Virginia Football Coach Tony Elliott Makes Downing, Gaither and Slade Hirings Official

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Tony Elliott has announced the hirings of Kevin Downing, Keith Gaither, and Chris Slade to his coaching staff, leaving the University of Virginia football program’s first-year head coach with just three vacant full-time assistant coaching spots.

Full-Time Assistant Coach Hirings (Official)

– Desmond Kitchings, Offensive Coordinator
– Marques Hagans, Offensive Assistant
– Garett Tujague, Offensive Line Coach
– Kevin Downing, Defensive Assistant
– Keith Gaither, Defensive Assistant
– Clint Sintim, Defensive Assistant
– Chris Slade, Defensive Assistant

In addition to the assistant coaches hired, Coach Elliott has also announced Adam Smotherman as Head Strength & Conditioning Coach, Nathan Pototschnick as Associate Strength & Conditioning Coach, and three Strength & Conditioning assistants. Pototschnick returns to UVA after serving on Bronco Mendenhall’s staff, while Smotherman comes to Charlottesville from Clemson.

“We just got better on the defensive side of the ball.”

Coach Elliott stated the above when announcing the hirings of Gaither and Slade on Thursday (January 6), but this might as well be the mantra of the week as the hiring of Downing came on Wednesday (January 5). All three coaches are designated for the defensive side of the ball.

Downing, a defensive ends and “raiders” (outside linebacker) coach the past three seasons at Navy, and Slade, who starred as a defensive end and hybrid end/outside linebacker in his college and professional playing days, were expected to coach defense. Gaither’s station was less obvious. After serving as recruiting coordinator and defensive backs coach at Winston-Salem State from 2005-2008, Gaither has spent the next 16 seasons coaching wide receivers at five different schools. He has been Army’s wide receivers coach each of the past two seasons.

Gaither will coach on the defensive side of the ball, Elliott said. He may well coach defensive backs, as he was a standout defensive back at Elon in addition to coaching the position at Winston-Salem State.

“He’s a tenacious recruiter, an unbelievable evaluator of talent, he can coach any position on the field, so I’m so excited that our guys on defense are going to be mentored by a man like Keith Gaither,” Elliott said.

Slade, a native of Newport News (VA) who starred at UVA from 1989 through 1992, has been head varsity football coach at Pace Academy (Atlanta, GA) for the past nine years. He guided the team to a 59-42 record and a state championship before resigning following the 2021 season.

“Ever since I met him several years ago through the recruiting process, I could just tell that he’s a genuine, humble, but very, very passionate about the orange and blue,” Elliott said.

Slade joins Hagans and Sintim as former Cavalier student athletes on the coaching staff.

Downing, who coached alongside Gaither at Winston-Salem State, has been a recruiting coordinator, defensive backs coach, defensive ends coach, “raiders” coach and wide receivers coach in his time in the college ranks. He has coached defensive ends the majority of his career, including his most recent stop at Navy.

“You guys are going to love him and his family,” Elliott said of Downing. “He is a great teacher, a great developer, outstanding recruiter, but even better person.”

Coach Elliott wasn’t the only one praising Downing.

The latter tweet comes from Naval Academy Defensive Coordinator Brian Newberry, who coached with Downing for one season at Elon as defensive assistant coaches. The two then worked together at Kennesaw State and Navy from 2014-2021, with Newberry being the defensive coordinator at both places. Football Scoop reported Newberry was under consideration for a job at Virginia.

In terms of defensive duties, Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports, who first reported the hirings of Downing, Gaither and Slade, reported that Sintim was likely to move from coaching the defensive line to coaching linebackers. Ahmad Hawkins of the Ball Hawk Show Podcast posted on the Sabre football board that Gaither will coach defensive backs. Because of his experience, the defensive line seems likely for Downing while OLB/DEs would be a fit for Slade.

On offense, Des Kitchings will be offensive coordinator and likely running backs coach, Hagans seems likely to stick at wide receiver with Gaither coaching defense, and Tujague will be offensive line coach.

With three full-time assistant coaching spots remaining, Virginia still needs a defensive coordinator, a special teams coordinator, a quarterbacks coach and potentially a tight ends coach. The special teams coordinator role could be filled by a staff member already announced, or Elliott could bring on a tight ends coach/special teams coordinator the way Ricky Brumfield was used by Mendenhall in 2020. I expect Elliott to hire a quarterbacks coach, keeping Marques Hagans at wide receiver, where he has been outstanding in his young coaching career.

The defensive coordinator spot is interesting. It seems unlikely that Elliott would make defensive hires without knowing who the defensive coordinator will be. That being said, no hire has been announced. With the final stretch of 2022 recruiting coming up plus the transfer portal activity heating up, naming a DC is the highest priority.

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