Groh spent just one season with the Jets since Bill Parcells resigned as coach. He now heads back to his alma mater to replace George Welsh, who retired. He accepted a seven-year contract that could be worth $5 million.
"I realize there will be some criticism of this, but only I know my heart," Groh said in a statement released by the Jets. "Too, this provides the type of long-term security and stability not commonly found in the NFL nowadays.
"The University of Virginia is my school," Groh said. "I wore that jersey and it means a great deal to me. My mom lives there and my dad is buried there."
Groh's departure was in keeping with the Jets' coaching history. He got the job when Parcells resigned last January and Bill Belichick, Parcells' hand-chosen successor, quit after one day and wound up coaching the New England Patriots.
Groh went 9-7 after a 4-0 start, but the team lost its last three games. A victory in any of them would have earned a playoff berth.
The university confirmed the hiring and said Groh will be introduced at a news conference Jan. 5.
"Coach Groh has enjoyed success at every level of football and certainly understands and embraces the challenge of building on the foundation laid by coach Welsh," Virginia athletic director Terry Holland said. "His vision for the future of Virginia football that he described to us last night was inspiring. We are delighted that he has agreed to come home."
The Jets had to be shocked. Since 1989, their coaches have been Joe Walton, Bruce Coslet, Pete Carroll, Rich Kotite, Parcells and Groh. Unless Parcells chooses to return to the sideline, coach No. 7 will take over.
Parcells is to meet with team owner Woody Johnson on Tuesday for an "organizational meeting," said a source close to the Jets, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Parcells is the chief of football operations, and he has hinted he will continue in that role. Now, Johnson is expected to ask Parcells if he wants to coach again or, barring that, if he will hire the new coach.
The Jets said they would defer all comments about their next coach until Tuesday.
Virginia has no such worries, finding a good fit to replace Welsh, who retired on Dec. 11 because of health reasons. The Cavaliers lost to Georgia 37-14 on Dec. 24 in the Oahu Bowl, the last game for the 67-year-old coach.
"Al Groh is a perfect fit for the university and for its football program," school president John T Casteen III said. "In addition to his undisputed success as a coach, he is well known for establishing sportsmanship, academic success and a strong work ethic. We welcome him and his family back to Charlottesville with great enthusiasm."
Groh's enthusiasm for his job with the Jets didn't appear to wane even with the late-season collapse. Two days after a loss at Baltimore eliminated them from the playoff race, Groh said he already was back at work planning for the 2001 season.
His departure guarantees further instability for a franchise that has had little success since winning its only Super Bowl in probably the biggest upset in NFL history.
Groh became the Jets' 12th head coach last Jan. 24. But he was a head coach in the NFL for only one season after 12 years as an assistant for the Jets, Giants, New England and Cleveland.
Before that, Groh's only head coaching experience was at Wake Forest, where he was 36-40 from 1981-86. He was an assistant at Virginia from 1970-72 after graduating in 1967 following a four-year playing career at defensive end with the Cavaliers.
Groh's son, Mike, also attended Virginia and was the quarterback on the Cavaliers team that stunned then-No. 2 Florida State 33-28 in 1995, becoming the first Atlantic Coast Conference team to beat the Seminoles.
Mike Groh also was a member of his father's staff with the Jets.
At Virginia, Groh will inherit a team that failed to win at least seven games for the first time in 14 seasons, and one that has taken a decided back seat to the state's other Division I-A team, Virginia Tech.
That divide had become an increasing burden for Welsh, who frequently was criticized for running a conservative offense.
©2000 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed