Each summer the Daily Press sports staff convenes in the Caymans, cracks open a case of Sarsaparilla and, as Jimmy Buffett croons in the background, ponders the upcoming football season.
Topic A: How best to theme our preview section?
This year's discussion was blissfully brief and left beaucoup time for cheeseburgers in paradise and other frivolity.
Change. There was no other option. Indeed, the cover of our tabloid could have been a Richter Scale in the red zone.
From conferences to coaching staffs, the shifts are that abundant and, in many cases, baffling.
Start with the Virginia High School League, where committing the byzantine new groups, conferences and regions to memory requires Rain Man recall.
Best I can tell, the Peninsula District's 10 schools are scattered among Conferences 2, 10 and 18. Similarly, the Bay Rivers District's 10 have been placed in Conferences 19, 25 and 33.
Gee, no Area 51? And shouldn't Hampton High be in Conference 72 in honor of coach Mike Smith's birthday next month? Or would Conference 12 be more appropriate for the Crabbers to correspond with Smith's record dozen state championships?
With the old-guard districts intact during the regular season, the chaos shouldn't kick in until the playoffs, where Group 4A South Region matchups could include heretofore disparate schools such as Phoebus-Jamestown and Heritage-Smithfield.
Oh, and about those playoffs: Darn near everyone will qualify. Of the 24 teams in that 4A South, 16 will reach postseason. So they'll play 10 regular-season games apiece to eliminate eight schools. Makes perfect sense — if you're one of those everyone-deserves-a-trophy types.
Realignment rages in college athletics, too, and this football season brings significant change to our region's most chronicled conferences: the ACC and Colonial Athletic Association.
The ACC grows from 12 to 14 teams with the additions of Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Placed in the league's Coastal Division, the Panthers will play Virginia and Virginia Tech annually; the Orange reside in the Atlantic Division and are scheduled to face the Cavaliers in 2015 and '22, the Hokies in 2016 and '21.
Neither Syracuse nor Pitt has approached its grand heritage of late, but exiting the tire fire that was the Big East and is the American Athletic Conference should upgrade their recruiting and performance. How much is the question.
Unlike the ACC, the CAA is stacked with recent national title contenders, albeit at the Championship Subdivision level. And replacing Bowl Subdivision-bound Old Dominion and Georgia State with Albany and Stony Brook is unlikely to affect the league's football credibility.
Just as ACC and CAA membership changes reflect national instability and the chase for dead presidents, so, too, does the annual coaching carousel. Locally and regionally, this offseason was particularly hard on assistants.
Five of Virginia's nine assistants turned over, leaving the Cavaliers with new coordinators for offense (Steve Fairchild), defense (Jon Tenuta) and special teams (Larry Lewis). Virginia Tech's three changes — offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, a close friend and former coach of Tom Brady's and Tim Tebow's, is the headliner — are cosmetic by comparison.
But staff turnover isn't limited to programs responding to disappointing seasons — Virginia was 4-8 last season, Tech 7-6. At defending ACC champion Florida State, Jimbo Fisher has six new assistants after losing defensive coordinator Mark Stoops to the big whistle gig at Kentucky and offensive coordinator James Coley to the OC position at rival Miami.
Closer to home, William and Mary's Jimmye Laycock nudged aside his longtime offensive coordinator, Zbig Kepa, who resurfaced at Christopher Newport under Matt Kelchner, himself a former Laycock assistant. Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder has no issue with his OC — Brian Scott's attack is rapid-fire and productive — but Rich Nagy is the Monarchs' third defensive coordinator in as many seasons, replacing the reassigned Bill Dee.
Hampton University offensive coordinator Earnest Wilson left to become head coach at Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference rival Savannah State, prompting Pirates coach Donovan Rose to hand the offense to Glen Ferebee, most recently the head coach at Suffolk's Lakeland High School.
In an offseason marked by relentless changes, that ranks among the most curious — jumping from high school directly to Division I coordinator is rare.
Now comes the fun part: observing and evaluating the new world order. Vacations are done, Margaritaville is a hazy memory, and kickoff is at hand.