Virginia defensive coordinator Jim Reid has been a football coach for more than 40 years but there’s one particular practice that he will never forget.
It was the first scrimmage of UVa’s training camp this past August. The problem was, Reid remembered the practice for all the wrong reasons.
“I couldn’t believe how bad we were,” Reid said only moments after Saturday’s season-ending loss at Virginia Tech. The veteran coordinator was reflecting briefly back on the season.
“And, the second scrimmage was worse,” Reid said, able to chuckle about it three months later. At the time it was not a laughing matter.
The Cavaliers had lost seven starters from a stout defense that helped them win eight games in 2011 and earn a spot in the Chick-fil-A Bowl opposite then-defending national champion Auburn.
“I came back [to the McCue Center football offices] after the second scrimmage and I walked past [defensive line coach] Jeff Hanson’s office and he said to me, ‘We’re terrible.’ I said, ‘Well, we’re young. If we were terrible with seniors, I’d be nervous, but we’re young, so we’ve got to progress,’ ” Reid said.
There were low expectations coming into the season for Virginia’s defense, which would include several new faces on the defensive line and in the secondary, which turned out to be one of the five youngest secondaries in the nation. Reid, himself realized it wouldn’t be easy to get this defense ready to play against a schedule that included such high-powered offenses as Penn State, TCU, Louisiana Tech, Georgia Tech, Duke, Miami, and others.
In fact, he said in the spring and reiterated in August that if his defense was to succeed that he and his fellow coaches on that side of the ball would have to find a way to inspire the younger players to perform beyond their years.
Reid believed that happened.
“Someone would have to be blind and have to know nothing about football at all if they didn’t think that from Day One we progressed all the way through the season,” Reid said. “These guys played as hard as they could and stayed together. It was magnificent to watch them come together.”
Upon a brief inspection of the 4-8 Cavalier campaign, the defense was perhaps the most impressive part of the team, which was totally unexpected.
Statistically, the Wahoos looked pretty good in a conference that suddenly exploded with offensive numbers never seen before in this part of the country.
Take a look.
Virginia finished as the No. 31 defense in the entire nation (total defense), which is somewhat mind blowing if you think about it. Considering how offenses put up jaw-dropping statistics from coast-to-coast, finishing in the Top 40 out 120 FBS schools was impressive.
The Cavaliers were No. 36 in passing defense, No. 45 in rushing defense (144.92 per game), and No. 12 in third down defense, the second consecutive year that UVa finished high nationally in that category.
Virginia stumbled in two defensive categories, unfortunately the two aspects that critics will point to as season killers: scoring defense and turnover margin. Reid’s defense was No. 72 in the country in scoring defense, allowing 28.92 points per game. They also finished in a tie for No. 111 in turnover margin. UVa created only 12 turnovers all season long, four interceptions and eight fumble recoveries.
“All these young guys on defense had to be led to get the performance out of them and they were led by Steve Greer, La’Roy Reynolds, Will Hill, and Billy Schautz,” Reid said.
Greer and Reynolds had outstanding seasons for the Cavaliers and the absence of these seniors will truly be missed but coach Mike London has to be encouraged about the future of the defense with most of his players returning.
With the release of running backs coach Mike Faragelli on Monday (according to sources close to the program), it will be interesting to see how many more staff changes will be made in the coming days, particularly in the wake of recent firings in other programs flooding the market with jobless coaches.
Did the UVa defensive coaches do enough to save their jobs? Will there be more changes on offense? What about special teams?
For those disgruntled fans looking for a change at head coach, forget about it. It’s not going to happen. There could be other changes though. While I would expect that fan favorite Anthony Poindexter may be assigned to coach other positions on the team, I don’t think he will be coordinating special teams next season. He’s a valuable member of the staff and a solid recruiter, so I would be shocked if he wasn't part of the program.
The days ahead could be interesting. I would not be surprised if there are more changes made, somewhat similar to what happened with Frank Beamer’s staff in 1992 when he was persuaded to transform his original staff. We know how that came out: 20 consecutive bowl appearances.
It’s all part of the business and every coach worth his salt knows that there's no guarantees.
Like former Virginia Tech coach Jimmy Sharpe once told me, “You won’t see any of us coaches planting any pecan trees in our yards.”
I found out later that pecan trees take a looonnnnnggggg time to grow. Most coaches don’t stick around long enough to see the finished product.