Posted: 10:00 a.m. Friday, Aug. 9, 2013
By Brian Schwartz
After a disappointing 2012 campaign in which a young Virginia squad coming off a Chick-Fil-A bowl appearance finished 4-8, it was clear that heads would roll from somewhere in the football program. While head coach Mike London was retained, his staff was shaken up. In fact, none of London's three major coordinators (offensive, defensive, and special teams) will be in the same spot this season. In addition, UVA brought in Tom O'Brien as associate head coach for offense (which, apparently, is different from offensive coordinator).
To better know the new UVA coaching staff, we'll take a four-part look at where each coach came from, how he arrived at UVA, and what his philosophy and plans are. First up, we'll examine Larry Lewis, the special teams coordinator.
Improving special teams is usually not a top priority of 4-8 teams; after all, there tend to be bigger issues to deal with. However, under the tutelage of Wahoo legend Anthony Poindexter, last year's UVA special teams unit was one of the poorest in college football. Virginia ranked 123rd out of 124 teams in average kick return yards allowed (including 2 TDs), and made weekly errors that could have cost games (remember, "Khalek get off the field?" Or poor Khalek's other fumble?). Poindexter was in over his head, and has been re-assigned to coach the safeties and focus on recruiting, areas he excels in.
You'll recall that Virginia hired Jeff Banks...who coached 9 days before accepting another position with Texas A&M.; Two days after that, the Larry Lewis era began.
Lewis, who most recently coached special teams at Nevada, was the man who taught Banks the ropes; Lewis was his special teams coach at Washington State in the '90s. From there, he went on to a head coaching job at Idaho State from 1999-2006 before settling back into special teams at Colorado State and then Nevada. Overall, Lewis has 32 years of college coaching experience. Though his expertise is in special teams, he has coached a variety of positions on both sides of the ball, and he'll also command the running backs this season.
At Nevada last season, Lewis's unit ranked 4th nationally in punt return yards (15.13 yards per return). However, Nevada was 8th worst in punt return defense, though they allowed no return TDs.
His first task is to oversee Virginia's wide open kicking competition. Ian Frye, who handled most kickoffs in 2012, is competing with redshirt freshman Dylan Sims and transfer R.C. Willenbrock for the job.
Last week, Lewis sat down with the media to discuss his plans for this season. (Check out the video below for the full interview.)
He described his two criteria for a good special teams player: 1) Skills, particularly quickness in space, blocking, and tacking, and 2) Attitude/effort in special teams - ("Are they willing? And will they play hard?"). While understanding the trade-off of playing starters on special teams, Lewis expects to have his pick of the players he wants and will use players on the first or second teams. He also is open to using true freshmen (*cough* Smoke Mizzell *cough*).
Overall, the experience factor may be the biggest asset that Lewis brings to the table. Unlike Poindexter, who was probably put into a poor position, Lewis "gets" special teams. He knows the types of players he'll need, he'll have a better feel for the types of schemes to run, and he'll better advise Coach London on what risks to take.
After reviewing tapes from 2012, Lewis has noted that he is looking for a clean slate (phew!). Jerry Ratcliffe noted in the Daily Progress that Lewis''s philosophy is to "play hard, have fun, and attack." If Lewis succeeds in leading a team that is aggressive on both sides of the ball, but also plays smartly and soundly above all else, Virginia fans will be ecstatic with a unit that has plenty of room for improvement.
According to Virginia, Lewis was signed to a two-year deal, with an annual salary of $220,000. Here's the full list of places he's been in the past.
Seasons - Team/School (Title/Position Coached)
81-85 - Weber State (Outside Linebackers)
86-88 - Weber State (Def. Line/ Recruiting Coord.)
89-94 - Washington State (Defensive Ends)
95-98 - Washington State (Asst. Head Coach/Sp. Teams)
99-06 - Idaho State (Head Coach)
08-10 - Colorado State (Safeties/Special Teams)
11-12 - Colorado State (Assoc. Head Coach/Special Teams/RBs)
12-13 - Nevada (Special Teams/RBs)
13-__ - Virginia (Special Teams/RBs)