The 2011 Orange Bowl kicks off tonight between the Stanford Cardinal and the Virginia Tech Hokies. As we prepare for the game I was curious what our Tech and Stanford bloggers thought about their respective coaching staffs heading into the game. Thanks again to Gobbler Country and Rule of Tree for their contributions as we prepare for what should be a fun Orange Bowl contest.
What Frank Beamer brings to the Hokies is stability and an even keel. Beamer doesn’t get too up or too down based on how the team is performing. There wasn’t any panic after the 0-2 start and there was never a feeling that the team was satisfied how it was playing throughout the winning streak. He is also loyal almost to a fault, which is why there isn’t a lot of turnover on the staff. While that has helped in recruiting through the years, it’s also led to some criticism that the staff has become stale and could use an influx of new ideas.
Much of this criticism is directed at offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring, who is enjoying one of his best seasons after years of ridicule. There are still moments where the play calling can be suspect, but Stinespring has the Hokies rolling on offense this year, averaging 6.3 yards per play, good enough for 19th in the country. One of the reasons I tend to give Stinespring more of a break than most fans is he’s running the kind of offense Frank Beamer wants. He wants a ball-control offense that keeps the defense rested. As long as Beamer is in town, that’s the kind of offense we’re going to run and years like this are probably going to be the ceiling for a Virginia Tech offense.
On the other side is Bud Foster, whose midas touch on defense was tested this year. The defense was very young coming into the year and it obviously showed early. But one of Foster’s greatest strengths is his ability to adapt to the personnel he has. This year, Tech went away from it’s usual hybrid 4-3 defense and starting playing primarily nickel, forsaking its whip linebacker for a fifth defensive back, usually Antone Exum or Kyle Fuller. Both played well and the Hokies’ defense was able to get back on track as the year went on. Even the rush defense, which was abysmal for most of the season, has shown a lot of improvement the last two games.
The importance of the coaching staff to Stanford’s success is undeniable. In four years, Jim Harbaugh has taken a team that went 1-11 to 11-1 and a BCS bowl berth. Harbaugh’s personality is reflected in his team’s smash-mouth style and his success has made him one of the hottest candidates for a handful of NFL coaching vacancies and at his alma mater should Michigan fire Rich Rodriguez. Harbaugh has refused to comment on his coaching future during the Cardinal’s preparations for the Orange Bowl.
More than half of Harbaugh’s assistants have NFL coaching backgrounds. Associate head coach Greg Roman, who interviewed for the Vanderbilt position that was ultimately filled by Maryland assistant Ron Franklin, oversees Stanford’s offense. Roman was formerly an assistant offensive line coach for the Baltimore Ravens. First-year defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who previously served as a linebackers coach for the Ravens, switched to a 3-4 base defense when he arrived on the Farm and has transformed what was a weakness for Stanford into one of its many strengths. Assistant coach Tim Drevno deserves a lot of credit for the Cardinal’s success as well. His offensive line is one of the most dominant in the country and has allowed five sacks all season.