Virginia coach Mike London’s new hires for his football staff definitely have a down home flavor.
Adding major college coaching experience and aggressiveness to the operation, London brought in some familiar faces and a new one in hopes of building UVa’s program into a consistent winner. Virginia finished 4-8 in 2011, prompting the replacement of four assistant coaches and some staff reshuffling.
The biggest splash was the hiring of Tom O’Brien, former head coach at Boston College and N.C. State for the past 16 years, as Virginia’s new associate head coach for offense and tight ends coach. In addition, Jon Tenuta will join the Cavaliers as associate head coach for defense/defensive coordinator.
The duo, both with UVa ties, boast a combined 84 years of coaching experience at major college programs and have coached in 40 bowl games, while producing more than 90 professional players.
O’Brien was a member of Hall of Fame coach George Welsh’s original staff at Virginia in 1982 and remained in Charlottesville until taking over a downtrodden Boston College program in 1996. Tenuta is a graduate of UVa and lettered three years as a defensive back for former coach Dick Bestwick, then served as a graduate assistant coach in 1981-82.
London also confirmed the hiring of special teams coordinator Jeff Banks of Texas El Paso, as had been speculated upon last month. Banks will also serve as Virginia’s running backs coach. Meanwhile, former Cavaliers quarterback Marques Hagans has been elevated from graduate assistant to full-time wide receivers coach.
In a slight reshuffle, Chip West has taken over the recruiting coordinator slot, after having shared those duties in the past. West will continue to coach UVa’s cornerbacks.
“These four coaches are a dynamic group who will be great teachers and instructors for our student-athletes, while maintaining the values we have set for our team,” London said in a released statement. “Three of them have strong ties to Virginia and they have first-hand knowledge and experiences of what makes our university a special place. This group will compliment our current staff well and help our football program reach its goals.”
The staff upgrade didn’t come cheaply.
O’Brien agreed to a two-year deal worth $450,000 annually in addition to a $150,000 signing bonus. After two years, he is eligible for a $300,000 bonus. O’Brien will also receive a $200,000 settlement from N.C. State rather than a $1.2 million buyout had he chosen not to coach any longer.
Tenuta, who worked for O’Brien at N.C. State, agreed to a five-year UVa contract worth $500,000 annually, while Banks and Hagans agreed to two-year contracts. Banks will receive $200,000 annually and Hagans, $150,000 a year.
Coaches’ salaries are funded from UVa’s athletic department, which does not receive any state monies for its operation.
O’Brien and London have a fairly long history dating back to their Boston College days when London served on O’Brien’s first staff there.
“I was fortunate to work for Tom O’Brien and I have so much respect for him because of the consistent success he’s experienced, while never sacrificing his beliefs and philosophies,” London said Thursday evening. “With Tom’s experience as a head coach in the ACC and Big East for 16 seasons, I am looking forward to his insights and I’m excited that he will be able to share his knowledge with our coaches and players.
“[O’Brien] is someone I trust and I value his opinions and evaluations,” London said. “Tom has coached some of the conference’s most dynamic offensive players over the course of his career and he will play a significant role in the development of our offense.”
Tenuta has coached for three decades, mostly on the major college level where he has served as defensive coordinator at such high profile programs as Notre Dame, Ohio State, Kansas State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and N.C. State, in addition to SMU and Marshall. He also worked at Oklahoma.
During those years, Tenuta has earned a reputation as one of the most aggressive defensive coordinators in the business for his blitzing tactics and schemes to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
“It’s no secret that Jon brings an aggressive approach to the defensive side of the ball and I think our players will be excited to adopt that philosophy,” London said. “Jon has a great track record of improving defense. He’s spent many years coaching in the ACC and there’s not much, if anything, he has not had to prepare for.”
Tenuta is married to former UVa women’s basketball player Dori Gamble, who lettered four times between 1978 and 1981.
Banks worked under Mike Price at UTEP for nine seasons and was described as “the best special teams coach I’ve ever been around,” by Price, who recently retired. UTEP attempted to keep Banks on its staff but Virginia managed to lure him eastward to help a Cavaliers’ special teams unit that has struggled.
Under Banks’ direction, UTEP boasted one of the top special teams units in Conference USA in recent seasons. His special teams were ranked in the conference’s top four in 2012 in net punting, kickoff returns, and punt returns. Banks also helped produce UTEP’s single-season rushing record holder, Donald Buckram, in 2009.
“Jeff has built a strong reputation as an outstanding special teams coach,” London said. “As a former college punter (Washington State), he will provide expertise to our kickers that we haven’t had on the staff before. Jeff will also bring innovation to our running game. He’s sharp and organized (he was UTEP’s recruiting coordinator as well) and will be a great asset to our program.”
Wahoo fans are familiar with Hagans, who quarterbacked some of former coach Al Groh’s teams and helped UVa upset Florida State in 2005. He played briefly in the NFL as a wide receiver, and is also married to a former UVa women’s basketball player, Lauren Swierczek (1998-2000).
Hagans helped boost UVa’s young receiver corps this past season and was considered a strong addition to the staff as a grad assistant.
“Marques loves the Virginia football program and he really impressed me in terms of his passion and hard work as a graduate assistant coach the past two years,” London said. “He played in a key role in the development of our wide receivers this season. The fact that Marques was a terrific high school player in the state (Hampton) and a successful student-athlete at UVa will also help our recruiting efforts.”