ODU Athletics

Minium: Bryan Stinespring is a blue-collar guy who believes in ODU's mission to win, and also lift students up

January 23, 2019
By ODU Athletics

By Harry Minium

Bryan Stinespring had just come home from college and was eager to visit friends and chill out.

But when he walked in the door, his dad hopped up and said, “Let’s go for a ride.” Bryan briefly protested, but Bob Stinespring, an Army veteran and a career postman, was a no-nonsense guy.

They made the 11-mile drive from Clifton Forge, Va., to the paper mill in Covington, Va., where his father pulled into the parking lot.

It was 3 p.m., and shifts were changing. Hundreds of men and women, some caked in dirt, were leaving the plant, most carrying lunch pails. Hundreds more were headed inside.

“What are we doing here, dad?” Bryan asked.

“Get out of the car and go get an application,” his dad said. “Because if you have another semester like you just had, this is where you’ll spend the rest of your life.”

Stinespring did not get out of the car. Seeing what his future might become was all the motivation he needed.

Stinespring was the first in his family to go to college. While he was doing well enough at James Madison University to pass academically, he wasn’t excelling.

“I’d been more interested in the social life at JMU, and not enough in the classroom,” he said. “But from that point on, I was magna cum laude. It made me realize the opportunity that I’d been given.”

Stinespring graduated from JMU with a degree in political science and minors in criminal justice and history. He also gained an appreciation for what educators now call social mobility, or lifting students from families, usually of modest means, who previously had little hope of going to college.

Old Dominion University football coach Bobby Wilder announced last week that he hired Stinespring as the tight ends and run game coordinator, and it’s no coincidence that ODU is one of the nation’s leaders in social mobility.

A major part of ODU’s mission is to help students like Stinespring, who are the first in their families to attend college and get their degrees. The University has special programs, including tutoring and mentoring services, and even a limited number of part-time jobs on campus, to help keep students engaged.

“I know the academic support for football players here is outstanding,” said Stinespring, adding that it was something he and Wilder discussed when he was interviewed.

Stinespring, the former offensive coordinator at Virginia Tech, said only a handful of Hokies or Monarchs will make it to the NFL.

“When we go into a recruit’s house and talk to the mother and father, they trust that we’re going to take care of their son, that we’re going to hold him accountable, that academics will come first,” Stinespring said.

“I know ODU has done a lot of lift kids up and make them successful. “Coach Wilder made it clear to me that academics is our first priority.”

After graduating from JMU, Stinespring figured he would go on to a career in law enforcement, hoping eventually to go to law school. He applied to the FBI and Secret Service, but at the time they required a two-year waiting period for recent graduates. When his old high school coach told him about a coaching job at Lexington High School, he took it.

He’s been coaching ever since.

“Once I put the whistle around my neck, there’s nothing else I wanted to do,” Stinespring said.

He helped Lexington win a state title, then went to Patrick Henry High of Roanoke before Frank Beamer hired him as a graduate assistant at Virginia Tech.

“I didn’t know whether coaching in college was something I really wanted to do,” he said. “I figured I’d go there, get my master’s degree, and if things didn’t work out, go back into high school coaching.”

Things worked out in a big way. Beamer elevated Stinespring to full-time in 1993 and assigned him to recruit the Tidewater area. Stinespring’s recruiting success helped make Virginia Tech a Big East and ACC powerhouse.

When Beamer retired in 2015, the Hokies had gone to 23 consecutive bowl games and beaten Virginia 12 times in a row. Beamer was recently inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

After leaving Tech in 2015, Stinespring helped JMU win an FCS national championship in 2016 and get back to the title game in 2017. This past season he coached at Maryland, where the entire staff was let go.

Hiring Stinespring was a coup for Wilder and ODU.

He has recruited Hampton Roads for all of his 26 seasons as a full-time coach and persuaded some of the best players in the region to go to Blacksburg.

His first signee was tailback Shyrone Stith out of Western Branch, who would play for the Hokies in the 1999 national championship game. He also recruited big names such as DeAngelo Hall, Ronyell Whitaker, Michael Vick, Kam Chancellor and Aaron Rouse.

Stinespring recruited four of the seven Virginia Tech players selected in the first round of the NFL draft in the last 15 years.

“It was hard at first,” Stinespring said of recruiting in Hampton Roads. “Penn State, North Carolina and other schools were dominant here. I stayed here weeks at a time, getting to know people.”

I tagged along with Stinespring on a recruiting trip to Hampton Roads in 1999. The day began at 5 on a Friday morning with a private flight out of the Blacksburg airport to Norfolk and didn’t end until after midnight.

Tech played at U.Va. the following night, but Stinespring was up past 2 a.m. writing thank-you cards to the coaches and players he’d met.

Everywhere Stinespring went he was greeted as an old friend by secretaries, teachers and even principals.

“If you’re going to recruit well, you’ve got to really know the school,” he said. “It’s not just the head coach or the assistant coaches, it’s the guidance counselors and the teachers and the principal.

“I’ve told people if you really want to know what’s up at a school, ask the custodian. They know more than what most people know what’s going on at a school.

“You also want to make sure the people in the community have an awareness of who you are. You want to be involved in the community in the area you are recruiting. There has to be a trust value in recruiting. To do that, you’ve got to be visible.”

“We have a lot of offer kids at ODU."

Stinespring went on his first recruiting trip this week to central Virginia, begins making rounds at Tidewater high schools next week.

“My phone has blown up with text messages and calls from local coaches,” he said. “I can’t wait to get started.”

Rouse, a former First Colonial High star who was recently elected to Virginia Beach City Council, said Stinespring will make recruiting inroads in Hampton Roads.

“Bryan has relationships here he’s built over decades, and he’s always been very supportive of his players,” Rouse said. “He’s a coach you can talk to about what’s going on in your life and he will give you advice and steer you in the right direction.

“ODU is very fortunate to have him. I’m still able to reach out and talk to him. It says so much about his character, about who he is, that we still have a relationship after all these years.

“The character he instills in young men, about being accountable, about being respectable, about going to class, and yet being focused on your craft, is inspiring. He knows there’s a lot more to life than football.”

Stinespring called Wilder to inquire about the opening at ODU because he believes in the program’s long-term success, and because he considers the Tidewater area to be home.

“This offseason, I had more time than I’ve ever had to reflect on what I really want in life. It became very clear. Come home,” he said. “And this is my home. I haven’t had a permanent residence in the 757. But my goodness, I’ve had a temporary residence here for close to 30 years.”

He said Beamer’s spirit is with him, wherever he goes.

“What I do when I’m on the field, how I relate to players, how I coach, how I do things, is directly related to him and how he did things,” he said. “I haven’t stepped on the field without him yet.”

Contact Minium: hminium@odu.edu

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