ATLANTA — With Georgia Tech's season falling apart, coach Paul Johnson knew he would have to make a change at defensive coordinator.
He decided not to wait.
Former Virginia and New York Jets coach Al Groh was fired Monday by the Yellow Jackets, who had lost three games — all of them while surrendering more than 40 points, the first time that's happened in school history.
The stretch included an embarrassing 49-28 home loss to Middle Tennessee.
With Johnson hearing plenty of griping himself from Georgia Tech fans but figuring there're still time to salvage the season, he decided to dump Groh during the off week.
"It's really disappointing and frustrating," Johnson said at a hastily called news conference. "You never want to do it. But, to me, that's part of being a leader. Sometimes you have to do hard things. I still have a great deal of respect for Al. In my mind, he's had a very good career. Maybe he will still coach. I don't know what the future holds. It just wasn't working here."
Johnson has never fired an assistant during the season, but felt he had to do something to show he wasn't already looking ahead to 2013. The move was made two days after the Yellow Jackets (2-4, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) lost 47-31 to No. 16 Clemson.
"To me, it was inevitable," Johnson said. "I didn't want to give up on the rest of the season. I still think we can come back and have a good season. That's why I did it now."
The Yellow Jackets have one of the nation's worst defenses — ranked 89th in points allowed (30.2), 90th in total defense (431 yards per game) and 103rd in third-down efficiency. That latter figure might be most troubling to Johnson, whose team has allowed opponents to convert nearly 48 percent in those situations and was especially poor against Clemson. The Tigers were 13 of 19 on third down, keeping Georgia Tech's potent offense on the sideline.