CHARLOTTESVILLE — As a guy with three decades of coaching experience on his resume, Steve Fairchild knew what kind of situation he was walking into last year with the San Diego Chargers.
He's been around long enough to get a feel for the atmosphere before he even sets foot on the job site. It's the kind of instinct that's served him well as he's tried to sift through personnel adjustments in his role as Virginia's first-year offensive coordinator. It helped him instantly understand the nature of his tenuous job status with the Chargers.
"I knew going into San Diego that we had to make the playoffs," said Fairchild in February regarding his senior offensive assistant title last season with the Chargers. "I knew there was a good chance that might be a one-year deal."
He was right.
Fairchild, 55, had no interest in sitting out a season to evaluate his future. Since graduating in 1981 from Colorado State, where he played quarterback for three seasons, he's been a head coach, worked as an offensive coordinator or been an offensive assistant every year at either the college or pro levels.
He wanted to be a coordinator again after his experience with the Chargers. Less than a month after being fired in San Diego, he was hired by Mike London at U.Va.
Taking the job in Charlottesville was a good fit for Fairchild, who already had a relationship with two of the other new assistant coaches London was hiring.
Fairchild hired new U.Va. special teams coordinator and running backs coach Larry Lewis in 2008 to be his special teams coordinator at Colorado State and ultimately his associate head coach when Fairchild was the head coach. Fairchild also got to know new U.Va. associate head coach for offense and tight ends coach Tom O'Brien via a friendship with Dana Bible, who was O'Brien's offensive coordinator at North Carolina State.
"I've thought this as a head coach, I've thought this as a coordinator, I would think this if I went out in private business, I think the more you can surround yourself with good people, the better your product is going to be," said Fairchild, who also is coaching quarterbacks at U.Va. "I like having experienced guys that have been down the road a little bit and can bring something to the table when things aren't going right."
Fairchild, who was also the offensive coordinator from '03-05 with the St. Louis Rams under high school friend Mike Martz and with the Buffalo Bills in '06 and '07, brings a pro-style philosophy to U.Va. It's the same base formation former U.Va. offensive coordinator Bill Lazor ran, but there are aspects of Fairchild's offense better-suited for newly anointed U.Va. starting quarterback David Watford.
"He plays to our tendencies and what we can do best," said Watford, a Hampton High graduate. "With me being a running quarterback, he has plays designed for me to use my legs and just emphasize that kind of stuff, as well as showcase my arm. I feel like coach Fairchild is an awesome coach. I love the man to death. It's just been nothing but great things since he's gotten (to Charlottesville)."