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For ACC, new staffs new norm

July 24, 2006 12:50 am

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.--Col- lege football is essentially a billion-dollar revolving door. Every season, every team must replace players who graduated, were injured, turned pro early or disqualified themselves with their actions off the field.

It's rarer when good teams have to make wholesale changes to their coaching staffs. Sure, an assistant's lifestyle is only slightly more stable than a carnival worker's. But the best programs stay relatively intact.

This fall, though, even die-hard fans may need a program to know who's calling the plays at Virginia Tech, Virginia and Maryland--let alone who's running them.

After more than a decade of stability, Frank Beamer had to hire four new assistant coaches at Virginia Tech. So did Virginia's Al Groh, who saw three of his lieutenants take head-coaching jobs elsewhere. And Ralph Friedgen replaced both of his longtime coordinators after two straight losing seasons at Maryland.

The biggest surprise came in Blacksburg, where Beamer almost never has to read a resume in the off-season.

"It is different," Virginia Tech center Danny McGrath said yesterday at the Atlantic Coast Conference's Football Kickoff press conference. "We were so accustomed to [former quarterbacks] coach [Kevin] Rogers and the others. But when you lose a player, you just plug the next guy in and keep going. We haven't slowed down for them."

"They" are Tech's new assistants: former Hokie Torrian Gray (secondary), Curt Newsome (offensive line), Mike O'Cain (quarterbacks) and Kevin Sherman (receivers). They represent nearly 50 percent of Beamer's brain trust, but the transition should be relatively smooth--even for one of the nation's most stable staffs.

O'Cain has been a head coach (at N.C. State from 1993-99). Newsome and Sherman are experienced, albeit at lower levels of college football. And Gray knows all about the Hokies' program after earning all-Big East honors three times.

Plus, the men who make the play calls--defensive coordinator Bud Foster and offensive coordinator Brian Stinespring--have been with Beamer for 25 and 16 years, respectively.

"I don't think there's going to be a drop-off," safety Aaron Rouse said. "They'll help guys step up and be even better players."

In fact, at least one of Beamer's new aides has paid quick dividends. Newsome, a former James Madison University assistant and a long-time high school coach in the Tidewater area, was the point man on Tech's successful recruitment of Hampton High School quarterback Tyrod Taylor. He's the state's top-ranked senior prospect.

Virginia's turnover rate was just as high as Tech's, largely because three of Groh's 2005 assistants are now college head coaches: Ron Prince (Kansas State), Al Golden (Temple) and Danny Rocco (Liberty).

"They all had opportunities to improve their lives by taking head-coaching jobs. You can't blame them for that," senior cornerback Marcus Hamilton said. "We don't even think about that when we're on the field."

Groh was able to hire college coaching veterans in Steve Bernstein (defensive backs), Bob Diaco (special teams) and Dave Borbely (offensive line). And it helped that he lured back Mike London as his new defensive coordinator after a year with the NFL's Houston Texans.

But London will be in charge for the first time this fall. So is Mike Groh, the head coach's son, who was promoted to both offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator--two critical jobs in Virginia's rebuilding efforts. Their performance may be scrutinized even more closely than new starting quarterback Christian Olsen's.

Technically, Maryland also has a new offensive coordinator. It's Friedgen, who added that duty when longtime assistant Charlie Taafe retired. The Fridge's expertise is well-documented, and he's had input in every game plan in his five seasons at Maryland.

"We're using the whole playbook," quarterback Sam Hollenbach said. "We were very predictable in the past We'll be doing different things."

Still, Friedgen hasn't called every play in five years. And ask Joe Gibbs how hard it is to run a team and call the plays.

Maryland's defense has been a strength in recent years. But after two straight 5-6 seasons, some changes were necessary. Enter new coordinator Chris Cosh, who brings a similar philosophy but a decidedly different style than his low-key predecessor, Gary Blackney.

"Coach Blackney was a quiet guy," cornerback Josh Wilson said. "Coach Cush will run up and down the field. If you intercept a pass and run it back for a touchdown, he'll be right behind you. He keeps everybody buzzed with his energy."

For a team that's in danger of falling back into mediocrity, maybe that's not a bad thing.

"I'm a marketing major," Wilson said. "I look at it just like any business. There's going to be some turnover. Somebody from the outside may have a different way of looking at things."

And just like in the corporate world, while the faces will be different for the Terps, Cavs and Hokies this fall, the bottom line is all that matters.

To reach STEVE DeSHAZO: 540/374-5443

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