New Virginia offensive coordinator Bill Lazor preaches precision, collaboration
CHARLOTTESVILLE - For Bill Lazor, Virginia's first-year offensive coordinator, precision remains a constant key. It's an expectation he holds for his players, his colleagues and himself.
If all goes according to plan, the trait eventually will serve as a defining characteristic of the offense Lazor has been charged with reviving. But he understands that it will be what he calls "a slow growth process."
When he joined first-year Coach Mike London's staff in January, Lazor took over a Cavaliers offense that ranked among the nation's worst in scoring (105th), rushing (112th), passing (105th) and total yardage (118th). And so for the past eight months he has set forth installing a pro-style offense based on timing, speed and execution.
The task of reversing Virginia's offensive fortunes is far from complete, but if nothing else, Lazor has established the foundation on which his unit will be built.
"He's a perfectionist," junior wide receiver Kris Burd said. "He strives on the little things, you know, making sure you're at the right depth, making sure you've got the right technique. Regardless of it's a good outcome of the play or a bad outcome, he's always going to let you know what you can do better."
Burd said that early on during training camp, one of Virginia's wide receivers caught a touchdown pass, which typically would be cause for celebration. After all, the Cavaliers threw all of eight touchdown passes in 2009.
But when Burd looked over, he saw Lazor "fussing" at the quarterback for throwing the ball to that particular receiver because the receiver had run the wrong route.
Lazor conducted film study with members of the offense before and after each practice during the 12 "install days" of training camp. Meticulous with his wording, Lazor broke down series of plays the unit executed well, as well as those that needed improvement. "Everything is just a progression," redshirt freshman wide receiver Kevin Royal said.
Such scrupulous preparation has carried Lazor through each of his coaching stops. As the quarterbacks coach for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks the past two years, Lazor frequently would discuss and study clock management with the team's defensive line coach, Dan Quinn. The pair would mine through game film of other NFL teams and formulate different methods of handling the clock under various circumstances.
"And not just the traditional, 'Okay, it's a two-minute situation; you're down by three,' but maybe 1 minute 18 [seconds] and you're down by eight. Do you run out of time first or downs first? How can you use the sideline? How many timeouts are there?" said Quinn, who also worked with London at William & Mary in 1994. "For U-Va. to have a guy like that who really not only understands the scheme part of it, but also the situation football, which I know Mike is big on, I think it's a big plus."
Lazor said his stops along the way, and such collaboration with other coaches and players, have been an integral part of his "slow growth" as a coach. "Number one, you get it through experience," he said. "And the other way is that you have to be open to learning from other people."
The current situation for Lazor - who also served as the quarterbacks coach for the Washington Redskins from 2004 to 2007 - requires him to work closely with Virginia's stable of primarily inexperienced quarterbacks. Aside from fifth-year senior Marc Verica, none of Virginia's other quarterbacks has taken a snap in a collegiate game. The three backups beneath Verica on the Cavaliers' depth chart include a redshirt freshman (Ross Metheny) and two freshmen (Michael Rocco and Michael Strauss).
Lazor said that many times he enters a drill or a play in practice knowing there's a good chance one of his young quarterbacks is going to make the wrong decision or not execute properly. And while he perpetually experiments with different teaching techniques, Lazor - who was a three-year starting quarterback at Cornell in the early 1990s - said that often the most effective way for an inexperienced signal caller to learn is by letting them make mistakes.
And when the errors occur, Lazor works uniquely with each quarterback to make the necessary adjustments. It's a skill former Cornell coach Jim Hofher - who now serves as the offensive coordinator at Delaware - noticed Lazor possessed even when Lazor was a graduate assistant on his staff. Hofher said Lazor's continually growing offensive knowledge enables him to tell his players what they need to know in a manner they can digest.
"With each guy, you have to find the exact right way to say it," Lazor said. "Find the very best way to say something. And you write that way down, and that's what you put in the playbook. Best way in the least amount of words that gives the most information in the clearest way. And then you might have a guy you're coaching who just doesn't see it the same way you do, so with him you've just got to tweak the way you say it and find that little button, that little trigger for him that helps him see. And it is ongoing, and it's every day."