Up the Food Chain for (Almost) EVERYONE
We Introduced this series with an initial poll and a layout of the generalities of the new situation on the 3rd. ( Virginia Tech Hokies Athletics, Changes are Coming Because - Football is King - Gobbler Country)
The hiring of Brent Pry, away from his long time (five years at Penn State and three at Vandy as a James Franklin assistant) mentor and friend was touted as a major move and trumpeted up and down to the point where the old and cynical man staring at me for the morning shave began to wonder why Whit was trying so hard to impress me. The fact remains that in his 30-year coaching career Brent Pry has never been any place very long, (what coaching is - frankly) and the immediate “old guy” flashes of concern rested on the reality that of that career exactly zero years have been spent as a head coach. Regardless of how good anyone feels about the hire, that lack of experience hangs heavy in lots of folk’s atmospheric bubbles.
Pry’s initial coaching experience was as a GA at Tech back in the mid-90’s for three seasons; so, there is that. That also seems to be the emotional piggy bank that pulled on Pry enough to get him to separate from Franklin and strike out on his own. The Hokies were a different football program and team when he coached here, so he’s still got some things to learn.
We are still seeing the snowflakes fall from the heavens as the NCAA and pro leagues close out their regular seasons and occupied assistants can actually depart or interview in good order. We are seeing two things that make you wonder just exactly where this staff is going. The first is that the coaching positions are oddly labeled and mixed on the org chart. There have, to date, only been two hires from the old football staff; JC Price and Pierson Prioleau.
The Lead Guys, Sort Of
JC Price is an Associate Head Coach with the responsibility of coaching the Defensive Line. This is an odd combination, usually associate/assistant HCs are Coordinators, not position coaches. This week Pry sealed that unusual staffing configuration by hiring Wisconsin’s Joe Rudolph as an Associate Head Coach, Offensive line coach, and Running Game Coordinator.
This move gives Rudolph a major role in the who and how of the run game execution. Neither Price nor Rudolph has ever been a head coach (with the exception of Price’s stint as the Interim HC for Tech at the end of the season).
Chris Marve is the Defensive Coordinator, but with only seven years of assistant/position coaching experience, it’s a risky move to push Marve that far up the food chain. It’s nearly the same level of move that presented Justin Hamilton with the keys to the lunch box, and we haven’t seen it since.
Pierson Prioleau’s retention from the prior staff is actually a promotion because PP was operating as a staff director. He did fill in during the 2020 season when COVID absences nearly sidelined the entire team. That might have played into the Pry decision to keep PP on.
The remainder of the current coaching hires are:
Brad Glenn as Pass Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach comes from Georgia State, but his biggest experience period was six seasons at Appalachian State when it was a championship Division I FCS program.
Stu Holt will be Special Teams Coordinator and a nebulously labeled position of Offensive Assistant. How that fits into the grander scheme of things will probably get sorted out as the offensive staff grows and finalizes. Holt was labeled as coming from Louisville, but that was only two seasons. Basically, his experience is at the G5 App State program, G5 South Florida, FCS Western Kentucky and Tennessee State.
Derek Jones is just listed as a Defensive Coach. He will probably be coaching the Cornerbacks. His experience has more FBS P5 teams, including Ole Miss and a long stint at Duke. He comes to Tech from Texas Tech where he was an Associate Head Coach and Co-Defensive Coordinator.
Shawn Quinn rounds out the list as a Defensive Coach, and it looks like he’s going to get the Linebackers, at the moment. He’s the only coach who has any Head Coaching experience. He was hired away from a COVID interrupted 2-season stint as the Head Coach of Savanah State. Most of Quinn’s experience is scattered around the FCS ranks with only a 2008 stop at LSU and GA position at Tennessee.
What this means is that the new coaching staff currently has no personnel with direct upper-level head coaching experience. Anyone who dismisses that reality is shining himself, and everyone else he talks to, on.
There are at least three more field positions to fill; Offensive Coordinator (reportedly Jaguars’ assistant Tyler Bowen), Wide Receivers, and Running Backs. Besides those positions there are nearly a dozen GAs and junior level assistants that will be showing up. There isn’t currently an identified theory of offense in the works, hopefully we see something by Spring. Those openings look to be partially the result of the delay in signing up Bowen due to his NFL contractual obligations.
The Stage is Nearly Set, Let’s Look at the Pros and Cons
We need to be honest, here. The tendency to dance this off as all brilliant and all wonderful is as bad as the impulse to shake your head and write it off as a mess of assistants with no real experience in the captain’s chair. One of those attitudes will be shocked and surprised, that’s for sure.
There are, of course three sets of feelings on this, and all fans should have a bit of all three; wariness, guardedness, and enthusiasm. It’s always best to take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of the personnel change and get a better idea of how to balance that triad of opinions.
The Head Coach Experience Trepidation
The most common complaint that we are seeing about the Pry hire, along with his current list of assistants and associates, is that he has no head coaching experience. Here are the top three gripes (from the weight of comments and conversations that I have had mind you, this isn’t “scientific”):
- He’s had 30 years of coaching with no head coaching experience at all.
- He’s a defensive coach with defensive position experience and no evidence of offensive thinking or activity.
- He’s repeating the same mantra about recruiting footprints, not letting promising players go without offers or at least contacts, and then a pile of “git er done” sort of platitudes.
Those are the “Cons” of the hire, and not one of them is invalid. In fact, they are so relevant and obvious that those who think the Pry hire is headed for “big bust” are not unfounded in their gut feelings.
Pry does have a pile of really good qualities, though, that should butter over those three negatives. He has a long and relatively successful coaching career of which the latter part is experience in the SEC and the B1G (Big Ten for the trademark challenged). His lack of head coaching experience seems to be the result of some individual loyalty to James Franklin. When he was asked why he was willing to return to Virginia Tech, the answer worked out to be that Tech was, at least, one of the programs that he was actually excited to take over and run. He was willing to take the risky jump on this program. It didn’t look to be a coach talk pro forma nod to the new big paycheck. Pry looked and sounded genuinely excited to be coming back to Blacksburg.
It’s not like the job of a head coach at the FBS level is an easy transition for a position coach, and Pry was well aware and honest about the realities involved. He made Mike and Jon, during is introductory interviews, very aware of his focus needed to move to the greater team function. He knew that the dirty details of the Xs and Os needed to be handled by his assistants and his new job was in other places. He even admitted that it was going to be tough to give that up. That level of honesty hasn’t been a coaching high point for many organizations. Many bigtime Head Coaches have huge “I’m THE MAN” egos. Maybe Pry’s biggest “Pro” is that he hasn’t developed one, yet.
The “B1G” Image Upshot
The supporting cast looks to be more than competent, with a nice helping of B1G focused assistant coaching and football program director talent. For the record, the reality of the difference between the B1G and ACC in program strength is the difference between a college and a high school (okay, maybe a Texas 5A school, but still) program. The “best” of the ACC are candidates for the peloton of middle of the road programs for the B1G; minus the current Clemson incarnation which will fade as Dabo’s fortunes move to other places.
The biggest pro I see going in Brent Pry’s favor is that he looks to be actively working to bring the Virginia Tech football program to the B1G level with pro style offenses and defenses, along with the higher-level administrative personnel and facilities necessary to pull it off.
Is that hanging my hat on a short peg? I don’t know, but Coach Pry deserves the benefit of the doubt and I’m going to offer it to him, as a Hokie of course, as sportswriter, I’m from Missouri. We’ll objectively look at the transition, and if there look to be alarms that need to be sounded, we’ll sound them.
So, sound off. After thinking on the implications and going through some pros and cons, where are you in all of this?
Which one of the three "feelings of fandom" are you in regard to the coaching hires?
This poll is closed
Disappointed and underwhelmed. There was a hope for some serious head coaching chops, and what we got was a pile of assistants.
Guardedly optimistic, but there is still just a script being read for PR, and a slow turn up that makes me concerned.
This is IT, Pry is not the guy following "The Guy". The staff is impressive, and Pry is enthusiastic about getting started. So am I.
There were inevitably going to be fits and starts with this. Ultimately the coaching reality is that Whit Babcock took a huge risk in dialing back the ‘big buck high powered coaching’ visions of glory and looked to rebuild a respectable winning program. That took some serious guts. For that we all might just want to dial back the extremes of emotions and adopt a hopeful ‘wait and see’ attitude. There will be the extreme skeptics and the extreme Pollyannas. Neither is a great place to be at this juncture. We’ll talk about all of that in the third and final article.