Then after the 2005 season, VT's offense tanked, and tanked hard. It was not so much a decline as a plummet so sudden it gave Hokie Nation a sense of vertigo. Since 2005, Stinespring's offenses have averaged 101st in total offense and have seen its average scoring output decline by seven points per game. The 2008 season was Stinespring's worst. Out of 119 schools in Div. 1A college football, only 16 managed to amass fewer yards than the Hokies. Adding insult to injury, the Hokies were outscored by all but 29 teams. In other words, we're not technically at the very bottom of the barrel yet, but we could easily reach out and touch it.
So what the hell happened to cause this downturn? I humbly present 5 possibilities, and an argument for each.
Scenario One: The Sudden, Unexpected Departure of Marcus Vick
We should have seen the warning signs about Michael's little brother from day one, when he rolled onto campus in a Mercedes. But the vast majority of Hokie Nation was blinded by our desperate need to believe that Little Vick would bring a return to the magic we had all witnessed during the '99 and 2000 seasons. Remember, please, that we had endured a year of Grant Noel, and Bryan Randall, at the time, was not progressing as quickly as some fans would have liked. (Sound familiar?)
Marcus got into hot water almost immediately after arriving in Blacksburg. After being charged with statutory rape Marcus was suspended from the team for the 2004 season. Marcus spent the year with his brother Michael in Atlanta. (At the time, we all thought this was a good thing.) He returned to VT in 2005. He had a pretty good year on the field, and a terrible one off of it. He was shown the door after the season, in no small part because of his nine (!) traffic arrests during his tenure at VT and the infamous "Dumerville Stomp" pictured above. (No, that's not a dance move that swept the nation.)
And so VT was left without a clear starter at QB. Sean Glennon would eventually win the starting job, but the 4-star prospect simply never performed as expected. Highly touted dual-threat QB Ike Whitaker had some personal problems that prevented him from ever meeting his full potential and eventually led to his dismissal from the team. With the absence of true leadership under center the program has significantly backslid in offensive production, and will continue to do so until Tyrod Taylor - or someone else - steps up and assumes the role of a field general around whom the offense can rally.
Scenario Two: The Sudden, Unexpected Departure of Kevin Rogers
Lost in the drama surrounding the dismissal of Marcus Vick was a loss on the coaching staff that might have been even more devastating to our offense. Kevin Rogers, the man who groomed Donovan McNabb, came to VT in 2002 as quarterbacks coach and immediately got to work on Bryan Randall and Grant Noel. Rogers turned in four seasons of solid work and eventually groomed Bryan Randall into an all-ACC quarterback. Then in early 2006 Rogers got the call from his friend Brad Childress, who had just been installed as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, and Rogers was off and up out.
Kevin Rogers was one of the best quarterbacks coaches in major college football, but there have been more than a few whispers around Blacksburg that Rogers was actually much more than a simple positions coach for the Hokies. It's entirely possible that Rogers had a hand, and perhaps a sizable one, in shaping VT's offensive scheme and perhaps even calling the plays. Once he boarded his flight to Minnesota, Bryan Stinespring was, for the first time, truly on his own as OC, and the light has only been shed on Stiney's incompetence the last three years.
Scenario Three: The Sudden, Unexpected Departure of Our Rushing Game
The two above scenarios are centered around the quarterback position, dealing with the departure of either the actual player or the mentor to that player. However, it should be noted that when you actually look at the data, there was no significant drop off in passing after the departure of Marcus Vick and Kevin Rogers until the 2008 season. That, of course, was the first season after the departure of the seemingly ever-present Fab Four of Josh Morgan, Eddie Royal, Josh Hyman, and Justin Harper, so a rebuilding year in the receiving corps was expected.
One thing that did decline immediately after the 2005 season was Virginia Tech's vaunted rushing attack. In 2006 the Hokies' rushing average dropped by more than 77 yards per game versus the previous season, despite the fact that redshirt sophomore Branden Ore managed to rush for 1,137 yards that year. What really did in Virginia Tech's running game wasn't so much a problem at tailback (that would wait until the following season), as it was the installation of Sean Glennon, a pro-style pocket passer, in the starting quarterback role. The draw was never a legitimate threat with Glennon under center. Neither was the option. The elimination of those two possibilities, coupled with the fact that Glennon was somewhat of a sack magnet during his tenure, resulted in a dismantling of what had always been the core of Virginia Tech's offense.
Scenario Four: The Sudden, Unexpected Arrival of Highly Questionable Coaching Hires
In 2005, our offensive coaching staff looked like this: Kevin Rogers was our quarterbacks coach, Bryan Stinespring was our offensive line coach, Tony Ball was our wide receivers coach, Danny Pearmen coached our tight ends, and Billy Hite was in charge of our running backs. The following season, the only man left coaching the same position was Billy Hite.
Rogers, as has been mentioned, was rejoining Brad Childress in Minnesota. Tony Ball took a job with the University of Georgia. Pearmen was "reassigned" to another position in the athletics department after the 2005 season (read: "sacrificial offering"). In a game of coaching musical chairs, Stinespring moved off the line and took up Pearman's old job of coaching tight ends. This was primarily because he wanted to work closely with incoming offensive line coach Curt Newsome, who was one of three freshmen offensive positions coaches on the Virginia Tech staff in 2006. Newsome was joined by new QB coach Mike O'Cain and wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman.
The resumes were all adequate. Newsome had turned nearby 1-AA James Madison into somewhat of a rushing powerhouse. O'Cain had significant experiencing coaching QBs in the ACC, coupled with head coaching experience. Kevin Sherman had essentially run VMI's entire offense from '93 to '96, before moving on to coaching receivers at Ohio and then Wake Forest. On paper, all three were good fits. However, there is no escaping the fact that since the installation of these coaches, the offense has nose-dived in Blacksburg.
It is conceivable that this coaching staff has yet to "gel." Consistency in the coaching staff is a hallmark of Virginia Tech football, and a staff shakeup like the one that occurred after 2005 could only hit a program like VT harder because it was so uncommon. It is a commonly held belief in college football, however - and one I myself hold - that three years is a sufficient transition time for any coaching change, whether it be the installation of a new coach or a new scheme. If, at this point, the offensive coaching staff continues to fail in putting together a viable offense, it must be chalked up to bad hires.
Scenario Five: The Sudden, Unexpected Combination of All of the AboveWe come now to what I really believe is the root cause of our offensive frustration for the past three years. To pinpoint the blame on any one factor is narrowminded and irrational. There are several factors that have contributed the the embarrassing numbers the Hokie offense has managed to put up the last three seasons.
The first reason is, simply put, Bryan Stinespring is not a very good offensive coordinator. He was a bad choice to succeed Bustle. If Beamer insisted on promoting from within, Billy Hite would have been a better choice. At least Hite understands that the running game is our primary offensive strength, a fact that Stinespring seems to forget every offseason and has to rediscover sometime around week four to six.
Stinespring's lack of ability (as opposed to a lack of effort) was masked heavily during his first four years on the job by the offensive acumen of Kevin Rogers, whom I believe did indeed play a significant but underpublicized role in playcalling from 2002-2005.
The simultaneous departures of Rogers and Marcus Vick left the team in a world of hurt and put new QB coach Mike O'Cain in a very tough spot, having to come into a program and chose an emergency starter out of a crop of QBs that he had no hand in recruiting. O'Cain selected Glennon, most likely out of a combination of Glennon's tendency to perform far better in practice than he ever did in live game situations and O'Cain's own tendency to prefer traditional drop-back passers over dual-threat quarterbacks.
The lack of mobility under center, coupled with the apparent schizophrenia of Branden Ore, led to a grievous decline in VT's rushing output. The glut of talent at wide receiver, however, kept our passing numbers nearly identical to what they had been under Rogers. That trend continued until the 2008 season, when VT once again found its stride in the rushing game but had to break in an entirely new slate of receivers.
The additions of DJ Coles and the conversion of Marcus Davis to wideout looks to shore up the receiving corps in 2009, and the backfield looks to be nothing short of incredible with the redshirt coming off of the quasi-Messianic Ryan Williams and the guarantee of playing time as a true freshman for incoming recruit David Wilson.
What remains to be seen, however, is whether or not Stinespring and his offensive coaching staff can return the offense to the level of production witnessed during Kevin Rogers' tenure (or, preferably, higher). The offense has gotten worse, not better, each of the last three years, and a continued decline in 2009 with the amount of talent lining up on offense would not be merely inexcusable but a cardinal sin.
We know that there were, unsurprizingly, no coaching changes after last season. That is understandable. Coach Beamer dislikes personel changes, and he had a fifth consecutive 10+ win season and a third ACC title in five years to use as leverage. I say let this, then, be the deciding year for this staff. Every offensive player on the field will have been coached for the entirety of his playing career by the current group of offensive coaches, which will make this the the first offense to truly and inarguably carry the full stamp of this staff. The talent is there, on the line, in the backfield, in the receiving corps, and under center. There is no reason why this squad should not show significant improvement on offense. If, however, the offensive output should decline for a fourth straight year, then no amount of 10+ win seasons and conference championships, secured by the strength of an overbearing defense, will be sufficient to gloss over the fact that this offensive staff has failed miserably and should be completely restructured, including the removal of Bryan Stinespring from the position of offensive coordinator.