From the Assistant's Point of View: Chris Malone Q&A
By ODU Athletics
Old Dominion University Football offensive line coach Chris Malone completed his first season with the Monarchs in 2016. An 18-year coaching veteran, Malone played on some of Frank Beamer's first teams at Virginia Tech. ODUSports.com recently sat down with Malone to discuss his coaching and playing career, coaching the offensive line and more.
Q: How did you get into coaching?
CM: Right out of grad school I had a job offer at Capital One and the same day I got a call from my old prep school coach at Fork Union, John Shuman, he asked me if I wanted to be a student assistant for him. I volunteered for a semester and I pretty much knew the second or third day that's what I wanted to do and I've been doing it ever since. I figured I could always get a job at Capital One if I needed it. I wanted to see if I could coach. I've never done anything except play sports and it never occurred to me but it seemed like a natural progression at the time.
Q: You played at the FBS level at Virginia Tech and coached at the FCS level for nearly 15 years, what was that experience like?
CM: It was an eye opener. We had a lot of resources at Virginia Tech with all the bells and whistles at an FBS program. Then going to FCS, I didn't really have an opinion about it. I've always been a guy who was self made, what you call a development guy, I was raw. Being at the FCS level those are the kinds of kids you get. I always needed extra work, had to be a detail guy so I liked coaching those guys because they were always an inch too short or a step to slow, so I find joy in coaching those types of kids. To me, FCS is like the developmental league, like minor league baseball, what's funny is a lot of those kids get overlooked now because there not 6-5, but a 6-4 kid is a big kid. Some of the better kids, all of the ones I've coached that have made it to the NFL are 6-3 or 6-4, and they were told they were too small at that level. It's kind of changed from that aspect. Ideally you get a kid that's played 2-3 sports growing up that is more well-rounded and overall better athletes that compete all year round. The offensive line is a developmental position and you're usually two or three years from where you should be. The problem we run into here, is the last place we're going to close the gap is in my room. It's the hardest group to get ready. The five guys have to be on the same page, if they're freshmen or sophomores, they are going against juniors and seniors, there is a give and take to that situation. However, I want kids who want to be a part of that situation and I want kids to look at it as a challenge and opportunity to do something special.
Q: You were at James Madison for seven years. After your last year at JMU, you went to Virginia State for a year. What was that like?
CM: You know it's funny, a lot of people ask me that question. That was probably the most fun I've had coaching in my life. I had never been anywhere that I had such a great impact in such a short time as I did there. Those kids just wanted to be coached. Once we broke down the barriers of where I was and who I was, they just wanted to get better and wanted to win and once they started seeing the results they bought in. I'm still friends with a lot of those kids today. I had a lot of great memories there and we won a lot of football games. Kids are no different than grownups, they want results and when they started to see the results they were easy to coach. You spend so much time doing this to get results and they happened so much faster there for some reason than they ever had before. It's not to blame or point fingers what they had before, but they were thirsty for knowledge and willing to please. When that combo marries up, good things usually happen.
Q: Coaching the offensive line is a little different then some of the other positions. How do you go about coaching the group?
CM: The first thing I look for is a really good athlete. Big is just part of the equation. I have certain parameters that I like, but the first thing I look for is if he can play a little defense. If a high school coach has a big kid that doesn't play a little bit of defense for him then he's not that good of an athlete. I don't like the guys that play just one side of the ball. A lot of kids I need to see them run around and chase, see how they bend their knees and how athletic they are when they change direction. For example, Jack Miller played five technique in high school, he didn't play offensive line. He's 6-6, 260, he's going to be a 300-pounder, but I assessed him as an offensive lineman because he has the measurables that I like. He's an intelligent kid. I'm looking for intelligence, toughness and likeability. I want to be around people that I like. This is not always easy, there are going to be bad days, but at the end of the day I want to be around likeable people. I equate it to shopping for groceries, you have to know what you're looking for to make dinner. I feel like if you didn't play offensive line you're just kind of guessing. That being said I've missed on several of them, but I've had more success than failures. I'd say I'm probably 65-70 percent, but there is no exact science, even people leave Alabama.
Q: Last year you had a pretty young offensive line. How do you try and gel the young guys into a solid offensive line?
CM: I talk about that all the time and it's a cultural change. There wasn't a lot of camaraderie. The guys that have had success under me hang out together, cook out together, they want to be together. It's not enough to practice, they want to hang out in their personal time. My theory is its harder to quit on somebody if you know them. If you don't know them, it's easy to quit on them. With all the sacrifice and time you go through, ideally, I want you to know everything about your partner, you want them to see things the way you do. It's a good time to change the culture when you have young guys, my ideal situation is to keep bringing in young guys. I told them point blank, I'm going to out recruit you. That may or may not happen, but that's my goal. To get where we need to go we need more competition. I made this analogy to one of our seniors, the racecar out front is the best car on the track and is just coasting around the track, nobody is in his rear view mirror. I need more competition so you guys force the tempo. Until we have people to force the tempo of the first group, the first group is going to stay where they're at. I get tired of yelling at them, the best way to improve is get good kids and recruit the hell out of them.
Q: You went to Fork Union. ODU has had success recruiting Fork Union. How are you able to talk to those kids, having gone through what they have, and get them to Old Dominion?
CM: I went there as a post grad so I know what they have to go through. My first coaching job was there, so I know how to recruit the school and I also have a great relationship with coach Shuman. He and I have been great friends since the day I walked out the door. He's always been great to me, whenever I'm there I see him and it's like going home. Coach Shuman knows, he does a nice job, he's been doing it for 37 years, of which kids fit where. Some kids fit at UVA and don't fit at ODU and vice versa. The mid-year thing has been really great for the offensive line. If I had it my way I wouldn't take an offensive lineman in August, I'd take them all in January. We get to front load the spring practice and then we don't lose it on the back end. Ideally I'd like to do that for my position. Where Fork Union gives you an advantage is those kids have already graduated, they're mid-year guys that are dying to get to college. They got that year under their belt and are a little more mature and you don't have a lot of academic issues with them. The routine that they have regimented teaches them how to study, so in general you don't have many academic issues with them and they know the value of hard work.
Q: Going back to your playing days at Virginia Tech, you got there just as they were starting to become what we now think of Virginia Tech. Your first year you went 2-8-1, but after that there was a lot of success. What was your time there like, especially in the beginning?
CM: In the beginning it was like a country club. You think your working hard when your 18-19 years old. Coach Beamer made some changes and it went from kind of a country club to a Guantanamo Bay type of atmosphere. Which was good, we worked harder, we had good pieces and good people and we weren't afraid of working. That's my favorite thing about Blacksburg, it's a blue collar place, I like blue collar people. Looking back on it now it was pretty cool. I'll never forget when we were freshmen in the weight room the strength coach would tell us how pathetic we were and we were the weakest, and then when we were seniors we beat Texas in the Sugar Bowl. We did some things that had never been done there, or at least got things started. They sustained it over time, its pretty prideful that way. I'm proud of Blacksburg, I'm proud of that place. We had a great time there, great relationships I still have to this day. I'm proud of where they've gone, we weren't in the ACC back then, it was Big East. Everyone wanted to go to UVA and not Tech. It's amazing to see the shift. In fact, nobody knew Blacksburg was out there. You didn't drive past Charlottesville.
Q: Do you have anything you remember about Coach Beamer?
CM: He's just a witty, funny guy. I remember eating steaks one day, I was a GA and he looked at me and said , “A good steak never needs steak sauce, pass the A1.” He was kind of always on that way. Coach took a shot on me. I got one offer and he gave it to me gave me. He gave me a shot to get my masters degree. I had zero bills when I left school. I'm sure if I needed anything today he'd pick up the phone and help me. He's always been good that way.
Q: Heading into 2017 the offensive line is still a young group with one senior returning. What are your thoughts on the group?
CM: I thought we got better learning my expectations. We're still not where I want to be, we're scratching the surface. I like my first five and we're better than we were last year, but I think we're still a year away. There is an acclimation period, expectations are different and I'm not going to lower those. I'm going to keep adding to it and hopefully the competition starts to flow and when the competition starts to flow the product gets better, and when the product gets better we'll be where I want to be. I like the direction we're headed but I'm not satisfied.
Q: You talk about having high expectations. Is that sometimes tougher with older guys who have worked with a different coaching staff?
CM: I took a gamble when I first came here and told them to just take on my personality and things will be fine. I was crossing my fingers and hoping we'd have a good year and we did. And now they are bought in. I'm excited where we're going. My biggest things are that I want them to have fun, play fast and be physical. I want them to know why we're doing stuff and not just tell them to do it, to be more of a student of the game. I really want them to have fun and look back on there time here as positive experience, make great friendships, have fun playing for coach because that's the kind of experience I had, and I think it's important they have that experience. I think it's important that you graduate happy players. I think it's important to have fun, but I keep reminding them the work comes before the fun. As far as the older guys go, they get to a point where they've played so much football they get tired. They're like an eraser on a pencil, down to the metal. We're trying to save some eraser on those guys. You have to coach them all different, how many snaps have they played. Nick (Clarke) and Darius (Garcia) have played a ton of snaps and they still have one year and two years left, respectively. So there's only so much I can do to show them stuff they haven't seen. I'm just trying to keep them fresh.
Q: You talked about getting the guys to be students of the game. Is that something they are starting to understand?
CM: They definitely ask more questions than they used to. When I first got here I thought I was coaching a bunch of mutes. They didn't speak, didn't talk, they were scared to look at me. For better or worse I try to bring out their personality. Sometimes its better sometimes its worse but at the end of the day I want an ebb and flow of communication, because during the game you have to talk. If you can see it on film or in the walk thru then the communication comes. I like class clowns, a certain level of Tom foolery, provided the works being done. When the works not being done then I'll cut that off. They needed to know you can have fun and work hard, it's been done.
Q: A lot of these guys are learning multiple positions. How important is it for them to be able to play more than one position?
CM: Coach Wilder talks about value all the time and talking about the more you can do the longer you stay. Look at the NFL, the people who do the most manage to stick around the longest. The more hats you can wear, the more marketable you are, the more valuable you are to the team. That's why we try to get intelligent people in that room, because you don't want someone who's not intelligent to sacrifice the good of everyone. Ideally I'm shooting for guys to play multiple positions because sometimes a guy is going to go down in the course of a game and you want to put your sixth best guy in, you might not want to put his backup in, so my goal is to put my five best guys out there. I have to figure out if they're a good fit physically, are they a good fit at that position and can they handle the work. Sometimes you don't have that luxury, you have to play the next guy as a result you want guys with high football IQ. That position doesn't make sense to a lot of people so you figure that out in the recruiting process and their redshirt year, but the more flexible you can be, the better it is for everyone.
Q: It's been awhile (2012) since all five offensive linemen started every game. How do you deal with injuries?
CM: I don't worry about it. The role of the offensive line coach is not always a fun role because you always have to prepare for the worst in the sense that you're always thinking, what do I do if he gets hurt, or if he gets hurt. It's like playing jenga, you pull the sticks out and the whole thing falls and you don't want to pull the wrong one out. You know Devin Hannan was pressed into action last year, it was too early, but I think he handled it as well as he could of. Right now he's in a backup role and he's allowed to mature at a rate that is more on par to where he should be. I'm really proud of him because not many people in that situation would be accepting of going from being a starter to a backup. He's a team guy and a big picture guy, he very easily could have been sour grapes about it, but I'm proud of him for doing that. I think he knows that's what's best for him right now and he's number six right now. He's the first one off the bench he could play center, guard and tackle, so he gives you a lot of flexibility. I'd like to get to a situation that I don't' have to play all five the whole game. It would be nice to have a third guard or tackle where I could spell them for a rotation each half, that way I don't wear them down. That's where we're trying to get to and I feel like we're getting close.
Q: The last drive of the game we got the ball back with 5:21 left to play at our own nine and were able to run the clock out. Can you talk about that drive?
CM: That was probably my proudest moment of the season. We didn't have to punt and we finished the game on the field. There is nothing more demoralizing to do to a defense than run it down their throat. We made one little throw to Melvin, but other than that they were all runs. That's the mentality I want them to have. I know we've always been a spread outfit with a great quarterback, and we still have those guys, but when you have two backs like we have, we're not special up front, but we just get in the way. If we can ever get to be special that's great, but when we did that at the end of the game I felt like that was a step we needed to take.