The learning curve for college football coaches never ends, and so every offseason many spend time trying to pick up new nuances to incorporate into their schemes. For Virginia Tech, that often means visiting with other staffs around the country, and this year was no different.
The Hokies’ offensive coaches made a trip down to Austin, Tex., last month to meet with Texas co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin and trade ideas. Harsin just finished his first season with the Longhorns after leading Boise State’s multi-faceted attack for five years. Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster and his staff, meantime, spent time with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and Missouri at the Jaguars’ facility in Jacksonville.
Foster’s visit was perhaps the most notable because he spent a good amount of time speaking with Missouri’s staff about how they defend and run the spread, which has become the offense of choice for pass-happy teams like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor in the Big 12 the past five years. It also happens to be the offense that Clemson now runs under offensive coordinator Chad Morris.
The Tigers, of course, are the only ACC team to beat the Hokies over the past two seasons, including a 38-10 victory in last year’s ACC championship game.
“I asked them questions about how they defend their people and he had questions about how we defend our people,” said Foster, who has known Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel and his staff since their days at Toledo (1991-2000). “It’s one of those situations where it’s good all the way around. The NFL people, they took great time with us, they spent a lot of valuable time with us. It was a good learning experience.”
As for the offensive coaches, running backs coach Shane Beamer said they “probably got more out of it than we anticipated going on that visit” to Texas. Beamer even went back on his own over spring break to spend more time with the Longhorns running backs coach and former quarterback, Major Applewhite.
“It was really good just to be able to sit and visit and see some of things they do formation-wise,” Beamer added. “I know when their offensive coordinator was at Boise State and Virginia Tech played Boise [in 2010], Bud and his staff really felt like they gave them some problems just as far as formations they use, offensive personnel that they have on the field and things like that. So we were able to gain some things from that standpoint. We were able to gain some tempo type things for the offense as far as being able to keep defenses off balance.”
Quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain said these sorts of offseason visits can be crucial in adding “tweaks” to an offense, because it can be useful seeing how things are run differently at other schools.
“We’ve always had a lot of respect for what they’ve done at Boise State,” O’Cain said.
How this all manifests itself once spring practice starts and the upcoming season approaches remains to be seen. Even though these coaches share ideas with each other, the schematic details of the visits can be shrouded in mystery.
It’s also noteworthy to point out that, statistically, Virginia Tech had a better offense than Texas last year and a stronger defense than Missouri.
And quite frankly, these coaches wouldn’t be exchanging ideas in the first place if they had to play against each other in the near future. After all, the hope is that a slight change here or there in an already successful scheme will catch an opponent off guard come the fall.