Tasked with hiring four new assistant coaches this offseason, Virginia has turned to some familiar faces to complete Coach Mike London’s overhauled staff.
The school announced Thursday that former North Carolina State Coach Tom O’Brien has been named Virginia’s new associate head coach for offense and tight ends coach. O’Brien, an assistant under former Virginia Coach George Welsh from 1982-1996, hired London as a defensive line coach at Boston College in 1997 and the two worked together for four seasons.
O’Brien, 64, was fired by North Carolina State last month after the Wolfpack finished with a 7-5 record. Much of O’Brien’s staff remained in place to lead the team in its loss to Vanderbilt in Monday’s Music City Bowl, but one member will now join him in Charlottesville.
Former North Carolina State associate head coach and linebackers coach Jon Tenuta has also been named the associate head coach for defense and will serve as the team’s defensive coordinator. Tenuta, who played defensive back and spent two years as a graduate assistant at Virginia, has previous stints as a defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Ohio State, Kansas State, SMU and Marshall during 32 years as a college coach.
London’s re-configured assistant coaching staff will also feature new special teams coordinator/running backs coach Jeff Banks, formerly of UTEP, and former Virginia quarterback/wide receiver Marques Hagans, a graduate assistant for the Cavaliers the past two seasons. Hagans coached Virginia’s wide receivers in 2012 and will do the same next season. Secondary coach Chip West has also been named the team’s new recruiting coordinator.
“These four coaches are a dynamic group who will be great teachers and instructors for our student-athletes, while maintaining the values we have set for our team,” London said in a school-issued statement. “Three of them have strong ties to Virginia and they have first-hand knowledge and experiences of what makes our university a special place. This group will compliment our current staff well and help our football program reach its goals.”
The moves come after London fired defensive coordinator Jim Reid, defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator Jeff Hanson, running backs coach Mike Faragalli and tight ends coach Shawn Moore last month at the behest of Virginia’s administration following the program’s second 4-8 season in three years.
The hope is that O’Brien’s military background — he graduated from the Naval Academy in 1971 — can instill discipline into a team that was the second-most penalized in the ACC this past season. He should also provide London guidance with in-game strategy, which has become a point of contention amongst Cavaliers fans after London mismanaged his timeouts in a season-ending loss at Virginia Tech.
“I have so much respect for him because of the consistent success he’s experienced, while never sacrificing his beliefs and philosophies,” London said in a statement about O’Brien. “I am looking forward to his insights and I’m excited that he will be able to share his knowledge with our coaches and players. He is someone I trust and I value his opinions and evaluations. Tom has coached some of the conference’s most dynamic offensive players over the course of his career and he will play a significant role in the development of our offense.”
O’Brien has a career record of 115-80 during 16 seasons as a head coach at Boston College and North Carolina State, earning 11 bowl appearances during that time. While working under Welsh in Charlottesville, Virginia reached unprecedented heights with O’Brien serving as an offensive line coach, offensive coordinator and lead recruiter in the Tidewater area over the course of his tenure.
In order to come to Virginia this time around, O’Brien had to negotiate a new buyout from his contract with North Carolina State, which included a non-compete clause that prohibited him from coaching at another ACC school through the 2015 season. A North Carolina State official confirmed Thursday afternoon that the school had agreed to pay O’Brien a lump sum of $200,000, instead of his original $1.2 million buyout, in exchange for waiving the non-compete clause.
O’Brien agreed to a two-year contract with Virginia and will be paid $450,000 annually. He will also receive a $150,000 signing bonus and is eligible for a $300,000 bonus at the conclusion of the deal. Tenuta agreed to a five-year contract that will pay him $500,000 annually.
Tenuta brings a blitz-heavy approach to Charlottesville that London and company believe will help the Cavaliers create more turnovers and sacks. Though Reid’s defense ranked in the top half of the conference in most categories and improved over the course of last season, Virginia was last in the ACC in turnovers caused (12) and had just 17 sacks all year.
During Tenuta’s six seasons at Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets finished within the top-30 nationally in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense every year. He had the ACC’s top-rated defense at North Carolina in 2001.
At Notre Dame in 2009, Tenuta’s most recent stint as a defensive coordinator, his unit finished No. 86 nationally in total defense. He signed a five-year contract that will pay him $500,000 per year.
“It’s no secret that Jon brings an aggressive approach to the defensive side of the ball and I think our players will be excited to adopt that philosophy,” London said. “Jon has a great track record of improving defenses. He’s spent many years coaching in the ACC and there’s not much, if anything, he has not had to prepare for. I know Jon and his family are excited to return to Charlottesville and UVa.”
Both Banks and Hagans signed two-year contracts. Banks will earn $200,000 annually and Hagans is due $150,000 annually. All of the new assistants are eligible for performance bonuses based on success, and their compensation is being provided by the school’s athletic fund.