CHARLOTTESVILLE – Tom O’Brien was driving into the office for his first official day of work at Virginia on Jan. 3, exactly 31 years and one day after he began his initial tenure in Charlottesville, when the car radio delivered a premonition.
Out of O’Brien’s speakers came the voices of Jon Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles, their 2006 song, “Who Says You Can’t go Home,” the final confirmation that he made the right decision to return to coaching.
“When you’re used to 38 years of working 24-7, 365 days a year and you’re not doing it, there’s a void there,” he said in his first public comments since being fired by North Carolina State following the 2012 regular season.
O’Brien, Virginia’s new associate head coach for offense, is the most notable member of the Cavaliers’ overhauled football coaching staff, which Coach Mike London formally introduced during a news conference Friday afternoon. The Cavaliers also welcomed new defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta and new special teams coordinator/running backs coach Larry Lewis.
The hirings were the result of Virginia’s decision to fire four assistants, including defensive coordinator Jim Reid, last month after its second 4-8 season in three years.
But O’Brien’s new role will likely draw the most scrutiny. A longtime assistant and offensive coordinator under former Virginia Coach George Welsh, he compiled a 115-80 record during 16 seasons as a head coach at Boston College and North Carolina State. Now, he will serve as a “resource” for current offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, London said Friday.
London added that he lured his old boss – London worked under O’Brien as a defensive line coach at Boston College for four seasons (1997-2000) — back to Charlottesville, in part, to help “me in my own development.” Including Lewis, who previously was the head coach at Idaho State, the Cavaliers added more than 100 years of coaching experience and have three former head coaches on staff.
Many have wondered how that dynamic will play out. O’Brien, who signed a two-year contract worth as much as $1.35 million with incentives, tried to put that all to rest Friday, noting that at 64 years old, this could be his last coaching stop.
“I don’t want his job. I don’t intend to do his job,” O’Brien said of Lazor. “I’m not gonna stand up, beat on the table. It’s his job to do. Just like I talked about with Mike, I’m here to help out in any way that I can.
“I should be the best assistant on this staff because I understand what it takes to be a head coach and the way that he’s pulled in so many directions by different things. I can take some of that load off.”
Tenuta, like O’Brien, is also a familiar face for Virginia fans. He played defensive back for the Cavaliers (1978-1980) and has previously been the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Ohio State, Kansas State, SMU and Marshall.
Though the Cavaliers’ young defense improved as last year wore on, ending up fourth in the ACC in yards allowed, London hopes Tenuta’s aggressive scheme will create more dynamic plays for a unit that finished last in the ACC in turnover margin and No. 113 in the country in sacks in 2012.
“The one thing that intrigued me the most . . . is you coach in so many schools in the ACC, why shouldn’t I coach here? I played here,” said Tenuta, who worked under O’Brien at North Carolina State the past three seasons and signed a five-year contract with Virginia.
London also announced that assistant Vincent Brown would be the team’s defensive line coach, although he will also become more involved with that position. Tenuta will coach Virginia’s linebackers going forward.
Cornerbacks coach Chip West, who confirmed Friday that four other schools pursued him about joining their staff this offseason, has been named Virginia’s new recruiting coordinator. Former Cavaliers quarterback Marques Hagans, meanwhile, has been elevated to a full-time assistant coach after leading the team’s wide receivers as a graduate assistant last season.