Exum, the team’s All-ACC cornerback, asked for the microphone at the tail end of the presser for Virginia Tech’s new coaches. Identifying his affiliation as the “Lunch Pail Defense,” he aimed a playful question in the direction of Aaron Moorehead, asking the new receivers coach if he took the job because of how good Virginia Tech’s secondary is.
Moorehead didn’t miss a beat.
“Obviously I’ve done my research,” he said as laughs filled the room. “I know you guys are a good secondary, but at the end of the spring, you’re going to see what we’ve got on offense. And these receivers, I’m telling y’all right now — I see a couple of you back there — the receivers right now are going to out-work everybody on this football team. And y’all better be ready to bring it day-in and day-out.”
The unscripted moment was a refreshing bit of enthusiasm, one you expect from the 32-year-old Moorehead, who is the youngest coach on staff and among the youngest Beamer has ever hired as a full-time assistant at Virginia Tech (a distinction that goes to Bud Foster, who joined the Hokies’ initial staff in 1987 as an inside linebackers coach at age 27).
Beamer has gone young with many of his hires in the past – Bryan Stinespring was 34 when he became a full-time assistant; Shane Beamer was 33. Moorehead is just part of the latest youth movement on the coaching staff, one that began with Shane and Cornell Brown two years ago and continued with the latest hires. The average age of the staff at the start of the 2010 season, according to Daily Press’ David Teel, was 50. Now, it’s 42.
But Moorehead was hired for more than just his youth. There’s no denying his enthusiasm, as evidenced by his back-and-forth with Exum. Moorehead described his coaching philosophy as “playing fast and playing smart.”
“It doesn’t mean you have to play 4.3 fast. It just means that you have to play the fastest of your ability every single play,” he said. “And we’re going to be competitive. And that’s the first thing that I talked about is: you’re competing against yourself, not only the guys in the room, not only the defense, but you’re competing against every other player that’s out there working. If you think that you’re out there working hard enough, I guarantee there’s somebody working harder.”
It’s that last part that surely resonated with Beamer. The long-time Hokies coach saw a lot of himself in Moorehead, who walked on at Illinois, eventually became a starter and caught on in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts for five years from 2003-07, winning a Super Bowl.
“He’s a guy who knows about hard work and dedication and out-working the other guy and being efficient,” Beamer said. “I think he brings a lot from that standpoint. I told him the other day that I kind of like him because he reminds me of me. He wasn’t always athletically what you needed, but he kind of worked harder than anybody else.”
Although he’s only been a coach for four years — and never a full-time assistant until now — Moorehead has cut hit teeth with some big hitters in the coaching profession. After a year as a graduate assistant at New Mexico, he got the same position at Stanford under Jim Harbaugh. The staff also included David Shaw and Pep Hamilton, who would be promoted to head coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, once Harbaugh left for the NFL.
“The biggest thing that we did offensively that was probably the most help for me was one, you set the tone in the run game,” Moorehead said, fitting in with the Hokies’ offensive mission. “You have to. If you set the tone in the run game and that’s your philosophy, you can really do a lot in the pass game after that.”
Moorehead came to Virginia Tech’s attention through its talks with Hamilton for the offensive coordinator job. Those fizzled, but the interest in Moorehead remained. The Hokies hired him a week later.
Giving up the Bay Area weather for Blacksburg’s unpredictability won’t be much of a change. The son of former Bears receiver/tight end Emery Moorehead, Aaron grew up outside Chicago, went to school at Illinois and played professionally in Indianapolis. He’s a Midwest guy by nature, which could help the Hokies make inroads on the recruiting trail there too.
That will be something of an adjustment, though. As a full-time coach, he’ll now be a recruiter for the first time. He expects to have his Super Bowl ring in tow whenever he visits a recruit.
“There’s a 100 percent I’m going to be wearing that every time I’m on the road,” he said. “You’ve got to. That’s part of the deal. That’s part of the thing as a new recruiter. I think it breaks the ice when you walk in and they go, ‘OK, this guy has done it. He understands it. If you walk in and you talk to folks and you give them the respect they deserve, I think that on top of that, you can get a lot done.”
One final note, just because I didn’t really have a place for it in the story but I thought it was interesting:
Moorehead is friends with professional wrestlers Colt Cabana and CM Punk. He and Cabana, whose real name is Scott Colton, are friends from before they were even in high school. Through him, he met Phil Brooks, aka CM Punk, another Chicagoan and one of the World Wrestling Entertainment’s current headliners.
“They’re good people. I’m so proud of both of those guys in their accomplishments,” Moorehead said. “Every time I get to watch wrestling and my girl will be like, ‘What are you doing?’ And I’m like, ‘You know what I’m doing. I’m seeing if Punk is on.’ And if he’s on I’m going to sit and watch it until he’s off.”