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STEVE DeSHAZO: Shakeups help Cavs and Hokies

MONDAY NIGHT’S anticlimactic BCS championship game finally concluded the onerous bowl season, but college football competition never really ends.

If they’re not meeting on the field, teams are vying for blue-chip high school recruits. Or trying to hire (or keep) the best coaches. Or to schmooze alumni for donations to build state-of-the-indoor practice facilities and pristine locker rooms.

Virginia has run a distant second to Virginia Tech on the field for most of the past decade. But both of the Commonwealth’s Division I–A programs—won’t it be nice when we can retire “Football Bowl Subdivision”?—are facing transition periods.

The Cavaliers struck first, firing four coaches after a disappointing, dysfunctional 4–8 season that represented a major step backward. The replacements seem to represent a significant upgrade—even if a few commitments have reopened their recruitment.

Most specifically, Tom O’Brien’s return to Charlottesville should help greatly. O’Brien served as offensive coordinator under George Welsh during the halcyon days of Virginia football (1982–96) before becoming head coach at Boston College and N.C. State, where he posted 12 winning records in 16 years.

Officially, O’Brien won’t be calling plays; that job still belongs to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. But O’Brien’s experience should help head coach Mike London, whose in-game strategies have been questionable. (Two examples: a seemingly random quarterback carousel and his inexplicable time-out hoarding in the 2012 finale at Virginia Tech.)

Alumnus Jon Tenuda was hired as defensive coordinator. He brings three decades of experience at big-time programs like Ohio State, Notre Dame and North Carolina, plus a far more aggressive style than his predecessor, Jim Reid.

Virginia’s atrocious special teams can only improve under Jeff Banks. He arrives from UTEP to replace Anthony Poindexter, who was clearly in over his head in that role. And Marques Hagans’ promotion from graduate assistant to receivers coach is well deserved.

The moves didn’t come cheap; O’Brien will earn $1.35 million for two years, and Tenuda will get $500,000 annually. But they should bring acumen and stability to a program whose talent level is also improving.

The Hokies, meanwhile, don’t have any official staff vacancies. But it’s a poorly kept secret that Frank Beamer is planning a shakeup after his team’s worst season (7–6) in 20 years.

Receivers coach Kevin Sherman reportedly has already agreed to join Purdue’s staff. Other coaches rumored to be on the way out or targeted for demotion are longtime offensive coordinator Brian Stinespring, quarterbacks coach/play caller Mike O’Cain and

offensive line coach Curt Newsome.

Beamer reportedly met with Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton on Monday, hoping to persuade the former Howard University quarterback to return to the East Coast. Despite Hamilton’s regional ties, it will probably take a big check to lure him away from a comfortable gig as Stanford’s “Andrew Luck Director of Offense.” (That’s an official title, not a joke.)

Besides trying to enliven his play-calling—and appeal to recruits, both committed and future—Beamer desperately wants to keep quarterback Logan Thomas from leaving.

Beamer got good news Wednesday when junior cornerback Antone Exum announced he’ll return for his senior season. Thomas, along with fellow junior James Gayle, has until Tuesday to decide whether or not to enter the NFL draft early, and the belief is that Hamilton’s arrival might convince Thomas to stay.

After what can only be termed a regression in his second season as a starter, Thomas is clearly not ready to play quarterback in the NFL. A productive senior season would make the 6-foot-6, 260-pounder a first-round pick in 2014.

But if his evaluation from NFL scouts convinces him that someone will take him in the first or second round, Thomas may be tempted to leave. His game wouldn’t improve as much getting NFL backup practice reps as he would playing in college, but his bank account balance would appreciate.

Even if Thomas returns, the Hokies likely will begin the 2013 season unranked for the first time since 2004. And if they begin with a new quarterback and a reshuffled coaching staff, progress figures to be a challenge.

Still, sometimes you have to take a step back before you can move forward. Just ask the Cavaliers.

Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443

sdeshazo@freelancestar.com

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