Potential Candidates to Replace Darryl Tapp at Virginia Tech

By: Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP | Jan 28, 2021
Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics

Virginia Tech made it official that Darryl Tapp is off to the NFL to take an assistant coaching job with the San Francisco 49ers being reported as the expected destination. Unlike the retirement of Tracy Claeys, there is no Jack Tyler as a clear replacement choice for the Hokies on staff.

So with that said, here's our rundown of the potential candidates to fill this assistant coaching spot for the Hokies.

Texas A&M-Commerce DC Xavier Adibi

Xavier Adibi has been a name thrown out on message boards but the more you dig in to his resume and his connections, the more that Adibi seems like a serious contender to fill Tapp's spot on staff.

Any conversation starts with the fact that he's a renowned Hokie from the 757 who also played in the NFL for a few years though he didn't have the same NFL success as Tapp. However, that NFL experience and in-state roots in the 757 are both major pluses that would absolutely benefit the Hokies on the recruiting trail with recruiting likely to be an emphasis with this hire.

Adibi has gained some experienced in all sorts of roles and level having coached at prominent JUCO power Garden City CC followed by spending the 2018 season as a defensive analyst at Arkansas. Additionally, Adibi is currently the defensive coordinator at D2 Texas A&M-Commerce leading their 2019 defense that improved as the season went along and was key in their D2 tournament run last year.

Adibi's diversity of experience plus his connections both to Virginia Tech and the 757 make him a very good candidate in many ways, but one thing that may be more valuable is Adibi's distant connection to the coach who Justin Fuente looks up to a lot, TCU's Gary Patterson.

Adibi is the defensive coordinator for David Bailiff who was the former Rice head coach but even more notably, was a Patterson assistant at TCU from 2001-2003 including two seasons as their defensive coordinator. That connection could allow for a quick vetting and consideration process from the Justin Fuente decision-making perspective that in some ways increases Tech's chances.

Even if they go a different direction, Adibi should absolutely be a priority target to add to this staff in some capacity this offseason.

Virginia Tech Assistants Zach Sparber, Pierson Prioleau

Virginia Tech released a video of a conversation between head coach Justin Fuente and Voice of the Hokies Jon Laaser that seemed to hint at the possibility that Tech knows who they intend to replace Tapp with. At minimum, what is clear is that Fuente at least knows the direction that he wants to go with that position.

If Fuente knows who he is going with, the odds of it being an internal promotion go up with Zach Sparber and Pierson Prioleau among the most likely names.

Sparber, a multi-year grad assistant, would certainly be at the top of the list of internal promotion candidates if Tech wants it to be a defensive line focused coaching spot still. Sparber has been primarily focused on the defensive line throughout his time as a grad assistant, and would have a seamless transition into that role. He also has done some recruiting, within NCAA rules, of defensive line targets and would seamlessly be able to pick up where Tapp left off on many of those recruits.

Prioleau could be the guy if Tech wanted to shift Justin Hamilton into more of a defensive coordinator-only role and hand off the primary focus on safeties to someone else. Prioleau would give Tech a long-time NFL player, former Hokie player, and Super Bowl champion to go on the trail and recruit.

If Tech goes with an internal promotion, expect it to be either Sparber or Prioleau depending on the direction VT wants to take this open, defensive assistant role.

UCF DL Coach Shane Burnham

If you are looking at top coaches with unknowns surrounding their next spot, look no farther than UCF's defensive line coach Shane Burnham.

Burnham is a veteran defensive line coach who has made multiple Power 5 stops at Rutgers and Iowa State prior to landing in Orlando. Since joining UCF's staff, the Golden Knights have had one of the most productive defensive lines in the country, and would make a great coaching pairing with Bill Teerlinck.

Burnham does have some regional connections as he made coaching stops at Richmond, Elon, and The Citadel prior to joining the Iowa State staff for the 2009 season. He also has shown some recruiting prowess, but that prowess would likely be more in places like Florida where Tech has spot recruited plenty rather than in Virginia.

Of course, it wouldn't be surprising to see Burnham follow former UCF head coach Josh Heupel to Tennessee, but the Hokies would be wise to look into what it would take to bring Burnham to Blacksburg.

JMU Safeties Coach Eddie Whitley Jr.

If Tech decides to go in a different direction and simply add another defensive coach rather than one necessarily tied to the defensive line, then a call up the road to JMU would be wise to one Eddie Whitley Jr to at least consider him as a possible candidate.

The former Hokie defensive back is in his first season on staff with the Dukes after spending three seasons as the secondary coach and the pass defense coordinator at nearby Bridgewater College. The experience is obviously not a plus for Whitley compared to other candidates, but he has been on the rise which is a plus compared to other coaches who aren't.

Whitley also has the plus of being a former Hokie who has some NFL experience that he can bring to the table, something that was valuable when Darryl Tapp was added to the staff. Whitley would also allow the Hokies to shift Justin Hamilton out of having to be the primary guy coaching safeties and into more of a head coach of the defense type role if Tech would want to do that.

While Whitley isn't likely to be at the top of the list, Tech should look to add him to the staff even if it's in an quality control assistant type role.

Highland Springs HS HC Loren Johnson

This one may be unlikely, but former Virginia Tech DB Loren Johnson has built arguably the strongest powerhouse in Virginia high school football at Richmond's Highland Springs, and should absolutely get a call at minimum with this staff opening.

Johnson would instantly brings loads of credibility in-state with just about every coach across the Commonwealth and especially in the Richmond area that has seen a surge in talent in recent years. There may not be a coach on this list who could boost recruiting more than Johnson which should be a priority in filling this opening, especially in-state recruiting.

Johnson has also proven himself more than capable as a coach with his program producing loads of talent over recent years including at defensive back with current NFL DB K'Von Wallace and Clemson DB Malcolm Greene.

The challenge would be actually convincing Johnson to leave his current high school job and the Richmond area for a chance at the collegiate level with Justin Fuente entering this season on the hot seat. For a guy who hasn't publicly shown a deep desire to jump into the collegiate coaching ranks, that seems like a massive hill to climb.

While it's unlikely that Tech could get Loren Johnson, Justin Fuente should absolutely make that call and see if the Hokies can bring back the former Tech DB and star in-state coach.

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