NORFOLK, Va. — For the second time in 6 years, both UVA and Virginia Tech will begin a football season with new head coaches.
UVA didn't expect to have a vacancy. Bronco Mendenhall brought home the first Commonwealth Cup in 15 years and led the Hoos to their first ever Orange Bowl appearance. Despite two down years, he had steadied a program in need of direction.
Then he was gone.
The University of Virginia went from a stable future to an uncertain one. Enter Tony Elliot, the Clemson offensive coordinator who had been circling head coaching jobs for multiple off-seasons. Elliot comes to Charlottesville without much experience with the school, but with a romanticized vision of what the program can be.
"With Virginia, everyone knows it came down to Duke and Virginia, for me it was really solidified in the follow up conversations with (Athletic Director) Carla." Elliot continued, "You guys know academics for me was the most important thing. There's a lot of similarities between where I was coming from and UVA. It's a college oriented town. It's in the ACC, which I believe is the best conference in college football. I knew I had a chance to compete for championships. I wanted to be somewhere where I could build what I think is a model program."
On the other side of the state's preeminent rivalry is Virginia Tech's new leader, Brent Pry. Pry too comes straight from a long held coordinator seat, and that may be where the similarities end. Working on the defensive side of the ball for James Franklin at Penn State, Pry is familiar with Blacksburg, having spend 3 years as a graduate assistant for Hokie legend Bud Foster. He extolled the blue collar virtues of the his new and old school, stressing that the program "isn't for everybody," and that they'll seek players that fit.
He also occupies a seat that's availability was much more predictable. Justin Fuente was fired after 6 seasons in Blacksburg, the last half of which were full of more turbulence than winning football. Among those shaky areas was the lack of connection with a town, fanbase and alumni group that bleeds maroon and orange. Pry's connection to the program played a role in his hiring. "I want fans and alumni to be a part of this," he said Thursday, sporting a maroon jacket and air of confidence at the podium.
Despite the differences in the position they now occupy, Pry and Elliot know that beating each other is top priority for each.