By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — He flew from Seattle to Mobile, Ala., site of the Senior Bowl, on Sunday, from Mobile to Charlottesville on Monday, from Charlottesville back to Mobile on Tuesday, and from Mobile back to Charlottesville on Wednesday morning.
“I’m tired,” Bill Lazor admitted with a smile Wednesday afternoon at the McCue Center.
He was also excited, though, and adrenaline — supplemented with caffeine — kept Lazor, 37, going on his first day as UVa’s offensive coordinator.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Lazor said. “I think the University of Virginia is going to win football games. We’re going to put a program together in Coach London’s vision that everyone is going to be proud of.”
When the Cavaliers’ new head coach, Mike London, started assembling his staff, he’d never met Lazor. But calls on Lazor’s behalf from such coaches as Joe Gibbs, Mike Holmgren, Dan Reeves, Pete Mangurian and former UVa offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave convinced London that the former Cornell quarterback was a candidate worth pursuing.
Lazor, for his part, had worked with three coaches — Dan Quinn, Musgrave and another former UVa offensive coordinator, Ron Prince — who were former colleagues of London.
“They could not have given me a higher recommendation for the kind of person Mike London in,” Lazor said.
After graduating from Cornell in May 1994, Lazor spent seven seasons on the football staff at his alma mater. His titles ranged from part-time assistant to wide receivers coach to head JV coach to recruiting coordinator to quarterbacks coach to running backs coach to tight ends coach to passing-game coordinator.
He was offensive coordinator at the University of Buffalo in 2001 and ’02 before moving to the NFL. His first job in the pros was as an offensive-quality control coach for Reeves in Atlanta. By the ’06 season, Lazor was the quarterbacks coach on a Redskins staff led by Gibbs.
Lazor spent the 2008 and ’09 seasons in Seattle, where he coached the Seahawks’ quarterbacks, first under Holmgren and then under Jim Mora Jr. The Seahawks dismissed Mora after the ’09 season.
In college, Lazor played for Jim Hofher, for whom Lazor later worked at Cornell and Buffalo.
Asked if he considers one coach his mentor, Lazor said, “I couldn’t pick out one, because I have worked for an all-star cast. Certainly the NFL coaches I’ve worked for are the most recognizable names, but I would tell you the college coaches I’ve worked for have done just as great a job of teaching me how to coach.
“Some people work for head coaches who are rising stars, and they’re able to hook on to that star and keep jobs and keep going forever. My background is a little different in that a high percentage of the head coaches I’ve worked for have since retired. But because of the quality and the kind of experiences they’ve had and the successes they’ve had, the lessons I’ve learned from the coaches I’ve worked for and with have really made me the coach I am today, and I have them to thank for it.”
Lazor and his wife, Nicole, have a son, soon-to-be-5-year-old Nolan, and a 6-month-old daughter, Marin. During Lazor’s four seasons with the Redskins, the family lived in Leesburg, so he’s spent some time in the Commonwealth. The Lazors also visited the Princes in Charlottesville.
“My wife and I are excited to be a part of a great university atmosphere again,” Lazor said.
He faces a significant challenge in his new gig. Not since 2005 has UVa finished a season ranked among the nation’s top 100 teams in total offense. The Cavaliers went 3-9 in 2009, in large part because of their struggles on offense.
Lazor is not yet familiar with the personnel he inherited, but fans can expect to see the Wahoos run a “pro-style offense,” he said.
“It will be the University of Virginia offense, so it will be a culmination of the vision that the staff, with all the great expertise we have, creates, that fits exactly with what our players do well. But you will see us both under center and in the shotgun. You’ll see us be a physical team when we decide to run the ball. You’ll see us be a precision team when we throw the ball.
“Hopefully what we’re going to work towards is becoming an explosive team, because you have to score points.”
Lazor, who’s from Scranton, Pa., believes his years in the NFL helped him grow tremendously as a coach. He’s probably better prepared now to run an offense than he was at Buffalo, and he’s eager to show what he’s learned.
“Really, one of the attractive things for me to come to this position was the opportunity to be an offensive coordinator again,” Lazor said.
“Seven years ago, when I left that situation at Buffalo to go to the Atlanta Falcons, one of the factors in the decision to take the job with the Falcons was to walk away from being the coordinator and having those responsibilities. It was something I enjoyed doing, but I think it’s something you have to do to learn exactly what it’s going to entail.
“But for seven years now, as I’ve been in the National Football League coaching, that’s one thing I really did miss. Not every day, but at times I looked fondly at those experiences and looked forward to the opportunity to get back to being the offensive coordinator and helping in a little stronger way to establish the vision of what the offense was going to be and having a stronger hand in managing the staff in a way that as a team we were going put together that vision and make it show up on the field.”
Of his time with such NFL legends as Reeves, Gibbs and Holmgren, Lazor said, “Once you’ve been through working with and for guys who really have a great expertise in football, and you go through the battles of making that show up on the football field, it affects you, and at least for me, I hope it’s changed me for the better.”
In the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision, each team is allowed to have nine full-time assistants. London has hired eight: Lazor, Mike Faragalli and Shawn Moore on offense, and coordinator Jim Reid, Vincent Brown, Jeff Hanson, Chip West and Anthony Poindexter on defense.
In addition, London’s graduate assistants are expected to be former UVa players Ron Mattes, Gordie Sammis, Josh Zidenberg and Brennan Schmidt, who’s had great success coaching a football team in Italy.
It’s been the better part of a decade since Lazor went out recruiting, but he said he enjoys that aspect of college coaching.
The key to success at any level of the sport, he said, “is building relationships with the players.”
In the NFL, at least two of the quarterbacks he coached — Mark Brunell and Todd Collins — were older than Lazor.
“But it was still about building relationships,” Lazor said. “You have a guy in a different stage of his life and his growth and development, so you can impact him in a different way. But you’d like to think that even when you’re dealing with an older guy, you’re still impacting him in hopefully a strong, positive way.
“In the NFL, outside of the game, you’re usually meeting a player’s wife and children. In the recruiting process, you’re more likely to meet with parents and brothers and sisters. But you’re still dealing with his family and getting to know him. It’s just a little bit of a shift in how you’re doing it, but to me it’s the same philosophy of getting to know him, getting to know the people that matter to him and having a positive impact on him.”