Yesterday morning, an old friend texted me and asks “what do you know about Brent Pry?”
Nothing, I said. Should I?
Well, you may want to check him out, was his response. So I did, and the more I learned about the man who is now Virginia Tech’s new head football coach, the more I liked him.
As I’m sure Whit Babcock had his check list of things he wanted in a head coach, I had my own. And it amazed me the deeper I dug, the more things Pry checked off the list. Sure, he wasn’t this shiny bauble who was the media darling of College Football. But everything else about him was outstanding.
Whit, old boy, I thought. You’ve done your homework. This could be good.
At the top of anyone’s list would be technical proficiency on at least one side of the ball, and Pry definitely has it on the defensive side. He’s spent the last 26 years as a college coach on the defensive side, with the last 10 as an Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator at Penn State.
I’ve found the best defensive coaches are also the ones who really understand offense first, and Pry checks that box too. His Dad was an offensive coordinator at East Stroudsburg, part of a 40-year coaching career where he coached with his son and future Penn State coach James Franklin, who was a QB. Having your Dad being your coach has its pluses and minuses, but one plus is the daily interaction over meals.
In my house growing up, my Dad and I over the dinner table may have talked about who won the game. When your Dad is a coach, you talk about not only who won, but why. What worked and what didn’t. Things to look out for next time. Many of the better coaches in high school, college and the NFL came about their analytical skills because they grew up with a coach in the house.
The next one on the list was recruiting. The new guy needed to be a salesman, because I got the distinct impression the previous regime went out on the road, but didn’t necessarily like to do it. Bud Foster, for all his defensive genius, didn’t really like to do it either. But while looking through a list of recent Penn State signees, one sore thumb stuck out: Devyn Ford. He was a running back from Stafford, No. 3 prospect in the state, and would have been a great fit at Virginia Tech or Virginia.
A few years ago I sat in the office of a business executive with deep ties to UVA. He knew the Ford family, and said Devyn wanted to stay in state. But he said Penn State just wowed him so much, while the other two state schools weren’t really all that intense in wanting him. So he went to State College.
The recruiter? Brent Pry.
Next on my list was some tie and appreciation for Virginia Tech’s football program. Over the last six years, it has seemed at times as if the program was the victim of a hostile takeover by a corporation in Texas. There didn’t seem much love or attention paid to the former players who launched the rocket ship back in 1995, and I sure didn’t see staff much around the state building relationships with high school coaches either. That whole Texas to VT thing the previous regime trumpeted didn’t work very well and alienated more than one or two high school coaches in the Commonwealth.
But Pry gets it. In 1995, when the Hokies took that huge leap of winning 10 straight and beating Texas in the Sugar Bowl, Pry was a GA at….Virginia Tech. He was a GA under Bud Foster for three years, saw the rocket ship take off personally, and still has relationships with many of those players, including the current interim head coach, JC Price. One of Pry's first moves, in fact, was to keep Price on the coaching staff.
To me, that’s significant. You want to keep recruits in Virginia? Well, it’s not an overnight sensation sort of deal. You build relationships with people throughout the state, including former players. Those guys he worked with as a GA from 1995 to 1997? They’re now in their 40s, in some cases important voices in their communities, and have a big influence some times in getting a family to listen.
Brent Pry knows these players.
It also goes beyond just those GA days in Blacksburg. They say to be successful in sales or recruiting, you have to be that person who always “knows a guy” when you need to make a connection. I spent decades in sales, and can tell you first hand that comes about from working hard at meeting people, being sincere, and caring. Pry has that reputation, and his relationships go all the way back to high school.
He was an all region quarterback In Lexington in high school (his Dad at the time was the offensive coordinator at VMI). One of his coaches? Former Hokie Coach Bryan Stinespring, probably one of the better recruiters you’ll meet. Think that relationship is worth something? He also coached for several years at Louisiana-Lafayette for 4 years under former Hokie OC Ricky Bustle. He knows where to go if he needs to know anything about Virginia Tech’s football past.
Finally, the last thing he checked off on my list was loyalty. So many coaches these days seem to have had 9 different jobs in the last 12 years, as they keep jostling around for position to eventually become a head coach. Pry joined Franklin at Vanderbilt, and came with him to Penn State when Franklin took over the program. He’s been with him for 10 years, and he’s stayed to see through what he started building.
Many candidates social media folks have liked have been the kind, in my opinion, that would come to Virginia Tech, stay for a few years, and leave. Pry seems like a builder, who will put together what he thinks is needed, and then see it through. Some have wanted coaches who would be a Buzz Williams. Pry seems like a Mike Young.
So he’s a good man (who is even good at social media), he’s coached with Hokie royalty like Beamer, Foster, Bustle and Stinespring, he’s a good recruiter who knows the state well enough to have stolen top recruits from the Commonwealth while at Penn State, he has the respect of former players, knows offense and defense, and seems to be the kind of guy who is not going to leave 3 years from now (unless the Penn State job comes open. That, I believe, is a real danger).
A few days ago, I didn’t know who he was. Now when I place my check list over his background, he appears to be pretty close to perfect.
So I like the hire. And now that he’s the new head coach, I ended up texting back the old friend who told me to take a look at Pry’s background in the first place.
Next time, I wrote, just tell me “Blue Horseshoe likes Anacott Steel."
Then I’ll at least know to take you seriously. 😊
I'm happy mainly because he can and will recruit and he seems to be a people person which is sorely needed after Mr. Introvert.