Nov. 19, 2001
By Trent Packer
On November 2, 1995, in front of a national television audience and a rabid Scott Stadium crowd, then Virginia quarterback Mike Groh led the Cavaliers to one of their most memorable wins in the history of the program. UVa upset second-ranked Florida State, 33-28, on the strength of Groh’s 302 passing yards and one touchdown. Virginia finished that season as co-Atlantic Coast Conference Champions – the last ACC championship a Virginia football team has won.
Groh returned to Charlottesville on January 12, 2001, when his father, head coach Al Groh, named Mike wide receivers coach at UVa. The move gave Groh an opportunity to help lead his alma mater back to the level it achieved when he was a quarterback here.
“It’s been nice to be back,” Groh says. “It’s been a lot of fun being out there on that field where I’ve got a lot of good memories. Hopefully, we will be able to create some new memories for myself and for the fans and for everybody on the team that’s working so hard.”
For Groh, the return to Virginia has been even more exciting given the opportunity to work with his father. Groh spent one season as an offensive assistant/quality control coach for the Al Groh-coached New York Jets last season, before making the move back to Charlottesville.
“I think it has been a learning experience,” Groh says of working with his father. “First of all because of my newness to the profession and secondly to be able to spend so much time with him and see him up close.
“It was so often [growing up] that we kind of talked about what’s going on but I didn’t really know. Now I’m behind the scenes and I can see how he runs the operation, so I’ve learned a lot from him and I really enjoy being around him.”
Upon his arrival, Groh assumed responsibilities for the wide receivers. He was charged with helping develop the receivers into the best crew in the league. In just his first season in that role, he has already helped wideout Billy McMullen jump to the head of the ACC receiving charts. He feels the rest of the receivers have followed suit, and are also playing well.
“I want these guys to be the best in the league,” Groh says. “Right now I think we are playing at a fairly high level as a group. Certainly Billy is having an outstanding season, the best season that anybody has ever had as a wide receiver here at the University of Virginia. I’m awfully proud of what he’s done and how hard he has worked to put himself in a position to have this kind of a season.”
Groh’s job as receivers coach is not helping the players learn how to catch the ball, but teaching them the nuances of the game. Practice drills are geared towards giving them game-like experiences that they can draw on come game day.
“They are here because they are supposed to be able to catch,” Groh says. “We do catch a lot of footballs, but I’m not coaching them on how to catch. We do a lot of game-specific drills, things that may arise during the course of a game. Hopefully they will have had enough reps during our drills to make them better at going after the football in competition.”
The wide receivers coach has also focused his energy on making sure that his group does the right things off the ball to ensure the offense’s success. Being physical, particularly in the area of run blocking, is one aspect of the game the coach has stressed. He has been pleased with their progress to this point,
“Oftentimes as a receiver you are out there in space and you can go through a whole game and never hit anybody,” Groh says. “We try to get these guys in on their blocking. I think every week they have improved on their blocking as a group.”
In general, Groh has tried to push his players hard in practice to get them to demand more from themselves.
“I think just pressing them to be as good as they can be, staying on them every day in practice and having high expectations of them hopefully raises some of their expectations for themselves and what they can do. At the same time it has made them better players,” Groh says.As the quarterback during one of Virginia’s most successful seasons in recent memory and one of the architects behind UVa’s last ACC championship, Groh certainly has a track record of success at the University of Virginia that gives his relationship with his players added credibility.