Aug. 16, 2009
By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — As the head football coach at Bowling Green State University, Gregg Brandon regularly answered questions from groups of reporters.
As UVa’s new offensive coordinator, Brandon is subject to head coach Al Groh’s “one-voice policy.”
“I’m learning about that,” Brandon said with a smile today at Scott Stadium.
For the large majority of the year, Groh prefers to be only the member of the coaching staff who talks to the media. But he allows his assistants to do interviews for one week during training camp each year, and Brandon met with print, radio and TV reporters during the Cavaliers’ media day this afternoon. He talked at length about his three quarterbacks — seniors Vic Hall and Jameel Sewell and Marc Verica – and his coaching philosophy.
Brandon, 53, took over an offense that for the past three seasons has ranked among the least productive in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A). He’s installed the no-huddle spread offense with which he had great success at Bowling Green, first as offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer and then as head coach.
Some of Brandon’s comments:
*On why the position at UVa appealed to him:
“I think the No. 1 reason is, Al Groh gave me a call, and we got together and talked. He’s a great coach and, more importantly, is a great guy. Having an opportunity to come here and run our system, that’s great. But I’ve been doing this long enough [to know] that it’s who you work for and with.”
*On what he means by “our system”:
“It’s pretty much the stuff we did at Bowling Green, if you saw us play through the years. That’s what we installed here in the spring, and that’s what we’re running now. You might say it’s a one-back system, but we play a lot of two backs, [with one] up in the slot. It’s kind of a different system than what Virginia’s going to be used to.
“Now, we’re playing with a tight end, and our tight ends are doing a nice job. So it’s really about getting the best people on the field and then spreading the field and taking advantage of mismatches that way.”
*On whether he has the personnel at UVa to succeed with his offense:
“Yeah, I think so. We’re not thin at receiver, but we’re young there. I think those guys will continue to mature and grow, and Coach [Latrell] Scott’s done a nice job with that group. But we’re certainly good at running back and quarterback, and our offensive line, four of those kids have started. We’re pretty solid that way, I think.”
*On the importance of having receivers who can run after the catch:
“A lot of the stuff we’re doing is based on getting the ball to the perimeter quickly, running after the catch. We don’t stress the offensive line that much in protection, and those guys love it. [In a traditional offense], you think about how much they run back and forth to the huddle, that’s all done now. They just jog back, line up and wait for the play. They love it. But getting the ball in the hands of the guys that can break tackles out there, that’s one of the keys of the offense.”
*On how complicated his system has been for the players:
“Some picked it up pretty quick, and others haven’t picked it up as quickly. It’s a learning process for our players. We only got 15 practices in the spring, and we just put the core stuff in. Through the first nine days of camp, we’ve got a lot more in, and there’s been a lot of carryover, I think, from spring. And that’s what I was concerned about, how much retention there would be. They did a nice job in the summer, working out on their own.”
*On the importance of having a quarterback with running ability:
“The offense is built for a quarterback who can run, and we have, I think, three of them right now. Sewell and Hall, they’re pretty nifty on the perimeter. Marc’s not as quick and as fast as those two guys, but he can make a guy miss out there and get yards.
“The system is predicated on reading defenders and then taking advantage and exploiting what they do. So obviously if you have a quicker, athletic quarterback, then the running game will probably work better.
“At Bowling Green my first couple seasons we had a really talented quarterback that could run and throw, and we made a lot of hay. And then we had another really talented quarterback that couldn’t run a lick. In fact, I was scared to death to call runs to him. But he threw for 4,000 yards his sophomore year. That was Omar Jacobs. So I can tweak and fit the system to the talent I have at quarterback, and that’s what I’ll do.”
* On whether the Cavaliers will be able to run the ball late in a game in which they’re trying to kill the clock and protect a lead:
“The system is still designed to spread the field to run the football. It’s not pound it in there and three yards and a cloud of dust. We are creating running lanes for our backs. If you’ve watched people in the offense, that’s what they do. It just creates seams for their runners. Late in the game, if we’re winning the game, we’ll be able to take care of the ball.”
*On whether he’ll have the offense in rhythm by the Sept. 5 opener:
“Absolutely. We have to. And that’s something that I’ve been learning through my time here, just what our players can handle … And it’s not just about our offense. It’s about how good is our defense, how good is our kicking game, all the facts that go into it. How much do we need to be able to do, and how much can we do to have a successful season. But we still have a lot of practice left to get this thing where we want it, to fine-tune it. We’ll be ready on Sept. 5.”
*On splitting snaps among three quarterbacks:
“That is a challenge. And Al and I have talked about this, about making a decision here soon — I don’t know when, that’s his call — on who will be the guy. I think Vic’s done a great job. I thought after the spring, he was the guy, and he’s still continuing to make progress and doing some nice things. Sewell and Verica are right in there, and all three of them [in yesterday’s scrimmage], I thought, did a nice job. They all scrimmaged about 30 plays.”
*On a twist he hopes to unveil this season:
“I would like to see Sewell and Vic out there together, so that’s another package that I’m kind of thinking through a little bit. But we got a little bit more to do before we go there. If you have one guy, obviously that’s what you’d [prefer]. But if you have a quarterback that can shift into the slot and you can throw him the ball” — Brandon laughed — “that’s a whole different deal. Or you can just use him as kind of a decoy and bring Vic or Sewell in there and direct snap it to him and do those things. Everybody’s seen it. Everybody’s done forms of it in college, and even in the NFL now they do some of it. For us, it’s just finding out how all those parts fit.”
*On Hall, who played cornerback in 2006, ’07 and all but the ’08 finale:
“His biggest thing that obviously he is working on now is, he hasn’t played quarterback in so long. So there’s a transition back there, just lining up and taking snaps and being all the things that have to do into playing that position. He hasn’t done it in a long time. He’s come a long way from the spring, just with his footwork, who he’s supposed to looking at on the throws that we’re asking him to make, and I’m still learning with him what throws I want to utilize him for. He’s good on the perimeter. He stayed in the pocket yesterday and made some nice throws down field, so he’s very capable. And you all know about his athleticism. I think the big thing for me is, the team believes in the kid.”
*On whether, with an offensive line whose starters average about 6-foot-6, the 5-9 Hall’s height is a concern:
“Yeah, that’s a problem. But you know, enough people that I’ve noticed win with quarterbacks under 6-foot. They’re doing a nice job. Chase Daniel wasn’t that tall at Missouri, and the kid at Kansas and the kid out at Oregon, they all are running similar systems to what you’re going to see this fall, with not a tall, typical pro-style quarterback. It can be done, and I’m going to give Vic every chance to do it.”
*On the need to work against a defensive scheme other than UVa’s 3-4:
“We have a good core of plays in, and we could probably line up and play tomorrow and have a good showing. But there’s just a lot of other stuff. You know, when you work against each other, you may not be necessarily preparing for what you’re going to see during the season. That’s certainly the case here. We’ll get into working against more [four-man fronts] as we go here this week, and I think that’ll help us. We definitely need to do that, because what Virginia plays here defensively is kind of what we do offensively. It’s just different. Our guys have blocked that for nine days now and all spring, and now we need to block different looks.”
*On whether Groh has the final word on who starts at quarterback:
“He’s the head coach.”
*On how much autonomy he has as offensive coordinator:
“Well, I don’t know about that word. Al brought me in to run the system, and that’s what I’m doing. If that’s autonomous, I guess, then that’s OK. But he is responsible for building the team. I’m in charge of the offense, he’s in the charge of the defense, Ron Prince is in charge of kicking, so all that has to mesh for us to be successful.”
*On the transition from head coach to coordinator:
“So far it has been fairly smooth. The harder transition is getting back in with the X’s and O’s, which I was doing before and haven’t done for seven years. That’s been more of a difficult transition, just getting back into the nuts and bolts rather than overseeing the whole program, running down and seeing what my defensive coaches are doing, making sure our kickers and punters are doing what they’re supposed to do, and all the things that go with being a head coach. So getting a chance to be back in a situation running an offense is very exciting for me, and I’m really up for the challenge.”