College football juniors and redshirt sophomores have until Tuesday to declare for the NFL draft, a deadline that adds urgency to Virginia Tech’s presumed and oh-so-unusual search for an offensive coordinator.
Urgency because Hokies junior Logan Thomas, a two-year starter at quarterback, is considering a jump to the NFL. Think he’d like to know who will be calling plays next season in Blacksburg before committing to a fifth year in maroon-and-orange?
Presumed and unusual because head coach Frank Beamer has announced no changes to, or departures from, his staff. Yet fans, media and his colleagues believe (know?) he has decided to replace Bryan Stinespring as offensive coordinator and has green-lighted three assistants – receivers coach Kevin Sherman, guards/centers coach Curt Newsome and quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain – to pursue other opportunities.
Moreover, the universal consensus is that Beamer’s top choice to replace Stinespring as offensive coordinator is Pep Hamilton, who holds the same position at Stanford. The two met at least twice this week in Nashville, Tenn., site of the American Football Coaches Association Convention.
Beamer’s son, Shane, also was in Nashville, and here’s guessing he participated in the recruiting pitch to Hamilton. Shane coaches the Hokies’ running backs, and at 35 he is far closer in age to Hamilton, 38, than 66-year-old Frank Beamer. Generational connections can matter.
Still, the official silence in Blacksburg is maddening to fans, who expected public action nanoseconds after Tech completed its worst season in 20 years (7-6) with a Russell Athletic Bowl victory over Rutgers on Dec. 28. But there’s a reason for the blackout.
It starts with Beamer, who prefers to avoid firings. Better to encourage assistants to seek other jobs – Stinespring may remain at Tech in another capacity -- and allow them to exit more gracefully, even if many interpret their departures as forced.
Such transactions take time. Ever since the George O’Leary resume fiasco at Notre Dame in 2001, schools conduct painstaking background checks on job candidates. There’s even more red tape at state, as opposed to private, schools.
So even though the agency that represents Sherman changed his online bio to reflect a new position at Purdue, neither the Boilermakers nor Hokies have announced the news.
Similarly, many expect Newsome to return to James Madison, where he worked before joining Beamer’s staff seven seasons ago. But JMU coach Mickey Matthews has yet to reveal any replacements for the two assistant coaches he dismissed Dec. 7.
Amid the uncertainty, Thomas mulls his future.
Despite his regression from 2011 to ’12, he remains Tech’s preferred option at quarterback next season. Beamer has praised backup Mark Leal often, but Thomas was second-team All-ACC as a sophomore and fought valiantly as a junior to overcome an offense depleted by graduation and encumbered by disjointed coaching.
In the last two seasons, Thomas has thrown 820 passes. Leal has thrown 19. Thomas is a bruising runner -- he absorbed immeasurable punishment in 2012 without an established tailback – and the Hokies need him in a big way next season.
But in a down year for quarterback prospects, Thomas is touted by some as a possible first-round draft choice. This reflects potential far more than 2012 performance.
Thomas threw 16 interceptions, six more than a year ago. Most jarring, his completion percentage plummeted from 59.8 to 51.3, and after leading a stirring fourth-quarter comeback against Georgia Tech in the season-opener, he never appeared the same.
Certainly Beamer and his top lieutenant, associate athletic director John Ballein, are keeping Thomas in the loop on the coordinator search. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Thomas has spoken to Hamilton and perhaps other candidates.
Hamilton’s history with Andrew Luck, the former Stanford All-American and No. 1 pick of last year’s draft, could influence Thomas. So, too, could Hamilton’s extensive NFL experience – he coached quarterbacks for the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears.
But is Hamilton, who grew up in Charlotte, N.C., and graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C., interested in leaving a national-title contender? How strong is the pull of returning to his Eastern roots?
We may not know the answer for some time -- Virginia Tech has red tape, too. We may not officially meet the Hokies' new offensive coordinator until next week, or even later.
But Logan Thomas should know ASAP, and his NFL decision will reveal volumes.
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