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Virginia Tech Hokie Football in Transition - Coaches

It’s time to take a deep dive look at the continuing transition going on in the Virginia Tech Hokie football program. No, the churn hasn’t stopped, and we take a look at the coaching situation, what the good stuff is, and what the challenges are. Take the poll and comment to tell us how you feel about it, too. GO HOKIES!!!

Coaches and Players in warmups for the Georgia Tech Game
John Schneider - SB Nation

So, we introduced the new series earlier this week, and pushed out a poll to gauge who you all were feeling about the transition, and now, it’s time to step into the first topic, the coaching change.

Before we get into the specifics, let’s go over the latter portion of the move that initiated the current situation. By 2019 the prior regime had begun to lose traction in recruiting, player quality, and retention. There is no real point in naming names, because the trend had started back in the 2007/2008 recruiting classes and accelerated after 2011. At some point in a future discussion, we could go over that point, but the hope that things would get better between 2016 and 2019 were shattered as the 2019 recruiting class as small as it was, also melted down in disaster.

The COVID (2020) season, which quite frankly should have been abandoned when both the coaching staff and player personnel succumbed to the infection and Tech barely fielded enough of either to qualify for personnel eligibility for any one game through most of the season. It also destroyed any tenuous links to the next two recruiting classes. That staff might have been struggling but the pandemic slammed the door on its hand, foot, and face, knocking it cold on the doorstep.

After that fiasco, there was no digging out. The entire effort that had sunk into mediocrity over a decade with only a 2-season blip, collapsed. So, in walks Brent Pry, never been a head coach, former Virginia Tech Graduate Assistant, loaded with enthusiasm and promise of a better future.

If many football stalwarts weren’t already nervous at Pry’s hiring, instead of an experienced FBS level head coach, the pall dropped on any short term hopes as the 2022 staff was revealed. With only a few exceptions it was a total revamping of the entire staff right down to the public relations effort. Add to that, the senior coaching staff and assistants were nearly all stepping up from their prior positions. The only head coaching experience was for an FCS program, Sean Quinn. Pry retained his old friend J.C. Price from their experience together in the 90’s, glory days. He promoted Pierson Prioleau and pretty much everybody else was gone.

Huge coaching staff changes with Head Coach swaps aren’t unusual, but the deep dive into the support staff was. The effort seemed to be to nearly completely clean house and find a new personality, operation, and focus. Consequently, the events of 2022 and the record on the field really should not be too surprising to many folks. We’ll go into the player personnel changes in the very near future. The current scholarship player turnover is huge at 41% so that is significant, too. But this is about the coaching and program level shifts that seem to have come close to tearing up the gearbox.

2022 – A Disappointment that Almost Wasn’t and That’s Frustrating

The 2022 Coaching alignment didn’t take shape until very late in the process after the end of the 6-6 season and the temporary lead of J.C. Price. Price ended up 1-1 with a huge and bowl eligibility save win against UVA, and then a short-handed drubbing at the hands of Maryland in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. We shouldn’t really carp too much, because the Hokies’ starting quarterback who is now a wide/slot receiver, Braxton Burmeister hit the transfer portal before the bowl, and was shown the door. He wasn’t the greatest but without him the limping offense was comatose. The game result was predictable, and the season ended in disappointment.

The truth is that the introduction of long time Penn State Defensive Coach Brent Pry was not taken as a massive positive step in the right direction by many in Hokie Nation. The prospect was interesting, if he had been the DC, but he was the HC. The head scratching and second, third, and fifth guessing began in earnest. This was especially so because the rumor mill had been primed with other names who had head coaching experience at the FBS level. We won’t go into the names because it’s pointless 6th guessing and “coulda-woulda-shoulda” speculation.

Suffice it to say the initial coaching foray into the 2022 season began with a bumpy ride, and then careened out of control down into a ravine and out to pasture. Three wins and at least four frustrating losses of winnable situations later, the team ended the season on a relatively high note defeating Liberty in Lynchburg, but tragedy struck the Hoos so the final game was cancelled, no substitute game could be arranged, and the Hokies ended the 2022 season with a 3-8 record.

The recriminations started like a large sand spur in the sandals at the beach. They were painful and often personal. Brent Pry offered exactly no excuses, and was actually, publicly pretty tough on his coaching staff, especially the offensive coaching schemes and decisions. No coach wants to “own” a record like that, and overcoming it on the recruiting trail was going to be a difficult task. The coaching departures of early 2023 did not help in the slightest. Joe Rudolph, arguably our best and most experienced offensive coach, headed out the door for greener pastures. Brad Glenn headed out the door, leaving the Quarterback room without a coach.

The frustrating point was that just as there was some critical traction being applied to the offensive line and QB recruiting situation, those two coaches headed for the exits. The details as to why are all speculation, and frankly a waste of time to go over past the reality that coaches move more than soldiers. And Brent Pry’s rolodex was getting a workout in ways that he might not have appreciated too much. Rebuilding a program needs some measure of stability, and losing to major coaches from your staff is a massive hit to both recruiting and player development.

That meant that the 2023 season was going to start in a coaching hole with a dearth of coaching talent available in the pipeline. Most of the shuffling and coaching merry-go-round activity had ended which placed Pry in a difficult position. He had to fill two major slots on his staff and the available coaching prospects were limited.

That leaves us where we are today. Pry filled the two slots for Spring practice by moving existing coaches around and reassigning roles, along with hiring Elijah Brooks from Maryland to coach the running backs – relieving Stu Holt to concentrate more on Special Teams and Tight Ends. He replaced Joe Rudolph with Ron Crook who is a solid 30-year veteran coach with loads of FBS experience. Offensive Coordinator Tyler Bowen is taking over the role of QB coach to go with his OC role.

It might be a scramble, but the two rooms, Running Backs and Offensive Line, seem to be getting healthier and deeper, as recruiting has improved for those positions, so there’s that.

2023 Coaching Staff – Summary and Observations

Brent Pry - Head Coach

Bluntly the jury was and is out on Brent Pry as a head coach. Some folks are loving the hire, some folks were skeptical, and some folks were vociferously disappointed. He was a crackerjack defensive assistant at various levels, most notably Vanderbilt (when James Franklin had them winning some games) and Penn State, when Franklin moved from Nashville to Western PA. But Pry had absolutely no experience as a head coach in any situation, let alone a big time (supposedly) college program.

That reality, along with the rumors regarding the conditions of the hire with several other names in the hopper who went elsewhere – there are arguments as to the place Pry occupied on Whit Babcock’s list, but few people believed that Brent Pry was first.

Let’s look at the positives and the potential down sides, taking the good first. Pry looks to be rededicating himself to rational recruiting work at both the high school and transfer portal levels. Look, the last regime inherited a terrible recruiting situation from the end of the Beamer Era, and it just got worse. I can’t tell you when, I have some ideas that I’ll always talk about on background, but they are just suppositions that I wouldn’t ever put online or on paper because they are pure speculation, but suffice it to say we saw a precipitous drop in the name cache of the Virginia Tech Hokies starting in the late aughts, and dwindling as the 2011 Sugar Bowl robbery effectively ended that era. It just never really came back from there.

Get Me Some Talent

Pry, already possessed a premium recruiting reputation from Penn State, in Virginia Tech’s natural Territory (there are arguments, but we are talking Pennsylvania/Jersey in the North, Ohio in the West, and the Carolinas in the South. Since he’s taken over, Pry has reopened those doors, put a crowbar in the AD’s purse for recruiting staff and coordinators, and gone to repairing fences, and building new roads. No one is going to write home to Mommy and brag about the 4- and 5-star talent that he’s bringing in, but he’s been bold and worked to get the top end of his 3-star prospects to commit to Tech.

He’s also greatly improved the communications game. He’s personable, approachable, and above all doesn’t get into coach talk blather. You can go to a presser and listen to his answers to questions without pre-writing them. He certainly has an air of bluntness about him that says that he might be guarded about what he is relaying to protect young men’s reputations and feelings, but he’s also often brutally honest with the situations at hand. That’s not particularly normal for any coaching level. It’s refreshing but hopefully it doesn’t leave too many bruises, either.

No Bueno Stuff

As far as the things to work on, and the traps that lie ahead, Pry made a couple of unforced errors in 2021, most notably not stepping away from the defensive duties and letting Chris Marve run that show. The Hokie defense was very competent in 2022 and kept the team in games when they should have been blown out. They just more often than not ran out of gas from being on the field too long. Pry was often less than a score from winning enough games to qualify for a bowl. And that’s the big rub. The question about Pry is how long is going to take to get back to winning? A 3 (or 4 because the Hokies were heavily favored to beat the Hoos) and 8 season is a tough hole to climb out of. Tech hadn’t done that poorly in a more than a generation so that smack hurt badly. It also negatively effects recruiting and retention in the age of the transfer portal. Now add the negative pressure on NIL deals when playing for a losing team, and Pry has a head coaching migraine headache that might take a magician to fix.

Pry’s Trap?

Brent Pry’s main shell trap is going to be how he handles the offensive situation. There is no making of excuses, the three things that the Hokie offense required in 2022 it did not have; Talent, Scheme, and Execution. It just couldn’t do anything consistently. Sometimes it could be good and zip through an opening drive like the proverbial knife through butter, and then in the very same game not score more than a field goal for the entire contest. Now, the Talent and Execution factors might be the two worst deflective excuses coaches make in football, in order to excuse the lack of prowess in scheme design and execution by the coordinators. Pry is likely to face a world of coaching hurt if the offense doesn’t rise to the level of “competent” by 2024. If he can keep the defense rolling under Marve, he just needs Bowen to get the offense to some level of performance better than “total suck.”

No Head Coach Can Do It All

The buck stops with Pry, but assistants are critical to the Xs and Os of football. Head Coach Pry has already had two coaching departures that nearly made a complete mess of the Spring practice season, and probably still made things less complete than the staff would have liked. We won’t talk about the departing coaches for more than the observation that on the offense none of the styles/methods seemed to mesh very well. The offensive line just never got past school, and learning new techniques that weren’t necessarily the right ones for the supposed RPO/Zone Blocking/Read-Option offense that was reportedly the favored scheme. In addition, there was not enough quarterback talent in that room. In fact, that remains an issue as we cruise through the beginning of Summer in anticipation of the 2023 practice season starting. The 2022 running back room had hard workers, but the type of runner like Khalil Herbert wasn’t there, and the closest talent to him was chronically injured.

Those are adjustments and talent building that the assistant coaching staff has to make, and there just didn’t seem to be a whole lot of reassessing and reorganizing going on with the offensive situation. The defense got better each game and new stars began to shine. The offense never seemed to get off the ground.

JC Price – Associate Head Coach/Defensive Line

JC is all Hokie, all enthusiasm, and from what we can see he’s getting technique taught, improving the line play in the starting and depth positions, and seems to have quietly built a competent two-deep with some positive commitments for the pipeline. We just won’t know how that will all work out until the first live snaps of the 2023 season challenge his work and his players’ skill levels. The big question will be regarding his handling of the entire line, both inside and out. Does the natural rush pressure of a 4-man front manage to keep the need for a Bear front (4 down linemen and a dedicated pass rushing/edge rushing linebacker) as an interesting option? The defense’s biggest weakness from last season was natural pressure on the quarterback, and that’s got to come from a disciplined balanced rush with a positive closure and control of the ‘A’ gap. Is the talent there to not only stuff the run, but get into the lap of the QB to close off the option without linebacker help? JC’s answer is going to be critical.

Tyler Bowen - Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach

Bowen is one of the two coaches in a deep hole for 2023. It doesn’t take too much to get football fans in Hokie Nation grousing faster than to mention this particular coach’s name in polite company. Without getting too into the weeds, there aren’t too many folks too impressed with Bowen’s brilliance, as claimed by unnamed and unmentioned insiders. Frankly, if you want to get into the scheme weeds of current football offense, I will give you a quick hint. Most college offenses are high school offenses where on some signal the ball is snapped to the best athlete on the team and then “magic” or “tragic” happens. Coaches wig wag signals, put up sign boards, dance on the sidelines, and curse excessively, but once the ball is snapped the play is either “pass,” “run now,” or “run later.” The main decision is an active key read based on the success of the blocking scheme, and you’d think that it was a return to sandlot football. Lots of coaches will argue vehemently with me on this, but when it comes down to it, they know the reality in their hearts. When the ball is snapped everything is different because it all instantly changes.

That means teaching the QB to do his job on the field and execute his reads properly. That means teaching the offensive line to audible correctly and set up the blocking scheme to make the play work. That means adapting to the modern football need for the down-yardage schedule to be 6-8 yards on 1st down, not 3-4.

And that begs the question. Can Tyler Bowen trust his quarterback enough to allow him to audible? Can he actually go fast without momentum damaging pauses? Does he have the receiver talent enough to get separation and open up the intermediate 3-second passing offense that will gain 8 yards on first down consistently? Does he have a quarterback that plays the style of offense that he plans to employ? Right now, his three options; Grant Wells, Kyron Drones, and Pop Watson are all radically different QB styles. Which one can he win with?

If Bowen cannot answer these questions and fix those glaring problems from 2022 then Brent Pry is going to be in a very uncomfortable position, very soon. In many circles, there is much chatter that if the offense is still struggling before the halfway point in the season that there is going to be at least one flaming hot seat. There isn’t a whole lot of patience in the fan till, anymore.

Chris Marve - Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach

Marve was finally given the defensive play calling at the Liberty game. I’d have loved to have seen him call the UVA game, too. It was one of the best defensive performances of the season, and the truth is that Chris Marve might be the best overall assistant coach on the staff. I will be shocked if he stays at Tech for a Bud Foster challenging period. Chris Marve grades out with real potential head coaching chops and keeping him in Blacksburg if Tech starts to rise back to former glory, is going to be exceedingly difficult.

Look for Marve to keep nabbing good quality players and keeping the idea of the #LPD alive and well in Blacksburg.

Stu Holt - Special Teams Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach - Offense/Tight Ends

Holt was rumored to be on a really hot seat with several stumbles in the special teams play occurring during the season, including a big fall off in punt team performance and some serious problems with the place-kicking game. Some of that started to fade a bit into the past as things improved over the season, and #11 Tucker Holloway bubbled to the top of the punt returner chart. With his trade of responsibilities to the tight ends, (taken from Bowen who now has the QBs) Holt might get a shot at getting some better performance out of the Special Teams squads. He’s got a couple of premium legs for place kicking, and hopefully Peter Moore is back to his freshman form. Holt also has some quality Tight Ends who can make a major impact on the offense, especially the RPO, if he can get Bowen to pay attention to them in his play schemes.

Derek Jones - Defensive Recruiting Coordinator/Cornerbacks Coach

Jones has more recruiting chops in the south and west territory mapped out by Coach Pry. He’s not new to the scheme of things having worked with big programs like Duke and Texas Tech. Jones has talent to work with including former Freshman sensation Mansoor Delane, and a general overall return of the #DBU attitude that sort of disappeared over the last couple of seasons.

Fontel Mines – Offensive Recruiting Coordinator/Wide Receivers Coach

Without a doubt, Coach Mines is the absolute best recruiter on the team. He’s also a really good receiver coach, and between the two hats, he’s made an absolutely astounding turn around happen in the Receiver Room for 2023. Mines looks like he’s traded his Blue and Orange in for Burnt Orange and Chicago Maroon for the long term. 2023 will tell us Tech is going to succeed in stepping back up a level. The receiver room and Fontel Mines are going to be critical pieces in the execution of that plan.

Pierson Prioleau – Safeties Coach

PP is the other former Hokie star on the staff, and was just promoted last season to his current position. His pro-football experience (a Super Bowl Ring to show for it) is a huge plus as the Safety position becomes so critical in defending against the increasingly active passing attacks being put on by college offenses. Tech’s safeties have always been known for their flexibility, aggressive play, and cover skills. PP is a Bud Foster student, and is a critical link in that chain that continues to tie the Tech defense to the Lunch Pail mentality.

Shawn Quinn - Sam Linebackers/Nickels

Quinn has been quietly competent as the decent performance of the defense showed last season, but at some point, the linebacker room is going to have to show a broader reach on the field as Tech has to make up for more defensive time is burned up. The critical nature of the Whip/Rover position – Sam/Nickel in Pry’s scheme of things — is going to make the play in the defensive midfield critical. Tech is not blessed with 4-star and 5-star talent across the linebacker position, so as always, it must have good coaching and smart players to make up for the physical talent drop offs between us and the big ‘uns like Penn State, Alabama, and Clemson. It’s only Quinn’s second season with modest improvement to show for 2022. He’s likely going to have to squeeze more out of his crew in 2023.

The Two New “Emergency” Hires

Elijah Brooks - Running Backs Coach and Ron Crook - Offensive Line Coach

We just don’t know. Brooks looks great on paper with his level of experience, recruiting chops in the DC Metro Area, and a much-improved running back picture for Tech, but Coach Brooks is just too new at this to see what he’s going to be pushing in game situations. There were some nice runs happening in the Spring Game, but that’s not the real thing. We can revisit this on our 1st Third of the season review after game four.

Coach Crook having to replace Joe Rudolph isn’t an easy thing to do for any coach. Crook is very experienced and seems to have a good rapport developing with the offensive linemen, but that squad has its own problems and its own issues to settle that didn’t get close to being addressed in 2022. The offensive line lacks depth. There is just too much of a performance capability gap between the 1’s and 2’s to do more than pray about 2023. The best that can be said for the Offensive Line, this summer, is that it is still a work in progress.

That’s the Coaching Situation for the 2023 Season

It’s almost like slamming on the breaks just before the draw bridge across the river pops open. Did you see the signal? Was it out? I am I blind and need someone else to drive? One cannot approach the 2023 Hokie Football Season without looking squarely at the top of the pile and note that the coaching staff is still not completely settled. There are too many unanswered questions at critical offensive positions for anyone to be confident in any predictions as to the Win/Loss record for the team. We’ll attempt something rational in the future, as the season approaches, but for now, the Virginia Tech Hokies are in a sort of limbo of the unknown and disappointing. 2022 left another bad taste in the mouth, and there just doesn’t seem to be too much encouraging progress made on the glaring hole in the 2022 season and that was the complete and total lack of a Hokie offense.

That’s on the coaches, and we will see as we address each unit, what we are facing in detail.

Your Turn – Take the Poll, Comment.


Come mid-season, who’s seat will be the Hotest on the staff?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Pry’s leash is short, 3-8 was too much for too many people to take. If he’s losing big by mid-season with no improvement he’s sitting on a blowtorch.
    (22 votes)
  • 47%
    Bowen. When they are bragging about brilliance, always count on the gold being pyrite. If the offense doesn’t show positive improvement Bowen’s the one on the heater.
    (108 votes)
  • 3%
    Holt’s Special Teams were not Frank’s Pride and Joy squad, they weren’t even Jimmy Sharpe material. Beamer Ball is now played in South Carolina. Holt needs to figure out how to get it back in Blacksburg or find flame proof shorts.
    (8 votes)
  • 39%
    There won’t be a hot seat for 2023. The rebuilding effort is just starting, and there is just no expectation of doing more than just doing better, for now. Ask about this in 2024.
    (90 votes)
228 votes total Vote Now

Next Up, we go over the critical Quarterback situation.

As Always,