Teel Time: Virginia Tech offense needs extreme makeover

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Shaken by a four-touchdown Orange Bowl loss to Stanford, Frank Beamer realigned his Virginia Tech coaching staff two years ago. But those changes were cosmetic compared to what should be done this offseason.

In short, the team of assistants directing the Hokies’ chronically unproductive offense needs to be disbanded as soon as possible following Friday’s Russell Athletic Bowl against Rutgers.

Don’t wait until after February’s signing period. This makeover should be dramatic, and Tech’s recruiting commitments and targets ought to have time to process the moves deliberately before autographing a national letter-of-intent.

Win or lose Friday, this will be the Hokies’ worst season in 20 years. They are 6-6, without a signature victory and have regressed since opening with an overtime conquest of Georgia Tech.

I’m not sure what exactly Beamer will do, but I’m convinced he’ll do something. He knows the paying customers and likely his superiors have lost confidence in the offense. He probably has lost faith, as well.

Specifics? The four most senior assistants on offense need to be reassigned, encouraged to find other employment or, worst case, dismissed. This entails coordinator Bryan Stinespring, quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain, receivers coach Kevin Sherman and centers/guards coach Curt Newsome.

This suggestion is not offered lightly. Stinespring has worked under Beamer for 20 years, the others for seven. All have contributed significantly -- as teachers, recruiters and ambassadors – and are men of unassailable integrity.

Folks here on the Peninsula have known Newsome since he was knee-high growing up in Hampton. He was an outstanding and caring head coach at Kecoughtan and Heritage high schools before moving into the college ranks as an assistant at James Madison and then Tech.

But as a team, this group has not produced. Only once in the last seven seasons, and only three times in Stinespring’s 11 years as coordinator, have the Hokies ranked among the nation’s top 20 in scoring. Never under Stinespring have they been among the top 60 in passing.

It’s hardly for lack of talent. Bryan Randall, Tyrod Taylor and Logan Thomas at quarterback. Darren Evans, Ryan Williams and David Wilson at tailback. Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale and Eddie Royal at receiver. Blake DeChristopher, Duane Brown and Will Montgomery on the line.

In the last seven NFL drafts, teams have selected 14 players from Tech’s offense. Were Thomas to forgo his senior season, he’d likely be a first- or second-round pick come April.

The offense’s shortcomings are even more glaring when compared to coordinator Bud Foster’s defense.

Tech has been among the top 20 in scoring defense eight times in the past 11 years. Five times the Hokies’ D has been top 10.

That prowess was the linchpin of Tech’s eight consecutive seasons of at least 10 victories from 2004-11. But on the biggest stages, against the best opponents, the Hokies stumbled consistently, and the primary reason was offense.

Consider last season’s 11-3 record. Tech lost twice to Clemson, and to Michigan in the Sugar Bowl. The Hokies scored two touchdowns combined in those three defeats.

The most glaring stretch was from 2006-08. Tech went 31-10 and won two ACC titles but never ranked better than 49th in scoring offense or 99th in total offense.

During those same seasons, the Hokies ranked first, third and 13th in scoring defense, respectively. A more proficient offense might well have returned Tech to the national championship game, especially in 2007, when the Hokies finished third in the Bowl Championship Series standings, one spot away from the title contest.   

After the 40-12 Orange Bowl loss to Andrew Luck and Stanford in January 2011, Beamer created administrative roles for long-time assistant coaches Billy Hite and Jim Cavanaugh and hired Shane Beamer, his son, and Cornell Brown, to coach running backs and outside linebackers, respectively.

Moreover, he shifted Stinespring’s play-calling duties to O’Cain. The odd experiment – Stinespring retained his coordinator title – has not worked.

The Hokies were 55th in scoring last season and are 78th this year. Thomas has regressed from 2011, and not just because he’s no longer surrounded by the likes of Wilson, Boykin, Coale and DeChristopher.

The primary issue this season for Thomas, indeed for the entire offense, was that the staff never established a coherent, consistent strategy. They dabbled with the pistol formation and a no-huddle pace, but never committed, and the result was an attack that could neither pass nor run.

Tech limited Clemson to a season-low 295 yards and Florida State to 311, 155 below its average. In both games, the offense sputtered, and the Hokies lost.

Tech ranks 61st nationally in passing offense, 64th in rushing offense. That latter failing must gall the old-school Beamer, whose ideal attack is rooted in a bruising ground game that sets up play-action passes.

Was the problem Stinespring’s game plans? O’Cain’s play calling? Probably both, but it’s difficult to assess when the chain-of-command is so cloudy.

The Hokies need one voice overseeing the offense, and it needs to be fresh. Stinespring has never coached anywhere except Virginia Tech, and a new coordinator’s background needs to be far more diverse. 

As the boss, Beamer, a future Hall of Famer in his 26th season coaching his alma mater, bears considerable responsibility for the Hokies’ shortcomings on offense. He establishes the parameters from which Stinespring and O’Cain work, and he certainly has veto power on game plans and, in critical situations, play calls.

Fan discontent and media inquiries about the offense have increased over the years, but Beamer always hid behind the 10-win streak. Now his cover is blown. Now his task is three-fold.

Settle on a vision for the offense; identify the best coordinator for that strategy; convince that coach to leave his current post for Blacksburg.

A new coordinator may want to hire some of his own staff. That could complicate matters and force Beamer into more uncomfortable decisions regarding colleagues he rightfully admires.

C’est la vie. Beamer has been patient with, and loyal to, his assistants, arguably to a fault.

The time for change has come, and Beamer knows it.

Here are charts showing Virginia Tech’s national offensive and defensive rankings in the last 11 seasons.                  

VIRGINIA TECH OFFENSE NATIONAL RANKS       

                Rush      Pass       Total      Scoring

2012       64           61           71           78

2011       30           66           38           55

2010       18           75           37           19

2009       15           98           55           28

2008       42           111         107         89

2007       82           85           100         53

2006       90           82           99           49

2005       29           91           57           17

2004       32           80           65           25

2003       17           82           38           12

2002       19           99           64           30

 

VIRGINIA TECH DEFENSIVE RANKS

                Rush      Pass       Total      Scoring                

2012       34           30           24           39

2011       17           40           13           8

2010       59           31           39           17

2009       52           6              14           11

2008       19           15           7              13

2007       5              31           4              3

2006       11           1              1              1

2005       8              3              1              2

2004       21           4              4              2

2003       39           76           51           39

2002       29           56           32           21

I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns.

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