Patriots: 25 Days celebrating the 25th anniversary of the 1996 AFC Title

About a week ago now, we devoted one of these 25 days to the offensive coordinator of that 1996 team and an unsung hero, Ray Perkins. Today, it’s only fair we take a look at the defensive coordinator, Al Groh and what he meant to that team.

Groh had a lengthy college and NFL coaching career beginning at Army in 1968. Stints at Virginia, Air Force, North Carolina, Texas Tech and Wake Forrest followed before finally getting a shot with the Falcons as a special teams and tight end coach in 1987. Groh went back to college and the University of South Carolina a year later before heading to the Giants from 1989-1991. Groh jumped shipped to the Browns in 1992 and then joined Bill Parcells again in New England, serving as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach from 1993-1996.

Groh’s defense in 96 finished 14th in points given up (313), 19th in yards against (5,305) and 10th in takeaways with 34. Those aren’t off the chart numbers, but for a team that was still learning how to win and had a ton of young faces on that side of the ball, it’s pretty good. The run defense was good too, finishing sixth in yards against with 1,502 yards given up on 434 carries during the regular season.

Groh and the defense did their best work towards the end of the season, particularly following the blowout loss to Denver. After that nightmare game in Foxboro in mid-November, New England closed out the regular season giving up 13, 7, 10, 12 and 22 points down the stretch, going 4-1 in that span. The 12 point performance against the defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys – despite coming in a losing effort – was hands down the best performance and gave that unit confidence they could hang with anyone.

The Divisional playoff game against Pittsburgh was his masterpiece. I actually went back on Friday night and watched the entire broadcast of the game again and can assure you it was about as dominant a performance in a playoff game as you will ever see. The front seven – led mostly by Chris Slade who was just a monster that day – held Mike Tomczack and Kordell “Slash” Stewart to 90 net passing yards and just 213 yards total on offense.

Ultimately, Groh decided to jump ship and head to the Jets with Parcells heading into 1997 and served as the linebackers coach from 97-99 before being named the head coach in 2000. Groh went 9-7 in his only season as HC of the NYJ and then headed back to Virginia in 2001 to take that head coaching gig. Groh stayed there through the 2009 season before serving as the Georgia Tech d-coordinator role before finally hanging up the whistle after the 2012 season.

As we’ve tried to hit on many different aspects of that special 1996 season, it would have been negligent not to talk about Al Groh. Groh helped mold young defensive players like Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Tedy Bruschi, Chris Slade and Willie McGinest. If not for Groh, who knows if that defense has the year it does in 96 and who knows if they develop the confidence that turned them each into All-Pro players.

On Sunday we hit Day 19 of our 25 day celebration for the 25th anniversary of that 1996 team, check back to see who or what we feature next.