The Virginia Tech football team is losing offensive-line coach Jeff Grimes to the LSU Tigers after he spent just one year with the Hokies, a move that may seem minor but is actually an incredibly meaningful loss for the program.
The move has yet to be announced by either school, but Mike Barber of The Richmond Times-Dispatch and Ross Dellenger of the Baton Rouge, La. Advocate are each reporting that Grimes has accepted the Tigers’ job offer.
Reports emerged previously that Grimes had been offered the job, but there was some question over whether or not he’d actually accept.
Now, it seems as if Grimes is definitively the guy, even if coach Les Miles seems unwilling to speak on the subject in the near future, as Dellenger reported earlier.
But the real question is what all this means for Virginia Tech’s program.
While the interest from a SEC program as prominent as LSU is certainly a good indicator of Grimes’ ability and Frank Beamer’s sound judgment in hiring the coach in the first place, it’s still a real blow to a unit that was really starting to come together.
The offensive line was hardly perfect in 2013, but it was certainly better than it was in 2012, and it had a lot of potential to get better going forward thanks to the recruiting class Grimes helped bring in this year.
Losing Grimes certainly isn’t the end of the world for the Hokies, but his departure is going to have a ripple effect throughout the program and change things for this team in a variety of ways.
A Scheme Step Backward
When Grimes arrived at Virginia Tech, he found a line that was in disarray. Former position coach Curt Newsome didn’t seem to have any sort of binding philosophy, rotating in players with little discernible logic behind his decisions.
Grimes quickly changed that. Even though he ended up playing a variety of players out of position, including former center Andrew Miller at guard and former guard David Wang at center, the line really seemed to coalesce as the season progressed.
The line didn’t put up great numbers in either pass-blocking or in run yards produced, but these failings largely stemmed from quarterback Logan Thomas’ tendency to hold onto the ball too long or the running backs’ inability to make decisive cuts.
The unit neutralized prominent pass-rushers like UCLA’s Anthony Barr on several occasions and helped the Hokies abuse Alabama’s vaunted front seven.
And the best seemed yet to come, as Grimes started to develop the zone-blocking system that he ran at Auburn.
The Tigers were a disaster on offense in 2012, yet still managed to run for 148.4 yards per game, and that’s largely because of the work Grimes’ group did up front after playing together for several years.
Grimes was even the architect behind much of the offensive line that paved the way for the Tigers’ top-ranked rushing attack this season, as he personally recruited starters like left guard Alex Kozan.
With Grimes’ exit, the running game is a bit adrift. The Hokies’ will likely consider elevating tight-ends coach and recruiting coordinator Bryan Stinespring, as he’s coached the line in the past, or looking at one of the candidates they previously spurned in favor of Grimes.
Todd Washington, the assistant offensive-line coach for the Baltimore Ravens and a former Tech player, is one possibility that could bring some serious professional experience to the team. However, he recently turned down an offer for the same position with the USC Trojans that likely would’ve offered more money than the Hokies can.
Although working for his alma mater may hold some value, no one can be sure what Washington will do.
That leaves the Hokies searching for an identity with the running game after having had a very defined one with Grimes in charge.
A big part of Grimes’ appeal was his ability as a recruiter. He’d recruited five new linemen from all over the country for the 2014 class who seemed to perfectly fit his scheme.
Now, with less than a month to go before National Signing Day, the Hokies have to be seriously concerned about losing out on some of the “Fab Five” group that Grimes recruited.
Between guards Colt Pettit and Billy Ray Mitchell, tackles Brady Taylor and Tyrell Smith and center Eric Gallo, Grimes assembled a physically imposing group that could’ve easily been the future for Tech’s offensive line.
But this future is very much in doubt now.
Taylor seemed to be on the way out the door thanks to a scholarship offer from Ohio State before Grimes’ departure, but the coach’s absence certainly doesn’t help matters, as his recent tweet indicates.
Taylor will make his final decision after his official visit to Columbus on Jan. 14, but given Urban Meyer’s recruiting ability combined with the upheaval at Tech, the Hokies’ prospects seem grim on this front.
Grimes’ exit provoked similar reactions from both Pettit and Smith.
Neither recruit has indicated he’ll be opening up his recruitment once more, but there’s no doubt that they’ll consider it in the coming days.
Mitchell seems similarly committed, but his high school coach, Chris Partridge, hinted to Barber that he might explore his options.
Partridge said he still thinks Mitchell is committed to Virginia Tech but said changes in the coaching staff give a recruit the right to re-open dialogue with other schools.
“You don’t pick an institution for position coach nowadays,” Partridge said.
“There’s too much movement. The relationship is part of it, no doubt about it. And it has to be a part of it. But you pick a program for the school.”
Mitchell held offers from schools like Wisconsin, Georgia Tech and N.C. State prior to committing to Tech, so he’ll certainly have options if he wants to go elsewhere.
This all just comes down to what kind of hire Tech can make at the position before National Signing Day, but Hokie fans have to hope the coaching staff can find some way to hold onto such promising recruits.
The disturbing underlying question with the whole Grimes incident is what his departure says about how Virginia Tech pays its assistant coaches.
According to the USA Today salary database, Tech doesn’t exactly shell out the big bucks for its assistants. The athletic department pays its assistants a total of $2,219,820, an impressive figure, but one that doesn’t even come close to touching the top tier of college football programs.
By comparison, LSU doles out a whopping $4,565,803 for its assistants, the top mark in all of college football.
Grimes was slated to make $280,000 next season with the Hokies, including a $50,000 bonus if he was still with the team on Jan. 15, 2015, but he turned that down in favor of the Tigers.
While the terms of his deal won’t be known for some time, for some perspective, LSU paid former offensive line coach Greg Studrawa $510,000 in 2013. Part of that was certainly due to his seniority on the staff, but it’s pretty safe to say that Grimes will get a major pay bump.
This raises troubling questions for the Hokies. They’ve long saved money by signing their assistants to small deals, with none more out of proportion with job performance than defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s $535,000 deal.
By comparison, LSU defensive boss John Chavis makes $1,100,000, a figure that Foster could undoubtedly command if he wanted to make some noise about his contract.
What all this seems to say is that now that the Hokies have waded into the deep waters of college football with their prominent hires of Grimes, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and wide-receivers coach Aaron Moorehead, the days of doing things on the cheap may be over.
This will be a foremost question for the university’s new president Tim Sands and whoever becomes the school’s new athletic director.
Former AD Jim Weaver and Beamer might’ve been comfortable with saving money at the expense of the assistants, but that just might not be a viable business model going forward.
Defensive-backs coach Torrian Gray got national attention for his excellence the last few seasons, yet he makes just $221,000. Would another school that’s able to offer more be able to attract his attention and rob Tech of its best recruiter? It’s hard to say.
Tech will have to take a hard look at this area going forward, and it could affect them in their search for a new offensive-line coach. Washington was willing to turn down what was almost certainly a lucrative offer from USC, so will he give the Hokies a discount just for old times’ sake?
No matter how you look at it, Grimes’ absence is an unsettling one for Virgina Tech.
Whether it's with the scheme, recruiting or salary structure, his departure is a major concern for the program.
Beamer will always lend stability to the top of the program, but the Hokies are headed for some rough waters in the coming months.