CRAIG SMITH | CNU | LINEBACKERS COACH
Christopher Newport's Matt Kelchner unsuccessfully recruited Craig Smith as a player. He gets him a decade later as an assistant coach.
Smith, a Virginia Beach native, will coach linebackers for the Captains. He spent the past three years as an assistant at Bluffton University in Ohio, where last season he was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Kelchner said that Bluffton head coach Tyson Veidt was the NCAA monitor for last year's CNU-Mount Union playoff game. Veidt mentioned to him that Smith was looking to return to Hampton Roads and recommended him highly.
Kelchner knew that Smith was a quality player. He chose Bridgewater over CNU and became an all-conference linebacker, playing on four NCAA playoff teams.
Smith also coached at St. Vincent and John Carroll before catching on at Bluffton, where he moved up from special teams and passing game coordinator, wide receivers coach and strength and conditioning coach.
"He's a good young coach," Kelchner said. "We're happy to have him."
ZBIG KEPA | CNU | DEFENSIVE LINE COACH
Zbig Kepa and Matt Kelchner have been friends and colleagues for almost 30 years. When Kepa was let go after a lengthy tenure at William and Mary and Christopher Newport had an opening, it was an easy fit.
Kepa will coach the defensive line for the Captains and will be a valuable offensive resource. Most of his time at William and Mary was spent coaching receivers and in recent years as offensive coordinator.
He coached nine of the top 10 career receiving yards leaders in William and Mary history, including leader Rich Musinski, Dave Conklin, Chris Rosier and a young man who later made a mark as a football coach, Mike Tomlin.
Tribe offenses were at times exceptional under Kepa. But the team struggled the last couple of seasons due to inconsistency at quarterback and wide receiver, prompting longtime coach Jimmye Laycock to make a change.
Kepa joked that he will have to bone up on three-point stances, but he said: football is football; you don't coach offense without knowing defense, and vice versa.
Kelchner gets an assistant with Division I experience, a guy who has coached record setters and playoff teams.
Kepa also receives the side benefit of getting to coach his sons, though not directly. Nick Kepa is an offensive lineman, while Nate Kepa will vie for time at quarterback.
JEFF COMISSIONG | ODU | DEFENSIVE LINE COACH
Old Dominion produced standout individual defensive linemen for the past couple of seasons. New assistant Jeff Comissiong's track record suggests that the trend will continue, and the group will improve.
Comissiong spent the past six seasons at Boston College, where he coached future NFL players B.J. Raji, Ron Brace and Damik Scafe. BC led the ACC in rushing defense three years and led the nation in 2010.
Timing and connections led Comissiong to ODU. He wasn't retained by the new staff at BC, and he played and coached at Maine with head coach Bobby Wilder and members of the Monarchs' staff.
"There are people here I know and respect," Comissiong said. "That's a big selling point. Another big selling point is the success of the program and the direction it's going. People are investing in this program and this program's success, which is important to me."
Comissiong is a native of the Virgin Islands who went north to play football. He intended to be a lawyer, but got into coaching at the urging of Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove and his former prep school coach. Turns out he had a knack for it.
"Jeff made a tremendous impression on me when he came in as a player at Maine," Wilder said. "Just his work ethic, his commitment to wanting to be a good player. That work ethic and commitment have followed through in his career."
CORDELL TAYLOR | HU | DEFENSIVE BACKS COACH
Cordell Taylor's return to Hampton University as defensive backs coach is a logical step for someone who views working with young people as almost a calling.
"I know that I could have taken a different path if it weren't for some of the people that took an interest in me," Taylor said. "Some kids need the structure of school, of high school. I needed it. Nowadays, kids that need structure aren't getting it. I'm all about encouraging kids through athletics."
The Norfolk native was one of the best defensive backs Hampton ever produced, an All-American cornerback who quietly and efficiently blanketed opposing receivers with a combination of speed and skill.
"He was a technician when he was here as a player," head coach Donovan Rose said. "He's a technician as a coach."
Taylor was a second-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1998, but his career was cut short by knee and toe injuries. He bounced around various NFL camps and did brief stints in NFL Europe, the short-lived XFL and the Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos.
He settled in Atlanta and spent almost seven years at Chattahoochee High, working with special education kids, assisting with the football team and helping to train kids in other sports. He also did internships with the Jaguars, NFL Europe and with Georgia State's startup football program under Bill Curry.
Taylor was briefly at HU coaching defensive backs in 2009, Rose's first year as head coach, but abruptly returned home to Atlanta for family reasons. He is back at his alma mater when Rose again had an opening for a defensive backs coach.
"From a football perspective, I like working with higher-caliber athletes," Taylor said. "In high school, it was more about mentoring young men. Football wasn't the focus it is in college.
"It's good being with a group of guys who are all on the same page, in terms of what they expect a defense to look like."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun