CHARLOTTESVILLE — In the days after he was fired as North Carolina State's associate head coach for defense and linebacker coach this past season, along with head coach Tom O'Brien, Jon Tenuta took stock of his own resume.
It dawned on Tenuta he had owned a lot of real estate in various Atlantic Coast Conference towns, but he wondered why he never made a coaching stop on a full-time employment basis at his alma mater in Charlottesville. He thought if he was going to make a fifth coaching move to a program in the ACC, he'd like it to be at Virginia.
U.Va. coach Mike London helped that plan come to fruition.
"Right, wrong or indifferent, when (O'Brien) got the axe (at N.C. State), and we're standing there in no-man's land and when Mike starts talking to me, you start thinking, 'Wow, I've coached at Maryland, I've coached at North Carolina, I've coached at Georgia Tech, I've coached at N.C. State. Why haven't I coached at Virginia? What the heck?'" said Tenuta, who London hired to be U.Va.'s associated head coach for defense and defensive coordinator.
Tenuta, 55, will bring 32 seasons of coaching expertise to the place where he played defensive back and received his degree in 1982, before serving as a U.Va. graduate assistant in '81 and '82.
He comes to U.Va. with O'Brien, who will be the Cavaliers' associate head coach for offense and tight ends coach, and new special-teams coordinator and running backs coach Larry Lewis. Hampton High and U.Va graduate Marques Hagans was promoted from U.Va.'s graduate assistant position to wide receivers coach. All were introduced in a news conference Friday afternoon at U.Va.
In addition to being the lead defensive mind at N.C. State, Tenuta has spent half his career as a defensive coordinator, including stints in the role at Marshall, Southern Methodist, Kansas State, Ohio State, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame.
What's the single omnipresent characteristic that has defined his defenses over the years? Relentless heat on opposing quarterbacks — something U.Va. was missing last season under defensive coordinator Jim Reid.
U.Va., which went 4-8 last season, was 98th in the nation out of 120 Bowl Subdivision programs in sacks (17). It also was 113th in takeaways (12).
N.C. State, which finished 7-6 after a 38-24 loss to Vanderbilt in the Music City Bowl, was only 68th in total defense (404.7 yards per game) while U.Va. was 28th (353.3 yards per game), but the Wolfpack was 27th in sacks (33) and 42nd in takeaways (24).
London said Friday he's looking for improvement in three primary areas: playing smarter with fewer penalties, playing tough and playing with an aggressive streak. Tenuta's 4-3 approach can assist in the latter two categories.
"I think when you look at Jon's background and his style of play over the years, whether it's been at Notre Dame or Ohio State or Georgia Tech or wherever it may be, the type of defense he's coached has been a very aggressive style defense, a defense that demands a certain level of toughness," London said. "It is important to get sacks. It's important to get turnovers. It's important to limit teams scoring points. I think that those are the things that Jon has done a great job (with) in his career."
Tenuta, a native of Columbus, Ohio, is particular when he discusses his defensive approach. He won't talk about players until he gets to know them and understand his personnel, so no discussion of how a pass-rush specialist such as rising sophomore defensive end Eli Harold might take to Tenuta's assertive style.
On the other hand, Tenuta bristles when his defense is referred to as anything related to a blitz-happy scheme. He insists there's more to it.
"I like pressure, but I mean, you can pressure with four guys, too," Tenuta said. "I don't always have to bring the kitchen sink. I like to create illusions. You create illusions and put people in a bad place, then that's what I like."
As much as Tenuta has looked forward to getting back to the state where his ACC connections started, there's one place in the Commonwealth that has never crossed his mind as far as employment opportunities are concerned.
"I won't go down the road, I can tell you that," said Tenuta, referring not-so affectionately to Virginia Tech. "It never intrigued me."
Spoken like a true Hoo.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times