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The effects of a major housecleaning of the Cavs' coaching staff are yet to be seen.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
UVa’s new defensive coordinator, Jon Tenuta, has coached at Ohio State, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame and N.C. State.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Tom O’Brien is the Cavaliers’ new associate head coach after serving a combined 16 seasons as the head coach of Boston College and North Carolina State.
The Roanoke Times | File August
Virginia offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild is in his first season with the Cavaliers.
Sunday, August 25, 2013
Can a wide-scale staff shake-up restore the momentum that brought Mike London an ACC coach-of-the-year award in 2011?
Tom O’Brien has seen it happen before.
O’Brien is the Cavaliers’ new associate head coach after serving a combined 16 seasons as the head coach at Boston College (1997-2006) and North Carolina State (2007-12).
“When Mike and I talked early in December, I reminded him that I changed four guys also,” said O’Brien, who hired London as Boston College’s defensive line coach in 2007, London’s first Division I-A coaching job.
After the second of back-to-back 4-7 seasons at BC, O’Brien brought in Dana Bible as his new offensive coordinator and promoted position coach Frank Spaziani to defensive coordinator.
“We changed the whole defensive scheme,” O’Brien continued. “We kept our special-teams coach, but we brought in an offensive-line coach. I had to bring in a linebacker coach on defense.
“I kind of went through the same thing as [London has] and it’s like I said to him, ‘It’s probably the best thing I ever did.’ From that point on, we went to 12 bowl games in the next 14 years.”
London would accept that kind of prognosis.
“It’s a lot,” said O’Brien of the overhaul that has taken place at UVa. “No question. It’s a big turnover.”
Gone from the 2012 staff are offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, defensive coordinator Jim Reid, defensive-line coach Jeff Hanson, running backs’ coach Mike Faragalli and tight ends’ coach Shawn Moore.
It was announced Jan. 29 that Lazor had resigned to become the quarterbacks coach under new Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. Lazor earlier had spent time with NFL teams in Atlanta, Washington and Seattle, so his departure was not shocking.
The other four assistants were relieved of their duties Dec. 2, eight days after a 17-14 Virginia loss at Virginia Tech dropped the Cavaliers to 4-8 for the season.
London, perhaps operating on the advice of superiors, described the moves as “very difficult.” Reid, as the head coach at Richmond, had hired London as a Spiders assistant in the mid-1990s.
Moore, a former Virginia quarterback, was one of the most-decorated players in the Cavaliers’ history, a former ACC player of the year who finished fourth in balloting for the 1990 Heisman Trophy. Moreover, Moore’s son, Mike, was a top recruit who had finished his first season with the Cavaliers.
“We didn’t produce,” said Luke Bowanko, entering his third season as a starter on the offensive line. “There’s going to be turnover. Unfortunately, in their profession, it’s easier for them to get moved on than it is for them to kick us out. They can’t trade us or release us.
“Whatever happened with the administration, they saw a trend that they wanted to change. We don’t have a say, but we’ve embraced the change. It’s not a negative thing like ‘Oh, man, coach is gone. What happened to coach?’
There actually was a fifth coaching departure. Jeff Banks, originally hired as special-teams coach, hardly had time to unpack in Charlottesville before he was hired away by Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.
Banks, special-teams coach at Texas-El Paso through the 2012 season, is a former two-time All-Pac 10 punter at Washington State, where one of his coaches was Larry Lewis.
Within days of Banks’ departure, Lewis, most recently at Nevada, was hired to coach the UVa special teams and running backs.
It looked as if the moves might be done by that point, but rumors of a Lazor return to the NFL had never really died, and Virginia clearly had a contingency plan. Exactly one day after the announcement of Lazor’s departure, Steve Fairchild was introduced as his successor.
Fairchild was an offensive assistant for the San Diego Chargers in 2012 and earlier had served as the offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams and Buffalo Bills. From 2008-2011, he was the head coach at Colorado State.
In O’Brien, Fairchild and Lewis, London has three former Division I head coaches, including Lewis’ eight-year stint at Idaho State.
“You know what’s really cool is to sit in that meeting [room] and listen to other guys who have that type of experience and know that you have a sounding board for whatever comes up,” said Lewis, who was Fairchild’s special-teams coordinator at Colorado State. “I learn things every day. I go, ‘Wow,’ I didn’t think about that.”
New defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta has never been a head coach, aside from a one-month stint as the interim coach when ex-Georgia Tech boss Chan Gailey was fired after the 1987 regular season. But, he has been a defensive coordinator or associate head coach for defense at Ohio State, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame and N.C. State, preceded by a tour as secondary coach at Oklahoma.
“I think I have one of the best coaching staffs in college football,” London said.
The Cavaliers’ 2012 staff did not lack for coaching credentials, but, as a team, Virginia did not play intelligently. The Cavaliers were among the most-penalized teams in the ACC and regularly used bad judgment in the kicking game.
Then, there was the Cavaliers’ season finale at Virginia Tech, where the Cavaliers had two timeouts remaining when they forced the Hokies into a fourth-and-9 situation with 50 seconds left. By the time Virginia used the first of those timeouts, only four seconds remained prior to Tech’s game-winning field goal.
O’Brien is likely to join Fairchild in the press box on gamedays. In the box or on the sidelines, it is UVa’s hope that O’Brien will be a voice of calm and reason in hectic situations.
“I think you have to practice and you have to plan for those things,” O’Brien said. “We’ll be working hard on end-of-game situations. We’ll play four minutes out at the end of scrimmages. That’s something I got a long time ago from Bill Belichick.
“We’ve always scrimmaged that way [at Boston College and N.C. State] and it’s really helped us in those situations.”
Before going to Boston College, O’Brien was a UVa assistant for 15 years, the last six as offensive coordinator. London doesn’t want him to be shy about dispensing advice.
“I don’t have an ego,” London said. “I’m a humble guy. I appreciate the fact, when you put a staff together, there are guys who have strong opinions and there’s guys with a level of success that you need to listen to.
“I’ve worked with Tom. Now the situation has turned and he and I have had conversations on end. I’m not about to turn a deaf ear. We check our egos at the door.”
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