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With No More Glenn, Should the Hokies Phone A Friend?

Brad Glenn (left), Andrew Breiner (center) and Josh Gattis

So much for continuity in Virginia Tech’s football coaching staff.

With Scott Satterfield moving from Louisville to Cincinnati and in need of a play-caller, he decided to poach old friend Brad Glenn from the Hokies – a man he coached alongside at Appalachian State from 2005-08.

Glenn spent 2022 as Tech’s passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach. While on the surface that doesn’t seem like a substantial loss for an offense that had minimal success through the air, Glenn is the only member of Tech’s on-field staff with any experience coaching quarterbacks.

That’s a problem, especially when dealing with such an important position. So the Hokies will have to dive back into the well for another QB guru.

Should we be scared that they’ll fall into hiring someone they know?

The concept of cohesion gets a bad rep. Perhaps that’s rightfully so, after undying loyalty was arguably what sunk the ship during the Justin Fuente regime. However, successful operations are often founded upon leveraging the right relationships – ones built upon ultimate trust, not just comfort and familiarity.

The harsh reality is good quarterbacks coaches don’t grow on trees, and that’s the downside of hiring an offensive coordinator who doesn’t also coach passers. With that in mind, the safest route is probably to hire someone who you know fits in with your vision.

So, who should Brent Pry call upon to become one of his right-hand men, not just a yes man, on offense?

The Jerry Kill Route

Remember when Justin Fuente hired Jerry Kill – a mutual connection of a meaningful boss he’d worked under in his past – to an influential off-field role in 2019?

Perhaps to Virginia Tech’s benefit, there is a similar type of analyst on staff who might be able to fill the void left by Glenn.

Brian Crist, whose coaching career started with two seasons as an offensive graduate assistant in Blacksburg in the 1990s, has been a passing game specialist for more than 25 years.

Crist’s exposure to head coach Brent Pry began in his second season of coaching, when the two of them were graduate assistants for the Hokies on opposite sides of the ball in 1995. Crist left for UMass following that season, where he stayed through 2001 before moving to Louisiana-Lafayette – where he would cross paths with Pry again.

If you’re familiar with Pry’s resume, you might recall that he was ULL’s defensive coordinator from 2002-06. Crist was on that staff for all five of those seasons, starting as the Ragin’ Cajuns’ wide receivers coach before rising to passing game coordinator from 2005-06.

Those connections, no matter how dated they appear, seem to hold a lot of weight with Pry. Almost all coaches on his staff have worked alongside him previously, but like Crist, not all of those partnerships were recent. In some cases, such as with J.C. Price and Pierson Prioleau, they occurred as long ago as the aforementioned time Pry spent at Tech in the mid-‘90s.

As an interesting wrinkle, Crist is also the son of longtime Blacksburg High School head coach David Crist. That’s no a reason to promote him, but it’s something local fans surely acknowledge and appreciate.

The downside with Crist is that his experience with quarterbacks is somewhat limited. He’s mostly worked with wideouts, and at times tight ends. Tech would be pulling from Crist’s time in a supporting role (not as the primary position coach) with passers at UMass from 2007-11 and as the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach under his father at the high school level the following year.

Crist was also the OC at Youngstown State under Bo Pelini – another defensive minded head coach – from 2018-19.

Crist isn’t the flashiest option, but truthfully, his qualifications aren’t much different than Glenn’s were. Still, that’s probably not enough for Tech to call upon him – or at least it shouldn’t be.

Fishing for More Power Five Experience?

There’s a bigger name who’s recently played a significant role on a College Football Playoff team who could be in the mix.

Josh Gattis is someone I suggested that Tech should’ve made an aggressive push for when Pry was hired. They didn’t land him, but perhaps that level of effort was made behind the scenes before Miami hired him as its offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach.

To put it lightly, things didn’t go super well for Gattis in 2022, and the Hurricanes fired him after just one season. That’s understandably made the college football community weary of hiring him – but it shouldn’t stop the Hokies.

Gattis’ meaningful coaching experience began when James Franklin hired him as wide receivers coach and offensive recruiting coordinator at Vanderbilt for the 2012 season. After two years there, he followed Franklin to Penn State, where he held the same titles – with the addition of passing game coordinator to his duties.

Gattis stayed in Happy Valley for four years before latching on as Alabama’s co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach in 2018. After the pit stop in Tuscaloosa, he spent a three-year stint at Michigan in a similar role – he was technically the outright coordinator, but under the supervision of Jim Harbaugh – which culminated with a playoff berth and a Broyles Award (top assistant in the nation) for Gattis.

In truth, I’m moderately surprised that Penn State didn’t bring back Gattis after firing wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield this offseason. Instead, the Nittany Lions opted for former UVA standout Marques Hagans – although not until after reportedly making a push for Hokies assistant Fontel Mines.

Gattis has never held a quarterback specialist role. Still, as long as Crist is around the team, that shouldn’t be a major sticking point. His role orchestrating successful passing games – including guiding Jerry Jeudy to a Biletnikoff Award (top wide receiver in the country) in 2018 – at three blue blood schools speaks for itself.

Frankly, I’d consider reorganizing the staff to allow Gattis to work with receivers, perhaps shifting Mines to passers.

A quarterback aficionado like Joe Brady (an offensive graduate assistant at Penn State from 2015-16) would be a cleaner fit, but he seems to perhaps be overqualified, and his sights seem set on NFL jobs anyway.

A Name You Don’t Know, But Should

There’s a young up-and-comer the Hokies have an inside track to if they want him, and he’d be a seamless fit with the existing staff.

Andrew Breiner is currently the assistant quarterbacks coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. If you follow the NFL, you know that means he worked with second-year breakout passer and former Clemson star Trevor Lawrence in 2022.

In his 17 seasons of coaching, the 38-year-old Dallas, Texas native has managed quarterbacks for 12 of them. In addition to his most recent season in Jacksonville, Breiner also boasts another year of NFL experience as a pass game analyst for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2020 – with a stint as the offensive coordinator at Florida International sandwiched in between.

Where is the tie-in to this staff? That stems from most of his experience during the 2010s.

Breiner was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Fordham under Joe Moorhead – with whom he’d also worked as a graduate assistant at UConn for the three prior seasons – from 2012-15.

When Moorhead took over as Penn State’s offensive coordinator in 2016, Breiner succeeded him as Fordham’s head coach. He held that role for two seasons, before following Moorhead to Mississippi State in 2018, where they both stayed for two seasons.

That stretch of 11 seasons plays in Virginia Tech’s favor for two reasons. First, even though Moorhead only spent a few seasons at Penn State, his run-pass option (RPO) based scheme with west coast passing concepts – which Tyler Bowen was a student of – has stayed there. If you want a deeper study on Moorhead’s offense, has done a great job in putting it under the microscope.

Our fearless leader Dave Scarangella could tell you all about the success PSU’s running game had with Trace McSorley under center. One could argue this is also the scheme Virginia Tech wants to – and should – run under the current coaching staff, and with transfer addition Kyron Drones likely to be QB1 sooner rather than later.

Additionally, Bowen was an assistant under Breiner at Fordham – first as the offensive line coach in 2015, then as the offensive coordinator (his only season in such a role prior to last season) the following year. That adds an element of cohesion and trust – with experience in diverse environments to boot – that never seemed to exist with Brad Glenn on staff.

Just Do What Makes Sense

Just don’t do what confused me when this staff was being compiled approximately 14 months ago. Some hires being made felt better than others as they happened, but my overarching feeling was that the pieces didn’t fit the way I thought they should.

The Hokies had an elevated coaching budget that they didn’t seem to be making the most of. They brought in numerous assistants with rather light resumes instead of candidates with obvious qualifications. And most of all, they barely hired anyone with experience at Penn State – a school they should emulate and strive to re-establish themselves as on par with.

Both Gattis and Breiner would bring the type of valuable exposure to great coaches – including Franklin and Moorhead – in pressure-cooker environments that Virginia Tech wants.

Both are also under the age of 40 years old, which – while far from a requirement – seems to be something Pry wants in influential roles on his staff. After all, his offensive and defensive coordinators will each be 34 years of age entering this season. Perhaps there’s a case for an older, wiser coach to supplement Bowen’s relative inexperience; but Breiner and Gattis have about as much valuable experience as anyone as young as they are could possibly have.

I’d give the nod to Breiner for two reasons: his experience with quarterbacks specifically, and his synergy with Bowen.

The former is not a deal breaker for Gattis, because compiling smart minds should be what’s most important for Virginia Tech. Any inexperience there may be with quarterbacks could be supplemented by Brian Crist, or another analyst they may opt to add, and Gattis would also provide Pry with a couple clear contingency plans that could be pivoted to if needed.

That’s a point that shouldn’t be ignored in this discussion. While Joe Rudolph is a good offensive line coach, it’s unclear thus far whether his gap/power blocking scheme can coexist with Bowen’s more zone-based rushing attack. If that relationship becomes irreparable, Bowen (a former lineman) could shift his position of focus from tight ends to the offensive line, with Mines sliding to tight ends (where he has more experience) and Gattis to his natural wide receiver position. At that point, you might be cooking with gas!

On the other hand, that requires a lot of tinkering, and it’s still unclear whether all of that would ultimately enable Bowen to be as successful as he could be with the addition of a trusted QB specialist like Breiner.

This would be a step down from the NFL for Breiner, but it’s also a two-level promotion in title (if Pry gave him Glenn’s passing game coordinator role) in an environment he would likely find very comfortable. It also reinforces my point that Tech shouldn’t target who they think will take the job; they should hire who they want to take it.

If I were Pry, I’d plan on Breiner and settle for Gattis as a strong 1b option if needed. Anyone else would have to wow me in an interview to make me pivot from those two men.

Then again, with any luck, we’ll find out shortly the Tech’s choosing someone I haven’t mentioned, leaving us all hoping for the best and fearing the worst.


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Monday, 20 March 2023

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