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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Despite coaching turnover, UVa recruiting class remains strong

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Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013 8:17 pm

With Wednesday’s hire of Steve Fairchild, the dust has settled on the Virginia football coaching carousel.

As far as we know.

Save the head coach and four assistants, the UVa staff will take on a fresh look for the 2013 season. There will be a new offensive coordinator (Fairchild), defensive coordinator (Jon Tenuta), special teams coordinator/running backs coach (Larry Lewis), wide receivers coach (Marques Hagans) and tight ends coach (Tom O’Brien, who will also have the title of associate head coach for offense).

Yet with all that turnover, the Cavaliers have managed to stay solid on their recruiting trail.

The class, which will become official with National Signing Day on Feb. 6, stands at 20 verbal commitments. That’s where it was on Dec. 2, when Mike London fired four assistants, including recruiting coordinator Jeff Hanson and defensive coordinator Jim Reid.

Two class members left (offensive lineman Brad Henson for North Carolina and cornerback Hipolito Corporan for Utah) but two were gained (offensive lineman Eric Smith and linebacker Connor Wingo-Reeves).

How did the Wahoos hold serve?

Credit London, said CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming.

“I think mainly it’s Mike London,” Lemming said during a phone interview Thursday morning. “Virginia has real good organization in recruiting. I’ve been doing this for 34 years and I travel. I try to visit with every coach and with every system. Every year, I try to stop by and see them all on my travels.

“Virginia has very good organization. They’re on top of the players early. They also do well on the Atlantic Coast, from Florida all the way up to New Jersey. They get on the players early and I think that has a lot to do with the continuity when you lose coaches. As long as the head coach is there and the organization and the structure is still there, you’re still going to do well. I think that’s why Virginia didn’t suffer that much this year with the coaching changes.”

Lemming, who also works for the National Collegiate Scouting Association, pointed to an Atlantic Coast Conference rival of Virginia that has had a familiar offseason.

Florida State has lost six assistant coaches in the last six weeks, including both coordinators.

Unlike the Cavs, the Seminoles have taken a recruiting hit with their transition.

“It’s affecting Wisconsin and Florida State this year,” Lemming said. “They [FSU] were in the top five and now they’re 17th [in CBS Sports’ rankings]. They did drop.”

And Virginia, ranked 24th by Rivals, might be elevated in the coming years.

Lemming said the hire of O’Brien, the 64-year-old with 16 years of head coaching experience, enhances UVa’s pitch.

“He’s a guy that recruited and trained the Atlanta Falcons quarterback [Matt Ryan] and a lot of other great offensive players out of Boston College and some at N.C. State,” Lemming said. “He’s got a great track record. I think if you sell him and his style of offense, which has almost always been successful, I think you’re going to attract the recruits because the high-power kids are immediately looking at great facilities and the quickest way to the NFL.

“If you can sell those two things — and Virginia’s got good facilities and O’Brien’s put a lot of guys into the NFL — it’s going to help.”

But how far will name recognition and swanky buildings go if there’s no wins to back it all up?

London will be entering his fourth season at UVa with just a 16-21 record and one bowl appearance.

Wouldn’t the blue chippers look elsewhere if they don’t see a consistent victory formula brewing in Charlottesville?

“They normally do, but I think Coach London’s such a good recruiter,” Lemming said. “He answers all their questions honestly and openly when they talk to him. Kids kind of relate to him more than a lot of the other coaches in the conference. I think that’s going to help.

“If Coach London never goes 11-1 or 12-0, Virginia will have a top 10 class because he is a premier recruiter. I think now with this staff coming in, they got the talent to surprise a lot of people next year and I think they will.”

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