The Virginia Tech football team was unexpectedly forced to take a ride on the coaching carousel when offensive line coach Jeff Grimes left for LSU. But it seems they’ve disembarked just as quickly, reportedly hiring former Texas coach Stacy Searels to fill the vacancy, as per Mark Giannotto of The Washington Post.
Searels spent the last two years coaching the Longhorns offensive line, in addition to getting promoted to Mack Brown’s assistant head coach in 2013. But he also has SEC roots. He played for the Auburn Tigers and spent time there as a graduate assistant. He also coached Georgia’s line from 2007-2010 and LSU’s from 2003-2006.
He wasn’t retained on the Longhorns’ staff when new head coach Charlie Strong arrived in town. But Florida was also rumored to be considering him for the Gators’ offensive line opening, according to Nick de la Torre of GatorCountry.com. He ultimately lost out before joining the Hokies.
Losing Grimes still hurts for the Hokies, but it has to be comforting for Tech fans that Frank Beamer was able to find a replacement of this caliber so quickly.
There have been some gripes with the performance of Searels lines in the past, but for the most part he seems like a capable coach and enthusiastic recruiter.
Although the impact of Searels’ hiring can’t truly be evaluated until he’s spent some time with the program, there are a few things that seem immediately apparent about the new Hokie.
One of the biggest negative aspects of Grimes’ departure was the hit Tech would take on recruiting.
Not only did Grimes recruit an impressive bunch of offensive linemen in 2014 (that has already seen a defection), but he also seemed to be a charismatic and effective recruiter in a variety of states.
The good news is that Searels seems to be no slouch in the recruiting department himself.
In 2006 alone, he brought in five 4-star recruits and four 3-star recruits for the Tigers, from states like Louisiana, Kansas and Georgia. That class included future NFL tackle Phil Loadholt.
When he made the switch to the Bulldogs, he still excelled. During his tenure at Georgia, he brought in five 3-stars, eight 4-stars and one 5-star.
He made the most of his time with Texas as well, bringing seven 4-star recruits during his three-year tenure.
Now, Hokies fans should likely take these numbers with a grain of salt; after all, it’s much easier to sell an SEC or Big 12 program than it is to convince high schoolers to head to the ACC.
Searels also helped the Longhorns steal away a recruit from the SEC when Van High School linebacker Dalton Santos, who Searels had his eye on since he was at Georgia, committed. Brown said that Searels nabbed all of the offensive linemen he was targeting, including junior college transfer Donald Hawkins. Davis also attracted a junior college player to Texas in 6-foot-6-inch, 335-pound defensive tackle Brandon Moore.
Searels hasn’t done much recruiting in Virginia, but he should still be a valuable asset for the Hokies on the recruiting trail. Although he doesn’t bring Grimes’ connections to northern states like New Jersey, he offers a pipeline into southern states like Georgia and Louisiana that the Hokies haven’t really previously reached.
The key for Searels' initial effect on the program will be how the four offensive line recruits Grimes signed react to his hiring. Each one seems committed to staying for now, but no one can be sure how his hiring will affect their decisions.
While Searels seems pretty universally well-liked as a recruiter, the opinions on his coaching ability seem more mixed.
The statistics of the running games he has coached seem impressive at first glance. He helped last year’s Longhorns squad finish with 196.2 yards per game, the 36th best mark nationally, and they finished 53rd and 21st in the country in 2012 and 2011 respectively.
At Georgia, his groups topped out at 37th nationally, with 177.2 yards per game in 2007. But part of his success surely stemmed from working with running back Knowshon Moreno.
His running attacks were even more successful at LSU, as he worked with the Tigers during their 2003 national title season, but again, star runner Justin Vincent buoyed the group.
Now, while Searels certainly deserves some of the credit for these running games’ success, some of the quotes coming out of the programs he’s left have bolstered the theory that he’s benefited from some good running backs.
I know my freshman year when I was blocking for (Moreno), they just told me to cover somebody up...Don’t even worry about moving him because Knowshon will make you right. Now we really take pride of getting him off the ball and making it easier for Isaiah so he’s making his cut four yards down the field instead of at the line of scrimmage.
This doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture of Searels’ coaching ability, but it’s also once small piece of a very large puzzle.
First, about Searels: He came to Georgia from LSU in 2007 with a solid reputation. But the Bulldogs’ offensive line has been central to their problems, particularly in the running game.
Now, I suppose some of the blame also could be attributed to the team’s oft-criticized strength and condition program (Dave Van Halanger recently was demoted), or to a perceived lack of talent up front, or to coach Mark Richt. But Searels can’t be absolved of responsibility. Coaching the offensive line is his job and he also carries the title, “running game coordinator.
Grimes really excelled at teaching the fundamentals, a characteristic that his predecessor at Tech sorely lacked. So Hokies fans really have to hope that Searels can do the same.
One positive for the coach is the glowing reviews he’s received from some of his former SEC competitors, such as ESPN’s David Pollack, a former Georgia linebacker.
And, as a former offensive linemen himself, he both looks and sounds like a convincing teacher on the football field. Just watching this brief video of his work with Texas in 2012 is enough to instill some confidence in his demeanor, at the very least.
Unfortunately for Hokie fans, it’s impossible to really tell how Searels will perform when he steps foot in Blacksburg.
Despite some criticism, it’s hard to deny that he’s a veteran coach with solid pedigree and an asset for the program’s recruiting efforts.
While he may have his issues, no coach is perfect, and Tech fans will have to trust in Beamer’s judgment once more.