I think I was in Sloan’s with then-Richmond Times-Dispatch beat reporter Jeff White when I last laid eyes on Jon Tenuta.
Sloan’s has been closed for a while now – maybe five years – but I think it was earlier than that and possibly may have coincided with the UVa coaching vacancy that was filled by Al Groh.
Sad to say, I don’t remember talking to Tenuta that night, although we probably exchanged knowing glances. Chances are, I ran into the late, great Bob Sandell and my attention was diverted.
I don’t remember Tenuta as having much involvement with the coaching search that followed George Welsh’s retirement in December 2000. Tenuta had just finished his only season as defensive coordinator at Ohio State, where he had started coaching defensive backs in 2000.
Jeff’s recollection is that Tenuta was in town to recruit, probably at nearby Fork Union, which would make sense. He went on to coach at North Carolina in 2001 but was fully expecting to return to Ohio State before John Cooper and his staff were fired following an 8-4 season.
It’s something of a surprise that in, nearly 30 years as a college assistant, Tenuta has never worked in Charlottesville, where he was a three-year letterman from 1978-80. Pack rat that I am, I’ve located the 1980 UVa football media guide and confirmed my earlier recollection – that Tenuta had begun his college career at Army.
VIA E-MAIL THIS WEEK, I heard from one of Tenuta’s former teammates, Chip Mark, a former UVa quarterback who led the Cavaliers in passing in 1977 and 1978 after being buried on passing-shy teams earlier in his career.
Mark was the son of former UVa assistant Joe Mark and has been a keen observer of college football, although he chose another career path from his father’s. Chip shared the following observations following the Tenuta hire.
“His teammates loved him,” Mark said, “including me. He was a player’s player and now a player’s coach. Guys love playing for him also and like [Tom O’Brien], Jon is a clear communicator and excellent talent evaluator. He has been calling defenses since he played safety at Virginia and is technically proficient in his trade.
“When I was down in Atlanta on business several years ago, when he was coaching Georgia Tech’s defense, I dropped by his office to say hello. They were in game-preparation mode for Clemson. In his office, there were four or five whiteboards filled by Jon with Clemson’s tendencies by formation, down and distance, field location etc.
“It reminded me of those pictures of Einstein teaching at Princeton when he was in front of the black board working out the theory of relativity. Tenuta was all over it. He had their offense figured out and not surprisingly they beat them in Death Valley that Saturday.”
MARK IS ALSO high on O’Brien, whose arrival at Virginia as a George Welsh assistant followed Mark’s departure by a couple of years.
“These two additions are very important,” Mark said. :”O’Brien can coach, as his record indicates. He can evaluate players and can recruit. [Terry] Kirby and [Chris] Slade were his guys. He can also develop offensive lineman; when he coached the offense at Virginia, our line play was outstanding.
“Players like playing for him and he can make a decision.”
Those are all valid points, but we have to remember that Scott Wachenheim will continue to coach the offensive line, while O’Brien has been assigned the tight ends. He also holds the position as associate head coach for offense, but what that position entails remains to be seen.
Provided Bill Lazor doesn’t get a more lucrative NFL opener and stays on as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, it is likely he will continue to devise the gameplan, as well as call plays. I could see Lazor in the press box and O’Brien next to head coach Mike London on the sideline, an arrangement that probably would please most people.