They’ve only worked two spring trainings together so far, but it’s been a few months of bonding, learning and working side-by-side since new Virginia coach Tony Elliott finalized his team. initial coaches of the Cavaliers.
“So far it’s been really good,” Elliott said earlier this week of how he and his assistants mingled at the start of their first offseason in Charlottesville.
The former Clemson offensive coordinator didn’t load up his on-field coaching staff with those with ties to the still-in-residence Tigers like he does. But instead, Elliott picked assistants with diverse backgrounds and stopped at different levels of the game to assemble a unique group of coaches he says are designed to fit UVa well.
“You’re bringing in seven new guys from different backgrounds,” said running backs coach and special teams coordinator Keith Gaither, who is in his 21st year as a college coach, “and this is my fourth transition, and it was the smoothest transition with a team that I was part of. It was a good transition in a short time.
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Elliott’s offensive coordinator, Des Kitchings, was in the NFL last year as running backs coach for the Atlanta Falcons. Quarterbacks coach Taylor Lamb held the same position at FCS Gardner-Webb while defensive ends coach Chris Slade returned to his alma mater to work in the college ranks after spending the past nine years as a high school coach at Pace Academy in Atlanta.
Gaither, defensive coordinator John Rudzinski, defensive backs coach Curome Cox, and defensive tackles coach Kevin Downing were each more recently in service academies. And wide receivers coach Marques Hagans, offensive line coach Garett Tujague and linebackers coach Clint Sintim were all retained by Elliott after working for former UVa coach Bronco Mendenhall.
“It starts with good people,” Elliott said of why his aides quickly gelled. “I have some really, really good people on my team and they align with my vision for this program to be student-athlete focused and holistic development, and that was fun. It looks like we’ve been together for a while.
Said Gaither: “It’s a combination of things. First and foremost, Coach Elliott has done a great job bringing together guys who fit the type of personnel he wants and who fit the UVa institution and who fit the type of men he wants. wants to lead these student-athletes. Second, I have to talk about the guys he picked up. Marques Hagans and these guys – the coaches and their families – have laid down the rug for being kind and welcoming and embracing us, which is rare when you’re the survivor.
“Tujague has been amazing with his family,” Gaither continued, “Clint Sintim too, and those three guys made it easy for us to transition and made us feel like part of the UVa family.”
These comforts made for an easy work environment, and Elliott and company had plenty to do. They’ve had to recruit, make plans for spring training, and develop offensive and defensive systems that they can teach their players and their players can thrive in.
Hagans, a former Cavaliers quarterback who has been on the coaching staff since the Mike London era and was promoted by Elliott to associate head coach in February, said he was thrilled to trade brainstorm ideas with Elliott, Kitchings and the rest of the offensive assistants. the best methods of attack.
Hagans’ position group fires Atlantic Coast Conference wide receivers Dontayvion Wicks and Keytaon Thompson in addition to fellow former starters Lavel Davis Jr. and Billy Kemp IV.
“There’s a lot of knowledge about the game,” Hagans said, “and just listening to these two guys [Elliott and Kitchings] talk about, they’re just very, very respected in their field and [with] what they have achieved so far as coaches, in order to be able to determine who we want to be as a striker and what we want to do, I think we have come to a very good point.
“Now he’s implementing those strategies and those mindsets and identities.”
Fifth-year senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong said he’s also noticed the cohesion between the coaches.
“To my eyes, it looks like they gelled nicely,” Armstrong said. “They did a really good job of coming together and breaking down what Coach Kitchings and Coach Elliott’s offense would look like. They determined what we were good at, what we weren’t good at, and what we did. They did it very quickly because we couldn’t start learning the attack until they gave us something.
“But they did it so quickly. We integrated the attack, the formations and we started to learn, I would say, within two weeks of arriving here. They were breaking everything down and putting everything together, so that we can start learning the little things, so they did a good job.
Armstrong said he regularly spends time in Kitchings’ office to build a strong relationship with his new OC, and in the process he’s been there when other coaches are there as well.
Hagans added: “It’s been a really good process so far and I’m really excited to see what this season has in store for us, but the transition has gone really well so far.”