TQ: How To Fix Virginia Tech

Posted Oct 2, 2012

Tuesday Question: Matt Zemek on How To Fix Virginia Tech

Tuesday Question 

How To Fix Virginia Tech

How To Fix ...
- ... LSU, by Russ Mitchell
- ... the ACC, by Terry Johnson
- ... California, by Rich Cirminiello
- ... Michigan, by Bart Doan
- ... Virginia Tech, by Matt Zemek
- ... the Big Ten, by Phil Harrison

By Matt Zemek

The Hokies are, it seems, "leaving money on the table." They didn't do so in past seasons, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference championship more often than not, but there’s still a lot more that can be done.

From 2004 through 2010, a period of seven seasons, head coach Frank Beamer won four ACC titles. Since the ACC split into divisions in 2005, Virginia Tech has lost the ACC Coastal race only twice, to Georgia Tech in 2006 and 2009. It has been important to recognize and laud Beamer for the consistency of his achievements at Virginia Tech, despite the parade of BCS bowl losses that all but killed the program's national reputation. The ACC was supposed to be ruled by Florida State and Miami over the past eight years, but Virginia Tech instead became the ruler of the league. Winning the ACC, only to lose in a BCS bowl, should not be (or have been) seen as the picture of underachievement.

Now, however, it does appear that Virginia Tech is beginning to leave that money on the table, falling short of its potential and ceding supremacy in the ACC to both Clemson and Florida State.

A lot of teams and programs are hard to measure after the unsettled month of September that we've seen in college football. Northwestern, LSU, South Carolina, TCU, and at least a dozen other teams have not yet encountered their first true in-conference test of manhood. Many teams are still mysteries at this point, but in the ACC, it's really rather difficult to oppose the claim that after five weeks of observable on-field action, Clemson and (especially) Florida State are lapping Virginia Tech.

Florida State has the advantage of a glorious and not-quite-that-distant past, not to mention one of the most fertile recruiting areas in the United States. Clemson has an SEC school's football culture and passion in an ACC school's clothing. It's true that Florida State has already proven its superiority over and against the Tigers, but in many ways, the emergence of Clemson as a competent (!) program should be seen by Beamer with fresh eyes. The icon of the Virginia Tech program, the man who has done so much for the Hokies, needs to fix his program by doing what Clemson and Dabo Swinney did: find and hire an elite offensive coordinator. It's time.

Before burying current offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring, let's praise him a little bit: He did get Tyrod Taylor to finally and fully ripen into an upper-tier quarterback in the 2010 season. He was part of three ACC championship coaching staffs under Beamer. It's also true that much as Landry Jones has struggled at Oklahoma – making the kinds of mistakes that a coaching staff can only do so much to prevent (players do have to make plays at some point, elite coaching or not…) – Sean Glennon and Taylor had the same penchant for making head-scratching blunders.

From 2006 through 2010, Stinespring didn't stand in the way of Virginia Tech's success. The Hokies met most of their potential; if they left money on the table, they left scattered singles, not rolls of 50-dollar bills or Benjamins.

Now, it's hard to maintain the same view.

Let's be reasonable in treating Stinespring: Logan Thomas was a very raw player when Virginia Tech's coaching staff got its hands on him in 2011. Thomas, as a freshman, should not have been expected to master the position. He did show signs of growth in November, giving Beamer legitimate reason to think that Stinespring was headed in the right direction, nearing the Hokies' intended destination with their imposing physical specimen under center.

Here's the key point, though (the "money line," if you will): The 2012 season was supposed to be the season when Thomas "got it" in full. This was supposed to be a year in which an immensely talented quarterback flourished before his senior season. Tyrod Taylor needed four years to become a complete quarterback, but if a college football program can't get its prized signal caller to max out until its senior season, said program won't amount to much unless it has the defense of an LSU or Alabama. (In fact, LSU's 2011 season is a precise illustration of how a defense can cover a multitude of quarterbacking sins.)

Elite offensive coordinators get sophomore quarterbacks to play well. Freshman seasons are unavoidably adventurous, but that first full offseason after a baptism by fire should instill technique, knowledge, and various other improvements into a quarterback's arsenal.

With Thomas so far this season, the first word that comes to mind is "regression." Yes, Thomas is not as good as he was last November. Meanwhile, Chad Morris is getting the most out of Tajh Boyd, while Jimbo Fisher – coming into his own as a head coach, it should be noted – is connecting with E.J. Manuel (and recruiting a storm on defense, too).

Yes, it's true that Virginia Tech's banged-up secondary is hurting the Hokies in 2012. It's true that Virginia Tech has been below par on the offensive line and in terms of run blocking. It's true that the Hokies are underachieving for many reasons, not just Thomas and Stinespring. However, it's just as true that if Thomas had become a better player – not worse – compared to the one that existed in November of 2011, Virginia Tech would be unbeaten right now.

The Hokies wasted several glorious scoring chances against Pittsburgh and floundered for roughly 40 minutes against Cincinnati before finally gaining some semblance of rhythm. Their quarterback doesn't exhibit much of any technique or feel. Accordingly, the play selection by Tech's offensive braintrust has regularly missed the mark… not necessarily because the play selection has been so bad, but because defenses haven't respected what they've seen on any given snap.

Beamer's best quality is his loyalty to his assistants - he has given them salary bumps and fought for their (and by extension, their families') economic well being. Beamer is someone who walks the talk in terms of looking out for the people he brings into his program. There is so much to admire about Beamer the person.

Now, however, it's time for Beamer to make a necessarily difficult decision. He needs to jettison a loyal employee (or perhaps not; he could keep Stinespring as a recruiting coordinator…) and get an elite offensive mind.

The answer to Virginia Tech's problems is found in the question itself: Would the Hokies have two losses to Big East teams this season if someone as accomplished as Chad Morris or Gus Malzahn or Bryan Harsin was their offensive coordinator?

You will find it very hard to answer that question in the affirmative.

Virginia Tech, if it cannot make the ACC title game and then beat (in all likelihood) Florida State on Dec. 1, will fail to win the ACC for the third time in the past four seasons. When ACC championships are becoming the exceptions and not part of normal business operations, Beamer has to know that he needs to pair one elite coordinator – Bud Foster – with another one on the other side of the ball.