As the 2021 football season was drawing to a close and Virginia and Virginia Tech were pursuing new head coaches, there was little discussion of another search a little further to the south.
Duke was seeking a successor to David Cutcliffe, who was retiring after 14 years as the Blue Devils’ head coach.
Bronco Mendenhall had stepped down as Virginia coach and Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente didn’t finish out the season, with assistant J.C. Price taking over for the final two regular-season games and the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
As it was, the Cavaliers hired Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and the Hokies agreed to terms with Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry.
After seven games this year, Virginia is 3-7 overall and Tech is 2-8. They’re both 1-6 in conference play and are tied for last in the ACC’s Coastal Division, two games behind Georgia Tech.
Both teams have been clobbered by Duke and its first-year head coach, Mike Elko, who was the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M from 2018-21.
Before that, Elko had been the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, Wake Forest and Richmond.
When Duke faced the two Virginia teams in the ACC earlier this season, the Blue Devils routed UVa 38-17 and beat Virginia Tech 24-7.
Duke also beat Miami 45-21 at Miami. Hmmm.
Who knows if Tech or UVa gave any consideration to Elko?
In the Sagarin computer rankings published by USA Today, Duke’s football team is 53rd, Virginia’s is 92nd and Virginia Tech is 104th. This Saturday in Blacksburg, the Hokies visit Liberty, which is 8-2 and is rated 78th.
Liberty attracted national attention earlier this season with a 21-19 victory over Southeastern Conference member Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark. The Flames are 9 1/2-point favorites over the Hokies this Saturday in Lynchburg.
Football recruiting has not gone well for either Virginia Tech, whose 2023 class is rated 45th nationally by rivals.com, or Virginia, which is 67th. Liberty is 72nd. Duke, which is perennially behind Tech and UVa in football recruiting, is 27th in that category.
Of the top 25 prospects in Virginia as rated by rivals.com, Virginia Tech has three commitments and UVa and Liberty have one apiece. North Carolina and Penn State each have five.
On the brink
VMI senior Leroy Thomas, a wide receiver from Patrick Henry High School in Roanoke, had five receptions Saturday against Wofford, which lifted him into third place on the Keydets’ all-time receptions mark. His 32 catches this season have given him 166 for his career.
Former UVa coach Bronco Mendenhall
“The words coming out of my mouth weren’t even making sense,” Mendenhall told ESPN reporter David Hale after the shootings that resulted in the death of three UVa players and the hospitalization of two others this past Sunday.
“It’s as if I’ve lost three of my own sons and, not being able to console — or be there to console and nurture and be doing that– I’m hurting.”