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Virginia Tech’s opener at Old Dominion complicates relationship for coaches Brent Pry, Ricky Rahne | College Sports


While working together as football assistant coaches at Vanderbilt and then Penn State, Brent Pry and Ricky Rahne often talked about their visions for the programs they hoped to one day lead.

Rahne got that shot in 2020, when he was tapped to coach Old Dominion. Pry followed suit this year, landing the Virginia Tech job.

But instead of an offseason of idea sharing, the two have been reticent to bounce plans off each other.

“The conversations look a little different and have some handcuffs on them,” Pry acknowledged earlier this month.

Pry’s first game coaching the Hokies comes Sept. 2, as fate would have it, in Norfolk against Rahne’s Monarchs.

“That’s probably the worst thing about us playing each other. I think we would have a much more symbiotic relationship if we weren’t playing each other,” said Rahne. “I do think there’d be a lot more information flowing back and forth. …

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“If he was the head coach somewhere else we’d be bouncing ideas of each other every other day.”

Rahne, a 41-year-old Colorado native who played quarterback at Cornell, and Pry, a 52-year-old Pennsylvanian who played safety for Buffalo, worked together on James Franklin’s Vanderbilt staff, then followed him to Penn State in 2014.

Their wives are friends. Their families are close. Pry has joked that his wife already has begun making tailgate plans with Rahne’s, but Rahne joked that he isn’t sure how that would go on game day.

“My wife’s a really competitive person,” said Rahne. “She’d love to see Amy any day of the year, but that day might be tough for my wife. I think it’ll be tough for both of them.”

Rahne’s ties to the Virginia Tech staff don’t end with Pry. He coached with offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen for two years at Penn State, and Pry hired wide receivers coach Fontell Mines – a UVA graduate – off of Rahne’s ODU staff.

Now, they’ll be opponents.

“We would be able to talk a lot more ball and it would help us,” said Rahne. “But obviously, you just don’t feel comfortable – they shouldn’t and we don’t. You just don’t feel as comfortable as you would if we weren’t playing each other.”

The question is, how will the two head coaches’ familiarity factor into the matchup?

“I think I have a decent idea of what Tech’s going to do, both offensively and defensively,” said Rahne. “Because I know what Brent believes in. I know he believes in fundamentals and I know he believes in the basic schemes he knows are going to work.”

Rahne knows that game plans can shift dramatically year to year based on personnel. His offense looked different at PSU when he had star running back Saquon Barkley, for example.

Rahne instructed his staff to spend time this offseason familiarizing themselves with the team’s new conference opponents, as ODU makes the move to the Sun Belt this season. But they’ve also begun to game-plan preparations for the Monarchs’ first three games of 2022 – Virginia Tech, at East Carolina and at Virginia, which also has a new head coach in Tony Elliott.

The opener, against the Hokies and their new coaching staff, is the most vexing.

Pry will call the plays for the defense this season after hiring a first-time coordinator in Chris Marve.

“Are they running the Penn State stuff or are they running the stuff from the DC? What is the blend of that?” said ODU first-year offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude. “You kind of know what the DNA is of a certain team and you try to keep it as simple as you possibly can keep it. A lot of times people make it chess and not checkers. No matter what happens, there are going to be certain parts of your DNA that you’re going to show right away.”

Patenaude and Monarchs defensive coordinator Blake Seiler have been rewatching Tech’s 2021 games to learn more about the Hokies’ personnel “to see what you’re dealing with there,” and they’ve looked at video of Pry’s Penn State defense, Bowen’s season as the Jacksonville Jaguars tight ends coach last year, and the Florida State defenses Marve’s assisted with.

“Schematically, you just have to take a look at where the coordinator’s been and just go from there,” said Seiler.

Seiler and ODU may have an advantage in the fact that they played against new Tech quarterback Grant Wells last season, when Wells started at Marshall. The Herd won that game 20-13 in overtime, with Wells throwing for 299 yards and two touchdowns but also being intercepted twice and sacked three times.

The information “handcuffs” Pry mentioned won’t be coming off any time soon.

The schools, which met in 2017, 2018 and 2019, with ODU memorably winning 49-35 in Norfolk in 2018, are scheduled to play every season from now through 2031, with five of those meetings in Norfolk, including this year’s game.

“I consider Ricky a good friend, one of my better friends in this business,” said Pry. “It’s unfortunate that we’re squaring off year in and year out right now.”

mbarber@timesdispatch.com

Twitter: @RTD_MikeBarber



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