it seems like they’re both very tough guys. Where does that come from?
COACH GROH: I don’t know. That’s a pretty – some people just have it and some don’t. You know, you try to create it – what you try to do is find people who have demonstrated that along the way, highly competitive nature and a mentality of never giving in, never giving up, try to find instances in the evaluation of players, try to quiz people as to that, most particularly you’d like to see some things with your own eyes. That’s why it’s so valuable sometimes to – if there is a player who is a recruit who’s playing basketball, I want to see him play. It’s right there, it’s not from the top deck of the stands. It’s 30 feet away, and you can see it there, or watch him practice. Even you don’t have to see a game. Talk to people, and then you just try – if that’s a valuable characteristic of your culture, then you have to recruit to what you want to be.
We learned a long time ago that if you want to be tall, recruit tall guys. If you want to be fast, recruit fast guys. If you want to be tough, recruit guys who have demonstrated that they’re tough. If you want to be highly competitive, recruit guys who show that they have a highly competitive spirit. You’re only going to inculcate those things in people to a certain degree and then create an environment where those characteristics that you deem to be important are celebrated and developed even further.
QUESTION: Is there a domino effect from seeing seniors when they were rookies, what will this group see from the seniors?
COACH GROH: Well, that’s part of the development of your culture. Once you develop a line, if you can get the same type of people, then it becomes an ongoing thing, and everybody grows into it, and your older people teach the younger people, this is the way we do things. This is who we are and this is the way we do things. It’s one thing to get it from the coach standing up in the front and it’s another thing to get it as an example from peers.
When I spoke earlier about being on a team, those are all the things part of being on a team, part of being on a football team that is such a unique experience for people that they remember those things.
QUESTION: Denzel talked about putting together a complete game on Saturday, can you assess your complete team?
COACH GROH: Well, throughout, we’ve been very pleased and very proud of the effort that the players have put in. They’ve had a lot of unity amongst themselves. That’s apparent in being involved with them throughout the course of the week. It’s not just a Saturday thing. They’ve had a lot of unity, they have a high want to, they’ve responded to everything that’s been asked of them, that they’ve been challenged with. They’ve fought throughout.
That our results are less than what we would have desired is a result of other things besides that. And they continue to try to respond and fight. I think even to the last game, the last two or three possessions that Clemson had, even at that point, I think those two or three possessions were all three-and-outs or quickly out that the defense created. So they continue to fight and play and hopefully continue to develop.
QUESTION: Could you tell Vic and Jameel were tough and competitive guys when you were recruiting them?
COACH GROH: No, Jameel was in our camp twice, and in that camp they do more than just do drills. They play touch football games and do one-on-one and whatnot, and you could see that he had a pretty hot fire when it came to competition. So as we go to know Vic throughout the recruiting process and saw how he always elevated his team, and his team won all those games in the state championships while he was playing.
There were some games in there, they were pretty significantly behind at one point, and he just took over and not only willed his team to win but performed his team to win. That was pretty well established on their part. You’ve got to have guys like that on your team, whoever it might be.
We said that about – I won’t mention the player’s name, but I’ve said to a number of guys here over the last couple years in talking with NFL personnel, look, to have a good team, you’ve got to have guys like this kid. You may not necessarily need him. If you’ve got somebody else who’s like him, that’s fine. But you’d better have guys like this particular individual on your team if you want to be a tough-minded competitive team and a guy who’s a great teammate. That’s a significant factor on a team. One of the most valuable things that a player can bring to the team is to be a great teammate the more of those guys you have, the more they feed off of each other.
QUESTION: I was just about to ask you what your thoughts are, a lot of guys going to the league from this program in the last nine years. I guess specifically Jameel, Vic, Nick and Chris, I’m sure some of the guys pop up when you think about the next level. As an evaluator, what do you think about those guys and their potential?
COACH GROH: Well, each one of them is a little bit – clearly a much different circumstance. I’ve gotten a lot of inquires. We’ve got two or three fellows sitting over there in the office today. In fact, there’s one fellow that this is I think the third or fourth year in a row he’s done it. He literally camps out for the three days before Thanksgiving because he knows he’s welcome here. So he comes and he sets up shop on Monday and brings a load of bagels, and there will be more bagels tomorrow. He’s got his room back there until we need it for meetings, and he goes through our whole season, looks at all our games, look at anybody else he might want to look at. When you take all of our games and all of our opponents and everybody that they played, he literally has access to hundreds of teams. Actually we’ve got two of them camping out here for a couple of days doing that.
So we get a lot of inquires from those guys. But I think it would probably be unfair for them for me to assess that here publicly. The League will do that here soon enough.
QUESTION: Even when you do good things on special teams, there still seems to be some lapses, how difficult to play perfect special teams?
COACH GROH: Well, it’s been frustrating for everybody on the team. We certainly expected more. There’s been an awful lot of energy and effort put into it, more than ever, and on the part of people. And when you say not everything is going to go perfect, you’re exactly right, but we expect better than say what we had the other day. We had two mishandled kickoffs. That part of it is not that difficult. Tracking your guy down and blocking him and whatnot on the run, sometimes that’s a little bit more difficult.
There have been issues like that that fall on the category we spoke of before, execution issues. It looks like a small thing that kind of gets lost, but if you mishandle the ball, you can only get it out to the 6-yard line, you can’t get the ball out of there, you kick it out to the 42-yard line and the other team has got the ball in a good position. That one muff that doesn’t look like a big deal is really something that had an impact on the whole course of the game. It hasn’t changed the lights on the scoreboard the way we had hoped or the way really that this particular team needed some push from that area.