Jan. 31, 2014
“I’ve known Arch for over 30 years and I’ve known Jappy for over 20 years,” Tenuta, who was on the road recruiting, said by phone Thursday. “When you’re in the profession as long as I’ve been it, you know who can coach and who can’t coach.”
Tenuta worked with Oliver at Notre Dame (2008) and with Archer at NC State (2010-12). For Archer, whose hiring was announced Thursday, this is his second stint as an assistant at UVa. He coached the linebackers for George Welsh in 1991 and ’92.
Oliver and Archer fill the slots that opened when assistant coaches Vincent Brown (defensive line) and Anthony Poindexter (safeties) left early this month for Connecticut, where they will be co-defensive coordinators.
London, who’s heading into his fifth season as Virginia’s head coach, was sorry to see Brown and Poindexter go, but he’s excited about what Oliver and Archer will add to the program.
His challenge, London said, was to “find guys that can not only make the football team better but also coach players to be the best they can be [off the field],” and he believes he’s done so.
Oliver, whom London has known for years, was hired about a week after Brown and Poindexter left for UConn. He’ll coach the Cavaliers’ defensive line.
A Purdue graduate, Oliver has been an assistant at such schools as Air Force, Vanderbilt, Eastern Michigan, Notre Dame, Navy and Buffalo. He spent the past four seasons at Buffalo, which in 2013 advanced to a bowl for only the second time in school history.
“When the opportunity came, he knew me, he knew Jon,” London said. “He knew about this school and all the things Virginia has to offer. It’s amazing how it worked out.”
On a teleconference with reporters, Oliver said he’s long been a fan of Tenuta’s “attacking, aggressive style. By nature I love to attack, and if you know anything about J.T., he loves to attack. So a lot of our philosophies work together.”
Oliver is “an excellent teacher, very personable guy, good dude, knows the system that I’ve been around most of my career,” Tenuta said. “Knowledge and experience to me is the key, and he’ll be a great asset to the University of Virginia, just based on how he is, how he presents himself and being a good coach. All those things come into play.”
Archer “was another good fit,” London said. “I knew him, my brother Paul knew him, and Jon knew him.”
At LSU, Archer was an assistant under Bill Arnsparger for three seasons in the 1980s — the final two as defensive coordinator — before succeeding him as head coach. In four seasons as the Tigers’ head coach, Archer compiled a 27-18-1 record and won an SEC title.
After LSU dismissed him, Archer was an assistant at UVa, at Kentucky, with the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers and, finally, at NC State, where his boss was Tom O’Brien, now the associate head coach for offense at Virginia.
Archer, an alumnus of Miami (Fla.), served as the Wolfpack’s defensive coordinator. Tenuta coached NC State’s linebackers in 2010 and ’11 and added the title of associate head coach for defense in 2012.
“We speak the same language,” Archer told reporters on a teleconference Thursday. “Jon and I had a great relationship there, and we’ll have a great relationship here. I don’t care who gets the credit. The most important thing is we win … I’m appreciative of the opportunity, and I’m looking forward to the challenge of helping this football team get better.”
NC State fired O’Brien after the 2012 season, and he and Tenuta landed at UVa last year. (Like Archer, O’Brien had been a UVa assistant under Welsh.) Archer, meanwhile, tried to find work in the NFL.
“It didn’t work out, and so I made a decision to stay out of [coaching] for a year,” he said.
Football, however, was never far away. “I stayed involved with it,” Archer said. “Helped out with some high schools and talked with some other organizations about defensive football.”
He watched college football and NFL games on TV and in person and served on the selection committee for the Paul Hornung Award.
His stress level was low, Archer said, and that “was good. But when you’ve done something as long as I have, and you’re as competitive as I am, the itch was there, and I wanted to get back into it in the right situation, and I felt like this was the right situation, because of my relationship with the University, having been here before, and my relationship with Jon Tenuta.”
Chip West remains the Cavaliers’ cornerbacks coach, and Archer is likely to work with the safeties. But Archer’s versatility gives the Cavaliers options.
“Him being able to coach any position on the defensive side of the ball, that’s a big plus,” London said.
With the addition of Archer, whose office in the McCue Center is two doors down from the one he occupied in 1992, London has four former college head coaches on his staff. (The others are O’Brien, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Steve Fairchild and runnings back coach/special teams coordinator Larry Lewis).
Archer is accustomed to working in such an environment.
“When I came here the first time, I had been let go at LSU, and I was young,” he said. “I had to check my ego in at the door, but like any other coach, there’s certain things you believe in, and you gotta fight for them.
“I have opinions. I’m going to voice my opinions. I’m going to do it in a professional way, and whatever decision is made in that room, then that’s the best for the University of Virginia, whether I like it or not.”
The `Hoos lost their final nine games and finished 2-10 last season. The defense played well in several of the losses — most notably against Pittsburgh — “but even so it doesn’t matter,” Tenuta said. “It’s a team game.”
Of the 123 teams in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision, UVa ranked 109th in scoring offense and 89th in total offense last season. The Cavaliers fared only a little better on the other side of the ball. They ranked 98th in scoring defense and 65th in total defense.
“We have to eliminate the big plays,” Tenuta said. “We gotta be better on sudden change. We gotta play better red-zone defense … To eliminate big plays, you gotta be better tacklers and better pass-cover guys, and you gotta be a lot more physical at the point of attack.”
Virginia came up with 21 turnovers last year, and All-America safety Anthony Harris led the nation with eight interceptions. Still, Tenuta was far from pleased.
“I didn’t feel we got enough turnovers,” he said. “This is first time in my career that we never scored a touchdown on defense. That’s 34 years. That’s a long time.
“We just gotta become a more consistent team and not play down to people’s levels and not play above our head. We just have to play sound football. And the thing for me is, we’re good enough to do that.”
On defense, UVa returns 12 players who started at least four games apiece in 2013: safeties Brandon Phelps and Anthony Harris, cornerbacks Tim Harris (no relation), Maurice Canady, DreQuan Hoskey and Demetrious Nicholson, linebackers Henry Coley, Daquan Romero and Max Valles, end Eli Harold and tackles David Dean and Donte Wilkins.