By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — That Bill Lazor might one day return to the National Football League was never a secret, even early in his tenure as UVa’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. So head coach Mike London knew he needed to be prepared to replace Lazor on short notice.
After three years at UVa, Lazor left this week to become an assistant in the NFL, and London acted quickly. Virginia announced Wednesday evening that Steve Fairchild has been hired as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
“I’ve always admired the University of Virginia and the ACC,” Fairchild said Wednesday in a phone interview, “and I jumped at the opportunity. I’m really excited. This is a great opportunity for me.”
A former quarterback at San Diego Mesa College and Colorado State, the 54-year-old Fairchild brings considerably more experience to UVa than Lazor did when London hired him in January 2010.
His résumé includes more than three decades in coaching. Fairchild, a senior offensive assistant with the San Diego Chargers in 2012, was head coach at Colorado State for the four seasons before that. His assistants at Colorado State included Larry Lewis, whom London hired Jan. 12 to coordinate the Cavaliers’ special teams and coach their running backs.
Fairchild has been an offensive coordinator for two NFL teams — the Buffalo Bills (2006 and ’07) and the St. Louis Rams (2003- 05) — as well as at Colorado State (1997-2000), New Mexico (1987-89), Division II Ferris State (1984-85) and San Diego Mesa College (1982-83).
He also has been the Buffalo Bills’ running backs coach (2001 and ’02), quarterbacks coach at Colorado State (1993-96) and San Diego State (1990-92), and recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach at San Diego State (1986).
Among the quarterbacks he’s tutored are Marc Bugler (Rams), J.P. Losman (Bills), Moses Moreno (Colorado State), Dan McGwire (San Diego State) and David DenBraber, who left Ferris State as the NCAA Division II career passing leader.
Fairchild’s receivers at New Mexico include Terance Mathis, who went on to play in the NFL for 13 years. Mathis totaled 4,254 yards receiving and 36 touchdown catches during his college career.
On the Bills, Fairchild’s running backs included Larry Centers and Travis Henry, Pro Bowl selections in 2001 and 2002, respectively.
Fairchild, who grew up in San Diego, becomes the third former head coach on the offensive staff at UVa. Lewis led the program at Idaho State from 1999 to 2006. O’Brien, Virginia’s assistant head coach for offense and tight ends coach, compiled a 115-80 record in 16 seasons — 10 at Boston College and six at NC State.
“I know Tom,” Fairchild said. “When he was at NC State, I actually visited him there to learn about his system. I’ve got all the respect for him. Tom’s a very veteran, successful football coach. I’m glad he’s on the staff.”
Until he interviewed, Fairchild said, he had not spoken to London, but “I knew of Mike and all the good things he did at the University of Richmond. To have a chance to come work with these guys is special.”
Under Lazor, UVa ranked significantly higher nationally in total offense than in scoring offense. In total offense, the Wahoos finished 37th in 2010, 46th in 2011 and 62nd in 2012. In scoring offense, however, the `Hoos ranked 75th, 86th and 93rd, respectively, under Lazor.
From a team that finished 4-8, the Cavaliers return nine players on offense who started at least three games in 2012: wideouts Darius Jennings, Tim Smith and Dominique Terrell, tight end Jake McGee, quarterback Phillip Sims, guards Conner Davis and Sean Cascarano, center Luke Bowanko and tackle Morgan Moses.
Asked to describe his philosophy, Fairchild said, “I think we’d like to establish a very physical offensive group that can wear you down running the football and then get some big plays in the passing game.”
Fullbacks and blocking tight ends can be integral parts of his system, Fairchild said, but “obviously you gotta take any offense and adapt it your personnel.”
In the NFL, Fairchild worked with Mike Martz, Norv Turner and Kevin Gilbride, among others, “so I’ve been exposed to some really, really talented offensive coaches, and it’s been a great training ground,” he said.
“First of all, when you’re coaching in the NFL, you’re coaching the best of the best, against the best. To have that challenge put in front of you each week is really something.”
Still, college coaching has always held a strong appeal for him, Fairchild said, because its focus is “on developing players. The NFL’s kind of, `What have you done for me lately, what can you do right now?’ In college when you commit to a young man, he’s there for four or five years, and you get to see him grow not only as a person but as a player.”
Case in point: Moses Moreno. When Colorado State recruited him, Fairchild said, Moreno had no other scholarship offers. Moreno went to become the WAC’s offensive player of the year in 1997 and was drafted by the Chicago Bears.
“To be a part of something like that at the college level is something special,” Fairchild said by phone from San Diego.
Fairchild remembers visiting Charlottesville in 2005, when he was with the Rams, to work out quarterback Matt Schaub. He’s eager to get back to UVa.
“That’s a beautiful place,” he said. “It’s a world-class university. I’m excited. There’s just a lot of great things going on there.”
Fairchild and his wife, Nancy, have two daughters, both of whom live in Denver.