In Tom O’Brien’s six seasons as Virginia’s offensive coordinator, 1991-96, the Cavaliers never ranked below 38th nationally in scoring. Their high was 12th, in 1992, their average 26th.
Steve Fairchild’s none-too-easy job: returning Virginia’s offense to that level.
The Cavaliers appointed the well-traveled Fairchild on Wednesday as their offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, barely 24 hours after announcing that Bill Lazor had resigned the position to join Chip Kelly’s staff with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Given state requirements for detailed background checks, apparently Fairchild’s hiring had been in the works.
Fairchild, 54, brings 31 years of coaching experience to Virginia, including eight in the NFL. He coordinated offenses on both levels for 16 seasons.
At Colorado State, his alma mater, Fairchild worked for Sonny Lubick, one of college football’s most-respected minds. There his co-workers included Urban Meyer, the school’s receivers coach from 1990-95.
Fairchild succeeded Lubick as head coach in 2008 but was 16-33 in four seasons.
Fairchild’s most renowned connection is with running back Marshall Faulk, the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1992, his final season at San Diego State. Fairchild coached the Aztecs’ quarterbacks from 1990-92, and the pair reunited in the NFL, when Fairchild coordinated the Rams’ offense from 2003-05.
So there’s little doubt that Fairchild knows offense and even less doubt that Virginia’s needs work.
In the last eight years, the Cavaliers have ranked 93rd, 86th, 75th, 105th, 114th, 81st, 110th and 59th nationally in scoring. That’s with Lazor, Gregg Brandon, Mike Groh and Ron Prince as coordinators.
O’Brien, who returned to Virginia earlier this month as associate head coach for offense, will be an invaluable resource for Fairchild. He was a head coach for 10 seasons at Boston College and six at North Carolina State and knows the ACC as well as anyone.
But neither Fairchild nor O’Brien knows the Cavaliers’ personnel, which makes spring practice critical, especially at quarterback. Weary of in-game rotations in 2011 and ’12, incumbent starter Michael Rocco transferred to Richmond, leaving junior Phillip Sims, sophomore David Watford and freshman Greyson Lambert to duel for the job.
This as Virginia prepares for a thorny 2013 schedule that includes Oregon, Brigham Young, Ball State and Clemson. Of the Cavaliers’ 11 Bowl Subdivision opponents next season, only 4-8 Maryland failed to win at least six games.
Virginia is 4-8, 8-5 and 4-8 in Mike London’s three seasons as head coach, and five of London’s nine assistants will be new in 2013, including defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta.
“We are in the process of implementing new systems on both sides of the ball,” executive associate athletic director Jon Oliver said in a statement Wednesday. “These types of changes take time, and we will need to be patient as we seek to improve this football program.”
That’s not what paying customers want to hear after five losing seasons in the last seven years. But that’s likely Oliver and athletic director Craig Littlepage’s way of curbing any chatter about London’s job security.
And barring an unforeseen and epic meltdown in 2013, Virginia should give London time. Besides, with new coaches such as O’Brien and Fairchild signing two-year agreements, and London contracted through 2016, the bean counters would frown upon multiple buyouts next offseason.
Fairchild’s $450,000 salary mirrors Lazor’s, and among offensive coordinators at ACC public schools, only Clemson’s Chad Morris ($1.3 million) and Maryland’s Mike Locksley ($507,000) made more in 2012. This according to USA Today’s database.
O’Brien also is making $450,000. Tenuta’s salary is $500,000.
So London and his pricey new coaching team have two years, and they know it. The clock started Wednesday.
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