Do Sweeping Staff Changes Really Help a Head Coach Survive?
USA TODAY Sports
Frank Beamer has been Virginia Tech's head coach for 27 years. Known for remarkable stability in its football program, the Hokies just made some startling changes to its coaching staff, according to ESPN's Heather Dinich. More:
The highest-profile change was the hire of former Temple and Auburn offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler for the same position, but equally as important were the hires of former Auburn offensive line coach Jeff Grimes and former Stanford wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead—two position groups that were at the heart of the Hokies' struggles last year and lacked physicality. Embattled offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring, the main target of the fans’ wrath over the years, has been reassigned to recruiting coordinator, and he will continue to coach the tight ends.
Significant staff changes usually indicate a head coach either is not satisfied with the direction a team is going or he's forced to make changes to save his job. Beamer doesn't fall in the latter category—he's the face of Hokie football.
But Virginia Tech also hasn't really taken that big step—winning a BCS Championship.
Although Virginia Tech did play Florida State for the 1999 BCS Championship, it lost 46-29. And in the current "what have you done for me lately?" football climate, that's not going to sit well with impatient fans.
In 2012 the Hokies went 6-6 in the regular season before beating Rutgers in overtime 13-10 in the Russell Athletics Bowl. The last Virginia Tech team to have a .500 or sub-.500 regular season was in 1992 when the team went 2-8-1.
So changes have been made and what results they yield will be interesting to see. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.
Dabo Swinney is in his sixth year as head coach of the Clemson Tigers. Last year Swinney brought in Brent Venables as his defensive coordinator, a year after Chad Morris became Swinney's offensive coordinator. So have these two additions helped?
The Tigers' defense was ranked ninth in the ACC in 2011 but in Venables' first year it moved up to seventh in the league. The problem is, ACC defenses have also gotten better so while Clemson appears to have improved under Venables, it actually gave up more yards (396.5) in 2012 than it had in 2011 (394.4).
Still, both Venables and Morris are outstanding coaches and their mentoring should only help Swinney as head coach—the fact that Swinney got the school to open its wallets for two of college football's highest-priced assistants is remarkable.
Ten years ago Swinney was a real estate developer. Then a wide receivers coach. Then an interim head coach after Tommy Bowden's departure. Now he's the head coach with two pricey assistants. I'd say the changes he made were not only spectacular, but guaranteeing his survival.
Former UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel wasn't as lucky. During Neuheisel's tenure the staff saw big changes. And lots of losses.
Retained defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker and newly hired offensive coordinator Norm Chow didn't last long—Chow was dismissed after three years and landed at Utah before finally becoming Hawai'i's head coach while Walker ended up as New Mexico State's head coach after one year with Neuheisel.
Chuck Bullough was then hired as the new defensive coordinator but he was dismissed after the 2010 season.
In 2011 Mike Johnson was hired as the new offensive coordinator and Joe Tresey was the new defensive coordinator—the Bruins would end up going 6-6 in the regular season, 6-8 after two post season losses. Neuheisel was dismissed and so went the staff.
Constant change can be detrimental to a team's growth. While Neuheisel was restricted to a tight budget at UCLA and couldn't necessarily bring in the assistants he wanted, he also didn't keep them for very long.
Changes in schemes are at times necessary but they can also stifle growth at both the individual and team level. These changes made by Beamer appear to be welcome, according to Dinich:
“I didn’t really want to come back to a place where I wasn’t going to progress and be getting prepared for the next level,” said quarterback Logan Thomas, who chose to return for his senior season instead of leaving early for the NFL draft.
We'll let that statement stand on its own merit.
Maybe Beamer decided to get more aggressive with a change of staff. Maybe Beamer didn't like where things were headed. Maybe Beamer was influenced by a quarterback to make changes. Or maybe vice-versa.
Maybe Beamer finally takes that big step.
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