When Virginia Tech promoted Justin Hamilton
to replace the Ole Miss bound Tyrone Nix as safeties coach, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive and rightfully so. Hamilton had made a strong impression in his first year on the staff as the Director of Player Development (Defense) and it became clear that Hamilton is a talented young coach with a bright future.
In addition, he immediately was recognizable for Hokie fans due to his past career with the Hokies that included him playing on both sides of the ball as former Virginia Tech WR and current Towson assistant Justin Harper provided some insight into.
It's clear that Hamilton has all the makings of being an excellent fit as Virginia Tech's safeties coach, but his hiring is almost identical to another hiring that Virginia Tech made that, unlike Hamilton's hiring, was probably the most criticized assistant hiring in the history of Virginia Tech football (okay, that may be a little extreme, but it's up there).
When Adam Lechtenberg was promoted into the 10th assistant role, the move caught many by surprise as most expected a traditional outside hiring. Instead, Virginia Tech went with a young coach who had worked his way up the ladder having experience both in an off-the-field role with Justin Fuente and an on-field role at a pair of FCS programs including varying coordinator experience at both stops.
Here was Lechtenberg's resume before being promoted into his position as the 10th assistant for Virginia Tech.
- 2017: Virginia Tech Director of Player Development
- 2016: UT-Martin WRs Coach/Passing Game Coordinator
- 2012-2015: Memphis Director of Player Personnel
- 2010-2011: Central Connecticut State Co-Offensive Coordinator/QBs Coach
- 2007-2009: TCU Offensive Graduate Assistant
The criticism about Lechtenberg surrounded the fact that he didn't have FBS on-field assistant experience and that much of his experience had come under Justin Fuente in roles that have titles that make it hard to explain what that person's role is. Part of that criticism could've been mitigated better by Virginia Tech if they had done a better job of directing stating the fact that Lechtenberg has had a large role in the offensive gameplanning alongside Fuente and offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen.
Now let's take a look at the resume of Justin Hamilton before being promoted to safeties coach.
- 2018: Virginia Tech Director of Player Development (Defense)
- 2014-2017: VMI Inside LBs Coach/Co-Special Teams Coordinator
- 2011-2013: UVA-Wise Defensive Coordinator
Like Adam Lechtenberg, Justin Hamilton has been a coordinator at a lower level below Division I, a shared coordinator position at the FCS level (on special teams instead of offense or defense), and his FBS experience has been limited to a support staff role.
All of this doesn't mean that Justin Hamilton isn't a bright young coach or the right choice for this job; he's definitely both of those things, it just means that Hamilton has a very similar resume to what Adam Lechtenberg had before his promotion last season which was criticized by many at that time as not a resume worthy of one of Virginia Tech's 10 assistant jobs.
The big difference between the two coaches, one played football for Virginia Tech and one didn't.
That's not a bad thing as there is no doubt that Hamilton's value on the recruiting trail increases even more given his alum status along with his understanding of how to teach Bud Foster's defense to safeties given that he played in it himself.
However, to be overwhelming excited about Hamilton's resume yet still have doubts about Lechtenberg's resume given the fact that they are basically identical is a simple head scratcher.
Of course, there are some smaller differences that make Hamilton stand out more in some ways simply because of their roles. Hamilton appears set to have a large role with in-state recruiting especially in places like Northern Virginia where Hamilton has had his fair share of involvement. Additionally, Hamilton will have his own position to directly recruit, which gives him more guarantees of having recruits to be the lead coach closing on.
Meanwhile, part of Lechtenberg's role on the recruiting trail is to be the initial point of contact. Given the fact that he doesn't have a traditional position, there are many times where the job of Lechtenberg is almost like a setup man for a closer. Now Lechtenberg does have some defined areas on the trail being quite valuable recruiting JUCOs as seen by the Hokies' defensive reload via the JUCO recruit with finding players like Amare Barno
Meanwhile, his role recruiting in places like Tennessee and Alabama seems poised to grow with the reconfiguration of the staff after Nix's departure. See who 2022 QB Ty Simpson mentions when receiving a VT offer.
Lechtenberg will still have a first point of contact role in far out, non-traditional territories for Virginia Tech along with being a leader in JUCO recruiting, but expect him to now have a more-defined territory in Tennessee and Alabama that will allow him to show more of his recruiting ability, good or bad, given how VT will actually recruit players from that area.
At the core, we are seeing something that picked up a lot of steam with the addition of tenth assistants last offseason in staffs looking to find talented young coaches that are overlooked, bring them in support staff roles, develop them as coaches and teach them their ideals, and then promote the ones they trust when an availability opens knowing that those guys know the system and will be on the same page immediately. As exciting as a flashy hire can be, the smartest hire can sometimes be the one that maintains the staff's cohesion and gives a young coach a chance.
Clemson did this by hiring by Lemanski Hall
as their defensive ends coach, who had spent a few years as a support staffer and was a high school assistant before that. As we've seen, Clemson's defensive ends were quite good this past season even if part of that was the skill they already had in the room.
Tennessee TEs coach Brian Neidermeyer
was named the 247 Sports
National Recruiter of the Year in his first season on staff with the Volunteers. Before that, Niedermeyer was the Assistant Director of Recruiting Operations at Alabama for a year after two years at Alabama and Georgia as a graduate assistant. His only time in a position coach role before last year was in 2014 when he was the WRs coach at East Texas Baptist University.
Yep, the guy who was the National Recruiter of the Year was a coach in 2014 at a school that I didn't know existed till writing this story.
The overwhelmingly positive reaction for the hiring of Justin Hamilton is rightful as Hamilton has proven himself on the staff as a bright, young coach.
There is also not a difference between Hamilton and Adam Lechtenberg not only in terms of what their resumes were before receiving their respective promotions, but also with how Virginia Tech developed a pair of young coaches who proved themselves first in smaller roles before receiving larger roles. Neither hire was flashy, but both maintain the continuity and give the Hokies a bright, young coach that has a higher ceiling than a retread hire and already knows what approach to bring.
As the past two years have shown, we're entering an era where coaching development
and earning in-house promotions are becoming more valuable and Justin Fuente is on the leading edge of it as the promotions of Justin Hamilton and Adam Lechtenberg, two hirings that received significantly different reactions but are quite similar in reality, have shown.
Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
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