ATLANTA — Georgia Tech hired former Virginia coach Al Groh as its defensive coordinator, hoping he can turn around a unit that was burned for big yards even as the Yellow Jackets were winning the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
Groh agreed to terms Friday, the school said, staying in the ACC after nine years as the Cavaliers' head coach. He was fired shortly after Virginia completed a 3-9 season, its worst since 1982.
He's heading to a program that won its first outright conference title since 1990. Groh plans to sign his new contract after arriving in Atlanta next week.
"They've got it going on there pretty good," he told The Associated Press. "I'm honored that they want me to come be a part of it."
Groh went 59-53 during his tenure at Virginia, including five bowl appearances. He set out several criteria before deciding where he wanted to coach in 2010, and said Georgia Tech meets them.
The top priority was taking a job where there's a chance to win championships. The Yellow Jackets are coming off an 11-3 season that included a victory over Clemson in the ACC title game, but ended with a 24-14 loss to Iowa in the Orange Bowl.
"I think any time you can get a coach the caliber of an Al Groh, it is a tremendous plus for your program," coach Paul Johnson said. "Al has a great deal of expertise. He is considered one of the top defensive minds in the country and has a record to support it."
Georgia Tech had one of the nation's most prolific offenses with Johnson's trademark triple-option, averaging nearly 34 points and more than 295 yards per game on the ground. But the defense struggled under coordinator Dave Wommack, leading to high-scoring games such as a 49-44 victory at Florida State, a 30-27 loss to rival Georgia and a 39-34 win for the ACC title.
The Yellow gave up at least 30 points in five games, leading to Wommack's firing after only two seasons.
The 65-year-old Groh was dumped by Virginia less than 24 hours after a 42-13 home loss to Virginia Tech, his eighth loss in nine tries to the Cavaliers' biggest rival.
At his post-game news conference, Groh read a poem, "The Guy in the Glass," about how the most important person an individual has to please is himself. He closed with a testimonial about himself.
"When I visited the guy in the glass, I saw that he's a guy of commitment, of integrity, of dependability and accountability," he said. "He's loyal, his spirit is indomitable and he's caring and loving. I'm sure I will always call the guy in the glass a friend."
Groh received a $4.33 million buyout from Virginia. Now, he's charged with turning around a defense that surrendered 24.8 points and 360.3 yards per game.
Making his job tougher: Two of Georgia Tech's top defensive players, All-America end Derrick Morgan and hard-hitting safety Morgan Burnett, decided to skip their senior seasons to enter the NFL draft.
Groh is expected to change the defensive alignment, switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Earlier this week, Johnson said he has no qualms about going with three down linemen instead of four.
"I'm a bottom line kind of guy," the head coach said. "There's a lot of ways to get there. I like what we do on offense, but that doesn't mean it's the only one you can be successful at. I feel the same way about defense. I want somebody who has a system, who understands it and can be effective. Whether it's a 3-4, 4-3 or an eight-man front ... can you teach it? That's the bottom line.
"It's not what you know, but what you can teach to the guys."
Johnson announced another coaching move Friday, promoting graduate assistant Lamar Owens to oversee the A-backs. The former Navy quarterback takes over for Jeff Monken, who left to become the head coach at Georgia Southern.
AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz Jr. in Richmond, Va., contributed to this report.