Monday, September 20, 2010

Jon Tenuta, Canary in a coal mine

NC State opens the 2010 season 3-0, improved in no small part because its aggressive defense has forced turnovers and put relentless pressure on opposing QBs.

The architect of that defense is Jon Tenuta, State's new linebackers coach, hired from Notre Dame after Charlie Weis was fired. Tenuta appears to be one of the oddities: a genuine teacher at the highest levels of the NCAA, someone who can take kids at top-flight programs and "coach 'em up." Over a two-decade career as a college assistant, several dozen players Tenuta have tutored made the National Football League. From his ND bio:

Prior to Notre Dame, Tenuta coached at Georgia Tech for six seasons where 18 Yellow Jacket defenders earned first- or second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference recognition, and 18 players from his first four units were either drafted or signed NFL free-agent contracts.
He also was the defensive coordinator for one year at UNC -- 2001, the season that Carolina had the ACC's best defense and sent seven defensive starters to the NFL, including Julius Peppers. He's served as a position coach or defensive coordinator at Marshall, SMU, Kansas State, Ohio State, Carolina, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, and now NC State. His defenses routinely finish in the top 20 nationally.

Why is such a successful coach a vagabond? Perhaps it's a coincidence, but every head coach he's worked for was fired either while Tenuta was on the staff or soon afterward. 1987 at Marshall? Under head coach George Chaump, the Thundering Herd made the DI-AA playoffs for the first time, but Chaump was gone two years later. 1988 at Kansas State? HC Stan Parrish, gone. SMU (1990-94)? Tom Rossley, out by '96. THE Ohio State University, 1995-2000? John Cooper, outta here. Georgia Tech (2002-07)? Tenuta and Chan Gailey, shown the door. Notre Dame (2008-09)? See ya, Charlie Weis.

Carolina head coach John Bunting actually survived five years after Tenuta's (voluntary) departure to the Ramblin' Wreck.  And Tenuta was on some people's short lists to succeed Bunting at Chapel Hill -- until Butch Davis got the job.

Given Tenuta's history, however, you have to wonder if Tom O'Brien saw the hire as a good news/bad news story. The good news: Your defense is likely to get a lot better. The bad news: You may be unemployed soon anyway.