Virginia Beat: Coaching Shuffles On the Way

Head coach Mike London has some choices to make about his assistants (photo by Mike Ingalls of TheSabre.com)

After losing a very winnable Virginia Tech game, partly thanks to some very questionable coaching decisions, it’s that time of the season – and the tenure of the coaching staff – to look at making some changes in that august body.  The current UVA coaching staff has been the same, with no changes except for some shuffled responsibilities and the ongoing graduate assistant revolving door, for the last three years.

The head coach himself is not on the hot seat, but he will have his decision-making scrutinized.  Not taking his timeouts to try and set up a potential comeback after VT’s game-winning field goal is being heavily questioned, but Mike London actually made even greater mistakes earlier in the game.  Most notably, he probably should have taken the three points instead of faking a field goal, and he almost certainly should have played for overtime instead of aggressively trying to move down the field against the wind in the fourth quarter.  Still, London will have at least another year to sort out the program.

Some of his assistants may not be as lucky.  The defense is probably safe, though.  UVA’s pass defense actually ranks as one of the better ones in the entire country, which reflects well on safeties coach Anthony Poindexter and CB coach Chip West.  Those two are crucial to UVA’s recruiting efforts as well.  The defensive line was a force against the run, and clearly improved as the year went on, a testament to the abilities of DL coach Jeff Hanson.  Hanson may well be the top position coach on the staff.  Linebackers coach Vincent Brown is also doing a fine job, although he will be tested next year when the unit gets significantly younger.  Defensive coordinator Jim Reid appears to have overcome a rough start to his tenure, and will return to lead the defense again.

The offense, however, needs an overhaul.  One gets the impression that London and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor aren’t always on the same page.  This is up to London to correct.  Truthfully, he should be giving Lazor more rope, either to fix the situation or to hang himself with; a tug-of-war of opinions, if there is one, isn’t healthy.

Running backs coach Mike Faragalli has already been let go; a mild surprise, as Faragalli had accompanied London from Richmond, and the position of running backs coach is pretty benign.  It’s hard to do much damage there.   Tight ends coach Shawn Moore may be a little harder to make a decision on; Moore is one of UVA’s best players of the past thirty years, but has already been reassigned once, as he was originally hired to coach the wide receivers, who weren’t very productive under his watch.  Marques Hagans’s tenure is up as a GA, and he must be either promoted to position coach or let go.  Hagans could be retained to coach the receivers and tight ends; the WRs currently fall under Lazor’s sphere of influence.  Somebody would have to be let go to make room for Hagans, and Faragalli appears to be that somebody.  If so, Hagans’s landing spot could be running backs, but Faragalli’s firing doesn’t rule out further shuffling.

Of the remaining coaches on the staff, though, the least likely to be retained is OL coach Scott Wachenheim.  The line appeared to make little progress this year, and its supposed strengths became weaknesses; tackles Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi were both thought to be excellent NFL draft prospects but both were susceptible to speed rushes, and Aboushi committed a number of costly holding penalties.  The interior of the line made no progress, either.

Still, there is nobody on the staff besides Wachenheim with OL coaching experience (except for fellow GA Mike St. Germain, and there will be open revolt if London tries to fix such a glaring trouble spot by promoting a GA), so it’s not as simple as letting him go to create room for Hagans.  Wachenheim will likely be replaced with a hire from outside the staff.  An option the fan base is clamoring for is recently-fired NC State head coach Tom O’Brien, if he’s willing to take such a step down in responsibility.  Another excellent option: Boston College offensive line coach Jim Bollman, if he is not retained by a new regime in Chestnut Hill.  Both Bollman and O’Brien, at various times under George Welsh, have coached the UVA offensive line in the fairly distant past, and both have experience at offensive coordinator as well, which would serve the purpose of replacing Faragalli as the OC security blanket.  (Faragalli had been London’s OC at Richmond.)  Lazor still has an element of job safety, however, as an objective review of his tenure reveals that the good largely outweighs the bad.

And of course, we save the best for last.  Always do.  London must find a way to repair the special teams, and fast; this unit is the primary reason UVA is going to sit home watching the postseason from their couch.  Poindexter’s stewardship of special teams has been a total disaster.  Mike Locksley did a better job as New Mexico’s head coach.  Custer did a better job at Little Bighorn.  The best solution would be for London to take over special teams responsibility and leave the offense to Lazor, if for no other reason than to send an accountability message to the unit that they now have the full attention of the man in charge.

Whatever happens, London must make very careful decisions this offseason.  He will be entering his fourth season as head coach in 2013, and it will be one that he’s judged very strictly on.  The team will be of his making – they will be entirely his recruits with the exception of a small handful of upperclassmen.  His decision-making this year probably cost him a fair amount of goodwill, both from the fans and the administration.  It’s a very important offseason, and London can no longer afford to get it wrong.

 

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Brendan’s bio: I’m just this guy … this ordinary Virginia graduate and fan who woke up one day realizing his opinions on everything UVA could no longer be contained in one space. Thus was born From Old Virginia, a labor of love where you can find obsessive opinionating on Virginia football, basketball, lacrosse, baseball, and whatever else when the mood strikes. And if that’s still not enough for you, go to the Twitster and follow @MaizeNBlueWahoo for the dumb stuff that pops into my head when I’m watching the Hoos.

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