Nothing like starting the year off with a bang. After a December of not a lot going on, we have the first big story of the year.
Everyone was wondering why the search for the rest of London’s staff was taking a while. It was one thing to wait for NC State to finish their season to go after a defensive coordinator, but it was a whole other thing to wait for their head coach. So, what should we expect from this new version of London’s Staff, and why it shouldn’t be like the Great Groh Shakeup of 2009.
What Was Addressed
1. The Hoos will be getting to opposing quarterbacks this year. The hiring of Jon Tenuta from the same coaching slot at NC State is a marked improvement. First off, this will not be a wholesale defensive scheme change like we had from the 3-4 of Groh to the 4-3 of Reid. Tenuta runs the 4-3, but the biggest difference is his blitz schemes. He likes to blitz, then blitz again, followed by an all out blitz. It was a major issue last year getting to the quarterback. When the Hoos did pressure and started sacking the QB, the secondary players had their best games. And no further do you have to look that the UVa/NC State game. Virginia had 6 sacks in the game, and the constant pressure forced 3 interceptions against a better than average quarterback in Glennon. The new philosophy will bode well with a young defensive team eager to make their mark.
2. We actually have a special teams coach. No, people, you don’t understand. I have been asking Santa for this for 2 seasons. Everyone loves Dex, but after season 1, you could tell it wasn’t working out in that slot. Now they brought in Jeff Banks, who will act as the Special Teams Coordinator and Running Backs coach. His teams at UTEP were constantly at the top of C-USA in all special teams categories. Step one for him will be to sort out the kicking and punting return teams. But even a slight improvement will be leaps and bounds over the past admin.
3. We are now Lazor proof. It was amazing that NC State would release TOB from his ‘non-compete’ clause, and it was more amazing that he would accept a role as Associate Head and Tight End Coach. In his 14 years at UVa under Welsh, he was the OL and OC on some of the greatest teams at The University that spanned from the Majik Man in 1984 to the Younger Groh in 1995. He left UVa in 1996 to take the head coaching job at Boston College after it was apparent that Welsh was years away from retiring. When UVa was looking for a head coach in 2001, O’Brien was on the wish list, but the Hoos went in another direction, begrudgingly to this writer. Now he comes back to the Cavs and fills several roles. First, he knows offense. Secondly, he knows how to manage a game. Third, he is a great recruiter. But most important, he can, if called upon, be an Offensive Coordinator again. I’m not saying that Lazor should go anywhere. But let’s say the offensive doesn’t turn around this year and Lazor bolts, either asked or back to the NFL, where the turnover has been unbelievable. That will make for an easy transition when needed.
4. Lazor will get some help to succeed. Virginia also brought in former QB and fan favorite Marques Hagans to work with the Wide Receivers, leaving Lazor with just QB duties on top of his OC work. I know we have been down the road with Hagans under Groh and with a former UVA QB as WR coach, but Hagans will also add a recruiting element to the mix as well.
5. London looks to the West. One of the other subtitle moves that was made was to promote Chip West to recruiting coordinator. He has been bringing in the ‘big fish’ to UVa, and was highly sought after by other schools. But Virginia did what they had to do to keep him, and with great recruiters like Dex and O”Brien on the staff, it will be very interesting what the 2014 class has in store.
6. We are London Proof. Lastly, let me explore another option. Let’s say, for some reason, none of this works out. Before the change, it would have been hard to find someone to ‘promote from within’. Now, Virginia has that option. I’m not jumping off the London train, far from it. But, it is an option that is there.
What Was Not Addressed
1. London will have expanded role as position coach. It came down to a numbers game. NCAA limits teams to 9 assistant coaches. With the departure of Hanson, and the addition of Hagans/O’Brien, who were the wild cards in this equation, that left the Defensive Line without a true coach. That should be easily picked up by London, but it means that he will have to devote more time to the line in practice. Still, that should not be a huge commitment and one that he has plenty of experience in.
2. No shake up in the secondary. West and Dex are the two top recruiters on this staff outside of London. But outside of special teams, CB and S play has been an issue for a few years. The hope is that as this group is now more game experienced and the acquisition of Tenuta, that he will work with those two to shore up the backs.
3. One more crack with Wachenheim. Whether it was talent, coaching, or play calling, the offensive line underperformed this year comparatively to past seasons. While next year the only major change will be replacing Oday, Virginia will be moving forward with Scott in charge of the OL, betting on the continuity among the other 4 to carry them into 2013.
The fan base seems very happy. Tenuta’s name has been out there for a while, and was met with a general approval. What pushed this change over the top was O’Brien, who brings a ton of D1/ACC experience coupled with a great recruiting style. The two questions left out there, will be what, if any defections will occur within the current team, and can Virginia keep the commitments for 2013 that are on the board. The 2 big names out there are Wilkins and Harris. Dex and West have already been working on them during the transition, and the current players have given positive reviews to the changes, but we will know a lot more on Signing Day, which is just under a month away.