Three More Assistants, Including A UVA Legend, “Expected” To Join Elliott’s Staff

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Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports reports three more “expected” additions to Virginia football head coach Tony Elliott’s coaching staff, one of whom is an all-time great Cavalier player.

Chris Slade, who starred at defensive end at UVA before a nine-year NFL playing career (mostly with New England, which selected him with the second pick in the second round of the 1993 NFL Draft), resigned his post as Pace Academy’s (Atlanta, GA) varsity football head coach on December 7, mere days before UVA announced the hiring of Elliott as its new head football coach. Slade, who went 59-42 and won a state championship in nine seasons at Pace, attended Elliott’s introductory press conference and spoke highly of the former Clemson offensive coordinator to reporters.

“They won the National Championship against Alabama, the very next day he’s in my school just like that recruiting,” Slade said in this EDGE feature article. “He’s calling, text you back, call you back. That’s not a front. I’ve had some guys come in my school and I’m thinking dude can you get out? He’s one of the guys that I’m happy for. What you see on that stage, that’s really him.”

Slade has no college coaching experience. However, recruiting-wise he has ties to the Atlanta area as well as the state of Virginia. He was born in Newport News, Virginia, before starring at Tabb High School (Yorktown, VA) and then at the University of Virginia. The Atlanta area has been good to Virginia football on the recruiting front. Slade’s ties there and in the state of Virginia, as well as his NFL experience could be beneficial on the recruiting trail.

Kevin Downing and Keith Gaither are the other names reported by Thamel.

Downing has served as defensive ends and “raiders” (an outside linebacker position) coach at the Naval Academy for the past three seasons. Previous stops for the 2004 North Carolina Central graduate include Winston-Salem State (2006-2009), where he held the titles of recruiting coordinator and defensive backs coach, Elon (2010-2013), where he coached defensive ends for one year and wide receivers for three seasons, and Kennesaw State (2014-2018), where he coached defensive ends.

Making Downing’s hiring more interesting is the fact that Navy defensive coordinator/safeties coach Brian Newberry “has been considered a possible addition” to the UVA staff according to Football Scoop. Downing and Newberry coached as assistants together at Elon for one season (2010) and coached together at Kennesaw State from 2014-2018 before moving on to Navy. Newberry was Kennesaw State’s defensive coordinator from 2015-2018.

Gaither, a 1997 graduate of Elon who played defensive back for the Phoenix, entered the coaching realm in 1997, serving as defensive backs coach at Greensboro College. He then spent two seasons at Tusculum College in Tennessee and five years as a high school assistant at his alma mater, Thomasville High School (N.C.), before heading to Winston-Salem State in 2005.

Gaither has been a Division 1 coach since 2005 and his stops have included Winston-Salem State (2005-2008, recruiting coordinator and DBs coach), Elon (2009-2010, WRs coach), Ball State (2011-2014, WRs coach), Army (2015-2016, WRs coach), East Carolina (2017-2018, passing game coordinator and WRs coach), Western Michigan (2019 WRs coach) and Army for the past two seasons (WRs coach).

Upon his return to Army, Black Knights head coach Jeff Monken said, “I am thrilled to welcome Keith Gaither back to the banks of the Hudson. Keith is a tremendous football coach and an outstanding recruiter. The foundation he laid with our receiver corps in 2015 and 2016 set the tone for great success at that position and his efforts as a recruiter have greatly impacted our success. I know that our players and staff, and all those that know Keith and his wonderful family, are excited to have the Gaither’s rejoining the West Point community.”

Virginia Football’s Projected Coaching Staff

With the above news as well as the news of Des Kitchings’ hiring as offensive coordinator, here is the updated projected Virginia football coach staff under head coach Tony Elliott.

Offense

– Des Kitchings, Offensive Coordinator
– Marques Hagans
– Keith Gaither
– Garett Tujague

Defense

– Kevin Downing
– Clint Sintim
– Chris Slade

What do we know for sure at this point? Kitchings will be offensive coordinator, and according to Pete Thamel, he will be calling the plays. As a major college assistant Tujague has only been an offensive line coach, so it would be surprising if he coaches any other unit.

If the above hirings come to fruition, we know Elliott is putting a major focus on recruiting Virginia, the Carolinas (especially North Carolina) and Georgia. Elliott labeled the southern band of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida his recruiting “honey hole” in his time at Clemson. Kitchings, a Furman University (S.C.) graduate, worked at Furman (2004-2007), NC State (2012-2019) and South Carolina in 2020. Downing and Gaither have significant ties to North Carolina. Slade has ties to Virginia and the Atlanta area. Hagans and Sintim have significant ties to the state of Virginia.

Also of note, Kitchings, Downing and Gaither have held the recruiting coordinator title earlier in their careers.

There are still questions to be answered. When Elliott announced the hirings of Hagans, Tujague and Sintim, it was noted that the positional duties of these coaches were subject to change. Might Hagans be in line to coach a new position? With Gaither joining the staff and with the absence of an assistant coach with experience coaching quarterbacks, the former UVA standout quarterback could be under consideration to make the move. Making Hagans quarterbacks coach could be risky given the considerable success he has had coaching receivers at Virginia, but it seems a viable possibility. If Hagans does not make the switch, I would expect Elliott to hire a quarterbacks coach.

Downing primarily has been a defensive line coach but has coached receivers. Gaither primarily has been a receivers coach but has coached defensive backs. Slade played defensive end at Virginia and outside linebacker/end in his pro career. Sintim coached the defensive line for Mendenhall the past two seasons but has coached linebackers previously, and according to Pete Thamel he is expected to coach linebackers next season.

With 10 assistant coach positions allowed by the NCAA, Virginia has three left to fill. Defensive coordinator – look for Elliott to go with an experienced DC – as well as defensive backs coach and quarterbacks coach are the primary responsibilities still available.

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1 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. ” Ball State (2015-2016, WRs coach), Army (2015-2016, WRs coach), ”

    Gaither’s time in 2015-2016 sounds interesting, to say the least. Typo?

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