EL PASO — Former Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring was driving down Main Street in Blacksburg, Va., this past spring, on the way to the office to get some early-morning work done, when he first realized just how quirky his successor is.
Scot Loeffler was sitting near the window at a restaurant. He was pouring over his play sheet and debating what to do with the team’s tight ends in between bites of steak and eggs. The story became a running joke within Virginia Tech’s practice facility. What crazy thing would Loeffler’s insatiable work ethic lead him to next?
“Let’s just say there’s no set office hours,” Stinespring said earlier this month. “He may walk out the door with you at 11 o’clock and he may be back here at 3.”
When the Hokies face No. 17 UCLA in the Sun Bowl on Tuesday afternoon, they will attempt to end the year with a win Coach Frank Beamer believes will vault them into the final top 25 rankings. But almost a year after Beamer’s decision to initiate the most dramatic overhaul of his coaching staff in 20 years, the end of the season has also brought about reflection.
Last January, Beamer hired Loeffler, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes and wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead, jettisoning Mike O’Cain, Curt Newsome and Kevin Sherman and reassigning Stinespring as the program’s recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach. The transition has been relatively smooth, Beamer noted Monday, especially when compared with last season’s run-up to the Russell Athletic Bowl.
“The perception on our football program, I just felt like we needed some changes for change’s sake,” Beamer said. “I think everybody feels comfortable about the direction we’re going.”
That starts with Loeffler. He said not everything went according to plan during his first year calling plays for the Hokies. Virginia Tech was actually worse statistically than the 2012-13 season, in part because “it’s the most freshmen, new guys that I’ve played in all my years of coaching,” Beamer said.
The youth was evident in how inconsistent the Hokies performed, combining stretches in which they appeared well balanced and dynamic with turnover-laden moments that derailed the team following a 6-1 start. Injuries and personnel issues forced Loeffler to adjust his strategy, at times abandoning the power rushing attack he hoped to install.
Redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds, who will miss Tuesday’s bowl game after breaking his tibia in the regular season finale against Virginia, led the Hokies with 675 rushing yards. But Grimes said the team’s scheme was “certainly different than what we anticipated it’d look like.”
“At the end of the day, you’d love to line up like Stanford and . . . pound it. That wasn’t us,” Loeffler said. “The fact of the matter is we underachieved on offense. We let three football games slip away that we easily could have won.”
Still, Loeffler’s status as a quarterback guru helped senior Logan Thomas, and neither Loeffler nor Stinespring allowed the unusual situation to hinder the play-calling process. Stinespring had served as offensive coordinator the previous 11 seasons.
“Is there some trepidation? Yes. Anything new,” Stinespring said. “But it quickly evaporated, and I think it quickly developed into a mutual respect.”
It helped that the new coaches have been part of a resurgence off the field. Since the regular season ended, Beamer has said several times that this is “the best recruiting staff we’ve ever had.”
Loeffler has received oral commitments from two quarterbacks — four-star prospects Andrew Ford and Chris Durkin — and Grimes has received pledges from five offensive linemen.
Moorehead, who had never recruited before, has also reinvigorated Virginia Tech’s efforts in Maryland and the District, using contacts he developed after working as a graduate assistant under Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley at New Mexico and former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, both Washington natives.
“That’s the key to it,” Beamer said. “I think all of us can coach good players, but trying to coach guys that’s not quite up to par, that’s when you get a challenge.”
Beamer joked recently he has quit looking into Loeffler’s office these days, not wanting to know the gory details of just how many hours his assistant spends watching film. But that hasn’t stopped quirky tales about Loeffler’s first year from flowing out now that the Hokies are approaching their final game.
Moorehead, for instance, noted Thursday nights are usually “date night” for Virginia Tech’s coaches during the regular season. He isn’t sure whether Loeffler has taken his wife out yet.
“I’m always telling him, ‘You need to rest, man, or you’re gonna lose your mind.’ But he hasn’t, and it’s been really cool working for him,” Moorehead said.