Virginia offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s departure for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles comes as no surprise. First, his meticulous, almost intellectual, approach to strategy and teaching seems more suitable for the pros.
Second, Lazor coached seven seasons in the NFL with the Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons, working with high-profile mentors such as Dan Reeves, Joe Gibbs and Mike Holmgren. He interviewed last offseason with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the hunch is he would have accepted an offer.
Third, Lazor and Virginia coach Mike London never appeared to mesh. During the Michael Rocco-David Watford quarterback rotation of 2011, and the Rocco-Phillip Sims carousel of 2012, it was difficult to tell who was calling the shots and whether the coaches agreed on whom to play.
So when CBSSports.com’s Bruce Feldman broke the news Tuesday morning that Lazor is joining former Oregon coach Chip Kelly with the Eagles, I doubt anyone within Virginia’s program was shocked. Moreover, Philadelphia probably wasn’t the first NFL opportunity Lazor explored this offseason.
Some will attribute his exit, since confirmed by sources, to the Cavaliers’ hiring of former North Carolina State head coach Tom O’Brien as associate head coach for offense. They’ll say O’Brien’s presence undermined Lazor and that Lazor found that untenable.
Perhaps that’s true. But I suspect that Lazor was NFL-bound as soon as possible, regardless of O’Brien.
Like many play-callers, Lazor had moments that ranged from inspired to baffling. Given that he never worked with a proven, top-shelf quarterback, he did well overall, though the Cavaliers’ impressive yardage totals often didn’t translate into points.
In 2011 for example, Virginia ranked 46th nationally in total offense, 86th in scoring. This past season, the Cavaliers were 62nd and 93rd in those categories.
Lazor was an off-the-radar choice to join London’s staff in 2010, so forecasting the search for his successor borders on impossible.
Twitter speculation Tuesday centered immediately on O’Brien, who was Virginia’s offensive coordinator for six years under George Welsh before becoming Boston College’s head coach, and Dana Bible, O’Brien’s OC at Boston College and North Carolina State.
I doubt either is the choice.
Virginia hired O’Brien, essentially, to mentor London, to help with program and game management. Both men said as much at a news conference to introduce O’Brien and three other new staff members.
“I know what it's like to sit in the chair,” O’Brien said. I” know the decision-making process, everything that goes into being a head coach. … I know the day-to-day-grind. If I can take some of that off of him, it will make us all better coaches.”
London: “There's the understanding I am the head football coach of this team. But there's also the understanding with the experience that you surround yourself with and the people you surround yourself with, that there are opportunities to gain some insight into some things that otherwise you wouldn't have.
“Tom is the associate head coach, the assistant head coach, whatever you want to call it, in terms of helping me and my own development.”
Can O’Brien serve that mentor role and coordinate the offense? I doubt it.
Bible, 59, worked under O’Brien for the past 14 years. But he’s also battled health issues — he was diagnosed with leukemia in 2009 — and after serving as N.C. State’s interim head coach for the Music City Bowl following O’Brien’s dismissal, it’s unclear whether he presently wants another full-time gig.
Be the background NFL or college, bet on London and his boss, executive associate athletic director Jon Oliver, searching for an aggressive coordinator, the offensive version of new Cavaliers defensive boss Jon Tenuta.
Lazor’s successor will inherit an offense that returns seven starters, including four linemen, but has no established quarterback — Rocco transferred to Richmond to play his senior season. Watford, Sims or acclaimed redshirt Greyson Lambert needs to earn the starter’s role, and keep it, sparing Virginia the instability of the last two seasons.
Much of that process hinges on the coordinator.
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