New Virginia Tech baseball coach John Szefc steered Maryland to NCAA tournament super regionals in 2014 and ’15. The College World Series a step away, the Terps were denied each time by Brian O’Connor’s Virginia Cavaliers.
Virginia’s Tony Bennett is among seven coaches in ACC basketball history to guide his program to at least six consecutive winning conference seasons. The others are Hall of Famers.
Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams is among five current ACC basketball coaches who have taken a school to at least five straight NCAA tournaments. The others are Hall of Famers.
Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall is the only active ACC football coach to author 10 consecutive winning seasons. Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente was the league’s football Coach of the Year in 2016, the first since Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen in 2001 to earn the award in his debut season at a school.
Translation: The Hokies and Cavaliers have nationally prominent coaches leading each of the three mainstream sports for the first time since …
Well, Virginia baseball had never reached consecutive postseasons until 2004 and ’05 under O’Connor. And Williams won more NCAA tournament games in six seasons at Marquette (eight) than Tech has in its history (six).
So the case can be made that the two rivals have never simultaneously employed such accomplished coaches in football, men’s basketball and baseball. Credit for that goes to the athletic directors, Craig Littlepage at Virginia and Whit Babcock at Tech, and their staffs.
Not to suggest each of the six programs is on auto pilot, with national relevance expected annually. Far from it.
For all his success at Brigham Young — 99 victories in 11 seasons — Mendenhall has an XXL rebuild ahead. The Cavaliers were 2-10 last year, his first in Charlottesville, and have endured eight losing records in the last nine seasons.
Mendenhall and his staff quickly upgraded program management, but now they need to recruit well enough to thrive in an ACC that has become more unforgiving than ever the last four years.
While Cavaliers faithful would revel in a 7-6 or 8-5 football season, much less four straight, such finishes are below-average at Tech. That was the standard Frank Beamer established in 29 years coaching the Hokies.
His final four teams went 7-6, 8-5, 7-6 and 7-6, a dip that created some anxiety as he retired and handed the big whistle to Fuente. But in concert with coordinator Brad Cornelsen and first-year quarterback Jerod Evans, Fuente energized Tech’s offense and led the program to a 10-4 record and its first Coastal Division title since 2011.
Moreover, the Hokies defeated Arkansas in the Belk Bowl, their first postseason victory over a Power Five opponent since a 2009 Chick-fil-A Bowl conquest of Georgia.
Fuente went 19-6 in his final two seasons at Memphis and appears to have made considerable recruiting progress at Tech, but his fast start as a head coach guarantees nothing. Friedgen, Clemson’s Tommy Bowden and Virginia’s Al Groh and Mike London are recent ACC Coach of the Year winners who were excused not long thereafter.
Set to be introduced at a Thursday news conference, Szefc has reached seven NCAA tournaments, four with Marist and three at Maryland, in 12 seasons as a head coach. Translating that success to Virginia Tech — 10 NCAA bids in the last 65 years — will be challenging in a conference that has sent multiple teams to the College World Series in eight of the last 12 seasons.
O’Connor and Virginia have led the ACC charge with four CWS appearances in the last nine years, most recently in 2015, when the Cavaliers swept Szefc and Maryland in a super regional and became the first ACC team since Wake Forest in 1955 to win the national title.
With that championship accenting 14 NCAA trips in as many seasons, O’Connor ranks among college baseball’s best. He consistently recruits and develops pro-caliber talent — Virginia’s Pavin Smith and Adam Haseley were the Nos. 7 and 8 overall picks of the Major League draft Monday — and his continued presence will set a high bar in-state as Szefc attempts to revive Virginia Tech.
Revivals also were in order when Williams and Bennett took over the basketball programs at Tech and U.Va., respectively.
Bennett has done just that in eight seasons. Virginia and North Carolina are the only ACC programs to advance in each of the last four NCAA tournaments. Plus, Bennett has joined UNC’s Frank McGuire, Dean Smith and Roy Williams, Duke’s Vic Bubas and Mike Krzyzewski, and Maryland’s Gary Williams as the only coaches with at least six consecutive winning ACC seasons.
Like Bennett did with the Cavaliers in 2012, Buzz Williams this season guided the Hokies to the NCAA tournament in his third year. Navigating a nasty Big East, he previously coached Marquette to five straight NCAAs.
The other active ACC coaches who have reached at least five consecutive NCAA tournaments during their careers: Roy Williams, Krzyzewski, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Louisville’s Rick Pitino.
Tech and Virginia figure to be postseason-worthy again in 2018, and if they make the field of 68, it will mark the first time both rivals have earned NCAA bids in back-to-back years.
For all the headlines football, men’s basketball and, to a lesser degree, baseball generate, it would be derelict not to mention the other quality coaches working in Charlottesville and Blacksburg.
George Gelnovatch (men’s soccer), Kevin Sauer (rowing) and Julie Myers (women’s lacrosse) have won national championships at U.Va., where Olympic sports consistently excel. Bryan Fetzer (director of track and cross country), Steve Swanson (women’s soccer), Kim Lewellen (women’s golf), Michele Madison (field hockey), Lars Tiffany (men’s lacrosse), Augie Busch (swimming), Bowen Sargent (men’s golf) and Steve Garland (wrestling) also are nationally regarded.
At Tech, Dave Cianelli (director of track and cross country), Chugger Adair (women’s soccer), Ned Skinner (swimming), Jay Hardwick (men’s golf) and Scot Thomas (softball) have contended nationally.
Most of the aforementioned Olympic coaches are veterans in their positions. With the coaches of the mainstream sports at Tech and Virginia relative newcomers — O’Connor is the only one of the group on the job at least a decade — the future is all the more promising and intriguing.
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