If you’ve followed my ramblings on this site for any length of time, you know my one concern when Brent Pry was hired as the head coach at Virginia Tech was the fact he’d never been a head coach.
It’s not that this was some insurmountable obstacle, but when you’ve never been the head guy, you really don’t know what you don’t know. While the tendency is that you pick up things fast, you’re really not tested until you run into a crisis.
It’s during that time most new head coaches, company presidents, etc., have to fight the inclination to focus on the areas they’re most comfortable with instead of continuing to be the captain of the ship. The head coach’s job is to hold assistants accountable, provide advice and - if necessary - tough love.
Above all else, a good head coach keeps everyone in their lanes.
Failure to do so for many teams tends to result in everyone on staff offering their two cents about areas that are not their direct responsibility and you end up with a management by committee atmosphere that never works. If you look back to the waning years of the Frank Beamer era, you saw a little of that.
With that in mind, I think the next few weeks are going to be interesting in the development of Pry as a head coach. Two weeks ago against North Carolina, the offense and defense were big problems, but against Pitt, you could see some changes had been made in strategy and the offense scored 29 points. Take away some untimely penalties and dropped passes and the offense could have scored 40 points.
That gave a lot of us hope.
But while the offense seemed to take a step forward, the defense did not. As Ricky LaBlue noted in his excellent analysis of where some of the problems were, there are things that need to be fixed, and decisions made about younger versus older players being on the field.
I would think this has got to burn a hole in Pry’s soul, because defense is his area of expertise. The urge to just roll up his sleeves, push defensive coordinator Chris Marve to the side and start coaching the defense is probably there, as it’s just human nature. It’s so common in organizations, I remember it being taught in graduate school, where they illustrated the situation with a story about a young man who had just started at a restaurant.
He was the lowest of the low, starting as a meat cutter in the back of the restaurant. Over time, his strong work ethic and quality of work earned him a promotion. Then another. And then still another. After many years, he was so successful he left the restaurant to start his own.
On opening night, he was supposed to be in the front of the restaurant, greeting customers and making sure everyone was doing their job. But as is usually the case at a grand opening, things didn’t go to plan. Mistake after mistake happened and things turned south very quick. At one point when the situation turned into a genuine disaster, people asked where he was.
Turned out he was in the back of the restaurant, cutting meat. He rationalized that with everything on fire, the best thing he could do was return to cutting meat, because he just knew nobody could do it better than he could.
As everyone knows, the best thing you can do if you’re the head man is stay calm, work with each department to figure out how to fix things, and give everyone confidence that the man in charge knows what he’s doing. But having been in such a situation before, I can tell you it’s tough. You want to fix something, and if the problem area is something you excel at, your mind tells you “I’ll just do it myself.”
So I think the next couple of weeks will be interesting for Pry. These are the kinds of situations that help a career assistant grow into being an established head coach, specifically delegating the responsibility of troubled areas to the people in charge, not doing it yourself. It also emboldens an assistant, as he no longer needs to worry if his boss is going to let him do his job.
Pry will obviously be involved in all the meetings that decide what to do to fix things, and his experience will help suggest possible changes in strategy that other staff members might not have thought of.
But the win-win situation at the end of the day is that Marve creates a change in strategy and Pry either approves or rejects the idea. Then both support the eventual solution and hopefully it works.
Otherwise the team really has two defensive coordinators.
When what they need is one DC and one strong, confident head coach.