Minium: Bobby Wilder just made a major upgrade to the ODU football coaching staff
By ODU Athletics
By Harry Minium
They haven’t yet coached a down for Old Dominion, but clearly, the assistant football coaches hired by Bobby Wilder this month represent a sea change for the Monarchs.
Wilder vowed to upgrade ODU's staff when he took the painful step of firing four coaches, including three from the defense, in November. And to use a baseball analogy, he hit a walk-off grand slam.
Wilder hired two former defensive coordinators, including a guy who was one of the hottest names in coaching less than a year ago. He also hired the former offensive coordinator at Virginia Tech.
Such extensive Power 5 coaching experience at a Conference USA schools is a rarity. So if you're an ODU football fan, you may feel like the Monarchs won the lottery this month, and in some ways they did.
The biggest name is Bryan Stinespring, ODU's tight ends coach and run-game coordinator, who from 1993 through 2015 was on Frank Beamer’s coaching staff at Virginia Tech until the Hall of Famer retired.
Bryan Stinespring was at ODU's winter workout Friday at the L.R. Hill Sports Complex.
Stinespring coached on the 1999 team quarterbacked by Michael Vick that played for the national championship. He was Tech’s offensive coordinator for 12 years, and recruiting coordinator for most his time there.
After Beamer retired, he helped James Madison win a national title before moving on to Maryland. When he joined Tech's staff in 1993, the Hokies were not recruiting well in Hampton Roads. Within a few years, the Hokies were dominant,
Among the players he recruited were Vick, Kam Chancellor, DeAngelo Hall and Aaron Rouse. He is well known and liked by area coaches, especially on the Southside.
How's this for a recruiting stat? According to Virginia Tech executive associate athletic director John Ballein, Stinespring recruited four of the seven Hokies who have gone in the first round of the NFL draft in the last 15 years.
Galen Scott will coach ODU's safeties and cornerbacks, and that's something of a miracle when you think back to less than a year ago, when he coached the safeties at Virginia Tech, and was one of the hottest commodities in the assistant coaching profession. He was getting feelers from SEC schools and other ACC programs.
Scott had a quick rise in coaching. He was defensive coordinator at Illinois State in his fourth season of coaching at his alma mater and was also defensive coordinator at Memphis under current Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente.
After two seasons coaching with Fuente at Tech, Scott was promoted to co-defensive coordinator. How important was holding onto Scott for the Hokies? Bud Foster, perhaps the nation's most well-known and best defensive coordinator, agreed to share his title with Scott.
Yet Friday morning, both he and Stinespring were in the weight room, helping ODU football players in winter workouts.
But wait, there’s more.
Earlier this month, Wilder hired David Blackwell as defensive coordinator.
East Carolina hired Blackwell away from Jacksonville State to be its defensive coordinator in 2017. Blackwell then had a distinguished 22-year resume. In his last four years at Jacksonville State, the school ranked a composite third in total defense in the Football Championship Subdivision and won four Ohio Valley Conference titles in a row.
In 2015 and 2016, Blackwell was a finalist for FCS Defensive Coordinator of the Year.
An ECU graduate, Blackwell also coached at Clemson, Pitt and South Florida, among others, before turning Jacksonville State into a defensive powerhouse.
This winter wasn’t exactly in ideal time to try to upgrade ODU’s coaching staff. The Monarchs have had three losing records in the last four seasons, and lose most of their starters from last season.
Yet somehow, Wilder managed to deliver.
“We’ll now basically have two defensive coordinators and they both have great reputations and backgrounds,” Wilder said. “They’re not ego guys.
“They’ll work together. They’ve got a friendship going back and tremendous respect for each other.
"Bryan Stinespring is one of the most respected people in coaching. He was an offensive coordinator for more than a decade at Virginia Tech. He will bring so much knowledge to our staff and help our recruiting."
Bobby Wilder has reason to smile after adding four coaches to his staff, including former Virginia Tech, coordinators Bryan Stinespring and Galen Scott.
As is nearly always the case when a school like ODU brings coaches in from programs with more resources, all three coaches were fired or resigned.
Blackwell became available after the entire ECU staff was let go after last season.
Stinespring was similarly let go from Maryland’s coaching staff.
Scott resigned from Tech last April after a mistake in his private life ended up being sensationalized on social media.
Without going into details, Scott deserves a chance to coach again. To paraphrase Jesus, let him without sin cast the first stone.
Wilder also announced that he hired Daric Riley, who also coached at ECU, as the outside linebackers coach, and that Austin Shelton has been promoted to assistant recruiting coordinator.
Riley also has a good resume that includes stops at UAB, SMU, Jacksonville State and Charleston Southern, his alma mater. Shelton, previously a quality control assistant who worked with quarterbacks, was already playing a big role in ODU’s recruiting, and it was a natural step up for him.
ODU also made a tremendous hire when senior associate athletic director Bruce Stewart secured Dwight Galt IV as the director of sports performance. Galt worked for seven years at Penn State under his father, Dwight Galt III, the school’s assistant athletic director in charge of performance enhancement.
All in all, it was a dramatic overhaul for ODU’s staff, one that will instantly pique the interest of recruits, and has already drawn national attention.
Stinespring says he's "coming home"
Stinespring said coming to ODU was a choice, not a fallback option. He was the final member of Maryland's coaching staff let go from last season, and that didn't happen until last Saturday. A day later, he said he called Wilder, and over the week as negotiations with ODU continued, he ignored calls from other programs.
"I've been Ann Arbor, I've been to Baton Rouge, I've been to Iowa and waved at the childrens' hospital, I've been to three national championship games, so after I was let go at Maryland, I thought to myself, 'what's important now?' " he said.
"It became very clear to me. Come home. And this is my home. I haven't had a permanent residence in the 757, but I've had a temporary residence here for decades.
"I have tremendous relationships in this area, in this state. My uncle lives here, I have cousins who live here, I spent most of my youth vacationing here.
"The opportunity to come to ODU, and hopefully be a benefit to this program and this university, became a no-brainer to me."
Stinespring said he's been impressed with the way Wilder built his program and with the growth of ODU's campus.
"I'm amazed how football took here," he said. "At the time, nobody knew for sure how popular it would be. The fan support is really good, the university support has been really good, there's been so much work, so much effort put into it. To go from FCS to FBS in this amount of time, that's a real serious undertaking."
Wilder and Stinespring have known each other for more than a decade.
"I've found him to be very personable and very easy to talk to," he said. "I've called him from time to time to talk about somebody they played and he's always been helpful. He has a great reputation.
"I know he's high energy, that he's not going to get outworked. I know his players are important to him, that this program is important to him.
"I can see his dedication and feel his energy."
Beamer said Friday that he hasn't talk to Stinespring since he accepted the job but added that ODU “is a great spot for Bryan.”
“When you look at what he did for us recruiting there, he had so much success because the coaches there really trusted him. We knew we had to recruit that area, but the problem was, you had to drive past other schools to get to us.
“Bryan helped us break through and get our share of players.
“I think it’s a good fit for ODU and a good fit for Bryan.”
He said Virginia Tech officials are happy for Stinsepring.
“One thing about Virginia Tech and is that their loyalty to coaches, how they care about them, never changes. I’m sure everyone sure is happy for him. It's a great fit and he'll do a great job for Bobby Wilder.”
Stinespring joins an offensive coaching staff already loaded with coaching talent.
Offensive coordinator Brian Scott and quarterbacks coach Ron Whitcomb have been with Wilder since he founded the program and they’re still here because of loyalty to Wilder. Both could have gone elsewhere.
Scott will coach the offensive line for the first time since 2012 and that’s a critical change. When Scott coached the O-line when the Monarchs were in FCS, they blocked well. And ODU hasn't blocked well in recent years.
Running backs and special teams coach Charles Bankins, who came to ODU from Vanderbilt, and first-year wide receivers coach John Allen both have solid resumes. ODU’s receivers improved immensely in Allen’s first season.
Stinespring will bring invaluable experience to the table. The 55-year-old Clifton Forge, Va. native was panned by some Tech fans for play-calling when he was offensive coordinator.
But no one questions his coaching knowledge, recruiting ability, work ethic or his ability to work with others. A former offensive lineman at JMU, he’s coached the offensive line and tight ends before, and his skill as a recruiter is unmatched by very few in the profession.
As a reporter for The Virginian-Pilot, I spent 24 hours with Strinespring in the fall of 1999, following him on a recruiting trip from Blacksburg to Hampton Roads and wrote about the experience just before the Hokies met Florida State in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship.
I tagged along as he made recruiting stops at Norview, Western Branch, Churchland, Deep Creek and several other high schools.
He was so congenial and persuasive that by the end of the day, I was ready to sign with the Hokies. The front-office staff at every school knew him. School principals invited him into their office to chat.
I met his family and dined at his house. College football was a much different game back then, where reporters could actually get close to players and coaches.
I’ve known Stinespring for nearly three decades, and while he’s a good football coach with great credentials, he’s also one of the finest human beings I've ever met.
I suffered personal setbacks, including three family deaths and a brutal beating, all in 18 months from 1999 to 2001. Each time, Stinespring reached out to me in such a kind, caring way that we became close.
Stinespring speaks with an "aw shucks" drawl from western Virginia, but don't let that fool you. He's incredibly sharp and a hard worker, who is relentless on the recruiting trail.
I’m excited that ODU has hired such a high-profile coach I’m also looking forward to reconnecting with an old friend.
Defense has been a thorn in ODU’s side
Defense has long been a sore spot for fans. Even when ODU was an FCS powerhouse, quarterback Taylor Heinicke and the offense were often forced to outscore opponents.
ODU was last in Conference USA in all but one defensive category last season. Nationally, ODU was 118th out of 129 FBS schools in yards allowed (471.4) and 111th in scoring defense (35.9).
And that was with a veteran defense that included Oshane Ximines, the defensive end who is likely to be selected in the NFL draft.
In its five seasons in Conference USA, ODU’s defense ranked among the top half of the league only once – in 2016. That’s the season the Monarchs won 10 games, tied for the C-USA East title and defeated Eastern Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl.
In other words, when the Monarchs play good defense, they win.
Last season, the Monarch secondary had missed assignments on passing coverage that far too often left opponents wide open for TD passes, including two touchdowns in a 28-20 loss to Florida International early in the season.
Coaches don’t make tackles, nor do they cover receivers, but it was clear change was needed.
Firing coaches means firing friends, people you’ve spent thousands of hours with during the year. As Wilder said at a press conference in November of the coaches he let go, “They’re all good coaches and good people.”
So it would appear are the new coaches.
ODU defensive backs coach Galen Scott talks with defensive back Kenny Gardner during a weight-lifting session Friday morning before dawn.
I spent half an hour with Scott recently, and found him to be personable, smart and engaging. He expressed gratitude to Wilder for hiring him and said he remains close with the staff at Virginia Tech.
Scott coached against ODU when the Monarchs played in Blacksburg for the first time in 2017. Tech won 38-0, in 2017 but Scott said he was impressed with what he saw of the Monarchs.
"They were big and they were fast," he said. "Clearly, they had some talent."
ODU stunned Virginia Tech, 49-35, last season in Norfolk in what was one of the biggest upsets ever in college football. Scott, who coached high school football in Texas last fall, watched the game on TV.
"I was really surprised," he said. "Old Dominion really took it to Tech and I think the home crowd really helped them. That game helped Old Dominion's image.
"I knew they had talent. But that game last season really showed the potential of the program.”
ODU plays at Virginia Tech on Sept. 7 this season.
“I’m sure Tech already has that game circled and highlighted,” Scott said. “They’re going to be fired up for that one.”
Scott said he interviewed with Wilder at the recent coaches’ convention in San Antonio. He said Blackwell’s decision to become defensive coordinator helped draw him to ODU.
“Coach Blackwell recruited me and coached me in college,” he said. “I know what kind of dude he is. He’s a better person than he is as a coach, and he’s a hell of a coach.
“That’s what helped lead me here, the chance to work with him and knowing what kind of talent we’ve got here.
“Coach Blackwell was one of the first ones to reach out to me when I was going through a hard time last year. He said 'persevere be strong' and I followed his advice.
“We have such an influx of new players I told my guys the first time I saw them that everyone has a clean slate. Just work hard, work smart and let’s go make it happen.”
Blackwell, Scott will mesh well, Wilder says
Wilder said he didn’t need to see Blackwell’s resume to know he’s a good defensive coordinator. ODU played at ECU last season and it was the worst offensive performance of the season for the Monarchs, who lost 37-35.
ECU sacked quarterback Blake LaRussa nine times and was the only team to hold ODU to less than 300 offensive yards.
“The No. 1 thing that stood out to me was how hard those kids played on defense,” Wilder said. “There’s a difference between thinking you’re playing hard and everyone running to the ball.
“There was no other team like that we played last season.
“Later in the season they had injuries, their head coach got fired. They weren’t the same. When we played them, it was an impressive defense.
“We struggled for everything offensively at ECU. And coach Blackwell made adjustments that were necessary.
"To me, what I saw in that game was coach Blackwell's resume.”
ODU defensive coordinator David Blackwell
Blackwell has been on campus a couple of weeks and is in the process of transitioning ODU from a traditional 4-man defensive front to a 3-man line.
ODU is changing in part because depth on the line is thin but also because having eight defenders drop back in pass protection should help ODU in Conference USA, which is largely a spread offense, passing league.
“Our players are excited about the possibilities of playing a 3-4 defense,” Wilder said. “It gives you so much flexibility. We can shift into a 4-man line, and then blitz, or we can drop eight guys back. There are so many things you can do.”
Defensive line coach Jeff Comissiong is the only holdover on defense, and Wilder said he will mesh well with Blackwell, Scott and Riley.
"Commish has coached at a big-time level, and so have these other guys," he said.
“Our players are going to like coach Blackwell. But they’re also going to know they’re going to have to play hard on every down.”
Galt is also a key hire for ODU. As the strength and conditioning coach, he is setting the culture for the Monarchs during winter conditioning. I watched him put the Monarchs through the paces before dawn Friday morning, and while he's positive, he's also demanding. This team should be in better physical shape than it was last season.
"This is the time of year when championships are won," Stewart said. "He's going to spend more time with the players than the coordinators will. He's going to play a big role in making this program better."
Senior associate athletic director Bruce Stewart.
ODU recruited a lot of immediate help in the offseason – 14 junior college players arrived on campus this month, including 11 defensive players, and Wilder is still recruiting.
Stay tuned. Graduate transfers are also possible and probably likely given the changes in the coaching staff. Several potential graduates have indicated an interest in ODU on Twitter. ODU could use more help defensively and I think they'll get it.
How it will all play out on the field remains to be seen. ODU is one week into winter practice, then comes spring and fall workouts. We won’t begin to know until ODU opens on Aug. 31 at home against Norfolk State, more than seven months from now.
But as I said, Wilder hit one out of the park. The Monarchs will have their strongest coaching staff ever this fall.
Contact Minium: email@example.com