There are a lot of things Hokie fans can say they’ve been concerned about over the past few years, but the one question I’ve had trouble answering of late has been these three words: Who are we?
During the hey day of the Frank Beamer days, it was an easy question to answer. The Hokies were tough defensively with Bud Foster’s attacking defenses. They earned the nickname DBU for all the defensive backs the Hokies sent to the next level. They were a hard-nosed running team that got you two yards when you faced 4th and 1.
And above all else, they were stable and consistent. Meet the staff one day in Blacksburg, then come back five years later, and 95 percent of the staff would still be the same. Virginia Tech had a brand, and it meant many of the things.
The last few years, that changed and certainly contributed to why the program changed head coaches two months ago. But today, with the formal announcement that Joe Rudolph has been hired as associate head coach/run game coordinator/O-line coach, it sure looks like Virginia Tech is about to go back to the future.
I don’t just like the hire. I LOVE the hire. When you think of programs that develop offensive linemen and play hard-nosed, slobberknocking, win in the trenches football, Wisconsin always comes to mind. Rudolph played for the Badgers, coached tight ends from 2008-2011, spent three years at Pitt (including a short stint as interim head coach) and spent the last seven years back at Wisconsin in charge of their offensive line and run game.
Like strength coach Mike Gentry used to turn walkons into football players in Blacksburg, Rudolph has excelled at taking heavyweight high schoolers and turning them into lean, mean, run-blocking machines. Combined with head coach Brent Pry’s reputation for developing linebackers and stingy defenses at Penn State, the elements being gathered look like they could allow Virginia Tech to return to its roots.
Recruiting is a lot like selling, and I can tell you from experience that selling a product is much easier when you are selling a brand people already know and understand. Imagine, if you will, trying to convince a quarterback to come to Blacksburg, and being able to say you have a coach who knows how to develop an Oline that can not only open up the run game to keep you out of 3rd and 10s, but can also provide pass protection to give you time to find the open receiver.
Combine that with the mention of Pry and staff developing a defense that will get you the ball back a few extra times a game, and you now have a brand that players at skill positions like QB, RB and WR might be interested in.
I also like that Rudolph might have a chip on his shoulder in coming to Blacksburg. He told a Wisconsin newspaper one big factor in his decision was the proximity of Blacksburg to where his family lives, telling Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "I can’t lie, location was big, being (closer) to our families in North Carolina, Pittsburgh and West Virginia was a pretty unique scenario." Rudolph's son Alex is in eighth grade. His son Andrew is in seventh and his son Austin is in first.
But Rudolph also called plays last season because Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst felt he wasn't able to do enough preparation with the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the offseason. Chryst took back that role this season, and Rudolph lost his title of offensive coordinator and took a pay cut of about 6%, to $675,000.
That would say to me Rudolph is looking at his new position as not only a great opportunity, but also a situation where he has something to prove. When you can combine great experience, great knowledge of the region, and an "I have something to prove" attitude, it's about as close to perfect a hire as you can hope for. Make it for a coach in an area of critical need, and it doesn’t get any better than that.
The Hokies obviously need to bring in better talent between now and Labor Day. But the most compelling argument any recruiter can make to a player and his family is the notion “we have the staff to make you better and prepare you for the next level.” Many say it (cough, cough, North Carolina) but few can actually do it.
With Rudolph on board, Pry seems to have put a staff together that can indeed do just that.