CHARLOTTESVILLE, FEB. 12 -- Virginia football coach George Welsh today named Rick Lantz his defensive coordinator, confirming last fall's speculation that much-maligned defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani would not return.
Lantz, who coached under Welsh at Navy from 1973 to 1976, has spent the last five seasons as defensive coordinator at Louisville. The Cardinals, who defeated Alabama in the Fiesta Bowl to finish 10-1-1, were ranked sixth nationally in scoring defense and total defense.
"It's a parallel move," said Lantz, whose 25-year career also has included stints on the staffs of Notre Dame, Miami, Georgia Tech and the New England Patriots. "It's not as though I'm trying to step up in class. I'm not a miracle worker. You're going to find very few major changes."
Welsh was quick this afternoon to stress that Spaziani was not fired, but that he left the program after Welsh told him of his intention to bring in a new defensive coordinator. Welsh said Spaziani, who coached under him for 12 years at Virginia and Navy, could have stayed on the staff in a different capacity. Spaziani could not be reached for comment.
"I just thought it was time for a change defensively," said Welsh, who likened the move to his 1987 hiring of quarterbacks coach Gary Tranquill, who also coached under him at Navy. "I think it was best to go this way."
Welsh insisted from the beginning of practice last August that he would not feel confident about his team unless it had a "dominating defense," a fear seemingly dispelled when Virginia surrendered only 80 points in its first seven games.
The Cavaliers rose to No. 1 in the Associated Press poll Oct. 15, but tumbled after a 41-38 loss here to Georgia Tech Nov. 3. The Cavaliers allowed 35 points to Maryland two weeks later and were blasted, 38-13, by Virginia Tech in their season finale.
Virginia's defensive misfortunes were particularly glaring because its offense was rated the nation's best for much of the season, led by two players -- quarterback Shawn Moore and wide receiver Herman Moore -- who finished in the top six of the Heisman Trophy balloting.
Still, Welsh said the late season losses had little to do with the decision, and that the move was made largely because of his desire to shift defensive schemes from Virginia's current five-man front, two linebacker set to one with three linebackers -- the system currently employed by Louisville. Lantz will inherit a defense that returns just four starters, two less than expected, linebacker James Pearson and defensive end Benson Goodwyn having quit the team after Virginia's 23-22 loss to Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl New Year's night. Goodwyn, a redshirt junior, will graduate in May while Pearson -- a redshirt sophomore -- opted to devote more time to his studies.