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Who should Tony Elliott hire for his first staff at UVA?

Breaking down the types of assistants Virginia’s new head coach may need—and naming some names to watch

College Football Playoff National Championship - Media Day Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The Virginia Cavaliers have their new head man for the football program, in renowned Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott. But a football program is far more than just the name at the top. So who are the assistants that Elliott will want to bring to Charlottesville with him?

We’re sure actual names will start to be connected to various openings in the very near future. And Elliott’s national profile means that he may have a Rolodex to names that no UVA fan would think of. This is a breakdown of the archetypes that we think would make for a balanced, experienced staff that complements Elliott’s vision of a Virginia-focused recruiting effort with an established identity on each side of the ball. For each archetype, we’ve included a name that fits the profile and would be good to see in orange and blue—the names have not necessarily been connected to Virginia, more of a wishlist/thought exercise.

Archetype #1: Experienced Coordinators

Pairing a first-time head coach with first-time coordinators is a recipe for disaster. Ideally a coordinator could also serve in an associate head coach role, guiding Elliott through the behind-the-scenes things that are unique to a head coach’s responsibilities; this makes previous head-coaching experience a major plus for a coordinator as well.

Who fits?

  • Offense: Curtis Luper - Offensive coordinator at Missouri, and TCU before that. Coached under Gene Chizik, Mike Gundy, and Gary Patterson; his TCU years overlapped with Air Raid guru and new Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Cumbie. Luper has also served as the recruiting coordinator at most of the stops along his way and would bring SEC/Big XII recruiting perspective to beef up efforts at Virginia.
  • Defense: Danny Rocco - Head coach at Delaware until recently, with head jobs at Liberty and Richmond before that; former LBs coach for UVA. The Blue Hens were sort of the anti-UVA in 2021: a top-15 defense but a 100+-ranked offense. Bringing Rocco back to Charlottesville brings a depth of in-state connections, defensive acumen, and close to a decade of experience as a head coach.

Archetype #2: Smooth Transition

Any coaching change brings upheaval. Elliott would do well to take a hard look at the coaches who are already in the McCue Center to see which ones fit his vision and would help bridge the gap from the Mendenhall Era—both in terms of relationships with current players and recruiting in-roads with area coaches.

Who fits?

  • Offense: Marques Hagans - It’s hard to imagine a UVA program without Biscuit, and Hagans’ clout for in-state recruiting is unmatched among Virginia’s current staff. Not to mention the Cavaliers’ receiving corps has been among the nation’s best under Hagans’ tutelage. A promotion to pass-game coordinator would make sense and let Hagans’ career keep blossoming.
  • Defense: Clint Sintim - Most of the defensive staff are Mendenhall hires (many of whom also played for Mendenhall). Defensive line coach Clint Sintim is UVA born-and-bred just like Hagans ; he also coached under Danny Rocco at both Richmond and Delaware. He’s coached a number of different positions, so he also would be able to slot into different roles depending on who else Elliott may hire from outside the program.

Archetype #3: Up-and-Comers

Yes, the program needs experience at some positions to build around a first-time coach. But a first-time coach is also a chance to inject the program with fresh energy and perspectives. Guys who can bring schematic and positional excellence, together with the vitality of a young coach, will be a boost to recruiting. And giving a next step up the ladder to coaches on the rise helps establish UVA as a nationally relevant hotbed for bright coaches.

Who fits?

  • Offense: Brennan Marion - Marion is the WR coach at Pitt, and was previously the offensive coordinator for Mike London at both Howard and William & Mary. His Go-Go offense stresses defensive alignments and assignments by using dual backfield sets and tempo. This would be a home-run offensive hire, ideally as a run-game coordinator to handle the ground game opposite Marques Hagans.
  • Defense: Aazaar Abdul-Rahim - Currently the defensive backs coach at Boston College, with previous stints at Alabama and Maryland. Both 247 Sports and Rivals have named Abdul-Rahim a top recruiter nationwide. A DC native, he coached Friendship Collegiate from the ground up and would bring those DMV prep-school connections. He may not be a long-term hire, given the speed with which his star is on the rise, but he would make sense to kickstart the Elliott era in Charlottesville.

Archetype #4: Lower Division/HBCU Coaches

The Commonwealth has a strong foundation of FCS and D-III programs that a new coach could draw from. Recruiting at those places is almost entirely regional, with a lot of the work being connecting with high school coaches to uncover hidden gems and overlooked talent. Elliott’s career started at an HBCU—South Carolina State—and that may be a pool of candidates he would look to.

Who fits?

  • Offense: Reggie Barlow - Barlow is the head coach at Virginia State, following an NFL career and time at both prep schools and as the head man at his alma mater, Alabama State. He’s been highly successful at VSU and has developed NFL talent. It’s unclear whether he could be enticed to leave a head coaching gig of his own, but the prospect of jumping up to the Power Five level could be an attractive draw—perhaps as special teams coordinator in addition to a positional role.
  • Special Teams: Brian Bratton - Bratton is the wide receivers coach and special teams coordinator at Furman, his alma mater. After a brief NFL career, Bratton has already been part of the NFL’s minority internship programs and considered for SEC jobs. Having the South Carolina connection in common with Elliott doesn’t hurt, either.

Archetype #5: Player Personnel/Development/Non-Position Coaches

One of the big leaps forward for the UVA program under Mendenhall was the development and expansion of regional scouting teams and recruiting staff, including non-positional roles like player development. These are roles that Elliott could fill with guys who have a deep love for the program and whose only job will be selling the Virginia experience to prospective stars.

Who fits?

  • Offense: Elton Brown - Big E was in the first wave of guys who made Virginia a mecca for NFL offensive line talent in the early 2000s. The University retired his jersey in 2011 after his retirement from pro football. Since then, Brown has been active in the 757 football scene he grew up in; he currently coaches the offense at The Apprentice School, a post-grad program in Newport News.
  • Defense: Eli Harold - Harold announced his retirement from professional football earlier this year after a career that saw him drafted by the 49ers and play for the Detroit Lions as well. Like Brown, he has settled back into his native Virginia Beach and is currently coaching the Oscar Smith team (set for a state finals appearance Saturday).

Archetype #6: Clemson Staff

The Clemson coaching staff has been a who’s who of “names to watch” from top to bottom. With Brent Venables leaving to be the big whistle at Oklahoma, there may be staff who are weighing a number of options: following Venables, hoping Dabo Swinney promotes from within, or looking to follow Elliott to Charlottesville.

Who fits?

  • Offense: Tajh Boyd - The former Clemson quarterback grew up in Hampton and starred at Phoebus. He has been a player development coach under Elliott and may be ready for elevation to an on-field coaching role. A one-two punch of Boyd and Hagans recruiting for UVA in the 757 would add much-needed clout to Virginia’s recruiting efforts.
  • Defense: Mike Reed - Reed has been coaching the corners since 2012, and was in the same role at N.C. State before that. His career includes a stint at Richmond in the early 2000s, so he is not a total stranger to the Virginia area.

At the end of the day, a successful staff is more about fit and schematic cohesion than pure resume lines. Only the coaches themselves—and keyed-in administrators like Carla Williams—really know who may mesh well and who may bring the right perspective to round out a program. Are all of these names going to end up on the UVA staff? Almost certainly not. Will none of them? Unlikely, but possible.