Walking through the Hampton Roads Convention Center, Jim Cavanaugh was clearly in his element. He never went more than a few steps or more than a minute at the annual Virginia High School Coaches Association clinic HQ without recognizing someone or a coach stopping to shake hands and chat.
“I really enjoy coming out here,” Cavanaugh said Wednesday, between handshakes and phone calls. “It gives me a chance to reconnect with a lot of old friends and people I don’t see as often any more.”
Cavanaugh enters his second year as the Virginia Tech football program’s Director of Recruiting and High School Relations. It’s a position that took him out of the daily coaching routine and off the road recruiting — part of a well-chronicled staff shakeup following the Hokies’ Orange Bowl loss to Stanford.
Cavanaugh and fellow longtime assistant Billy Hite were given administrative positions, and Shane Beamer and Cornell Brown were brought on as assistant coaches.
Cavanaugh now handles on-campus recruiting and activities at Tech. He arranges visits by prospects and gets them and their families where they need to be, and where they’re allowed to be, on game days. He also travels to various schools around the state conducting presentations on NCAA rules, eligibility, academic requirements and recruiting practices — not as a representative of Tech football, but of the entire university.
“I’m a little bit like a traveling ambassador for college athletics,” Cavanaugh said.
The gregarious and plain-spoken Cavanaugh — “Cav” to everyone who knows him — admits that he misses hands-on coaching, the camaraderie with coaching colleagues, the interaction with recruits and high school coaches. However, he immersed himself in the new position and welcomed outlets to meet and speak to people.
“This is an avenue to remain in the business I grew up in,” he said. “It allows me to remain in college football.”
He still attends practice daily, but doesn’t participate in regular staff meetings or do video breakdown and evaluations. Aside from the occasional interruption, evenings now are often his own.
The presentations around the state arose from a brainstorming session with Tech associate AD for football and head coach Frank Beamer’s right hand, John Ballein, among others. Cavanaugh has spoken to groups as small as 16 and as large as 200. He said that the 90-minute sessions have little to do with football and there are usually more women in the audience. He encourages questions and stays until the last person has left.
“Because it’s not football oriented, you get a broader range of questions and issues,” he said. “It keeps you sharp and you have to stay on top of a lot of different areas. I give people answers, and if I don’t know an answer, I’ll go back and research it and get back to people.”
Cavanaugh said he views the traveling chats and eligibility sessions as “a way to give back.”
“My theory is, if I can help one kid and one family, I feel like I’ve done my job,” he said.
Cavanaugh, 63, still believes he has plenty of tread on his tires and intends to remain in athletics in some capacity for the forseeable future. He said that NCAA measures regarding staff sizes and positions may dictate how long he works.
He wouldn’t rule out a return to full-on coaching and recruiting, but only under special circumstances: comfort with a head coach and staff; the chance to win championships right away; regional familiarity.
“It would have to be damn near perfect,” he said.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times