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September 12, 2011

O'Cain's return to calling plays starts out with a bang

By: Jimmy Robertson

Mike O’Cain grew up working on a farm in the heart of South Carolina just 40 miles or so south of the state capital, so he’s used to taking on a few more responsibilities to get a particular task done.

He came to Tech as a quarterbacks coach five years ago, but this offseason, he and Tech’s offensive staff agreed to expand his role.

On the opening day of the 2011 college football season, O’Cain climbed back in the saddle, so to speak. For the first time since 2004, he served as the primary play caller in a football game.

How was the experience?

“It was fun,” he said, with a smile.

Following last season, head coach Frank Beamer and the offensive staff decided to restructure some game-day responsibilities. Bryan Stinespring still remained as the coordinator, but decided to give the play-calling responsibilities to O’Cain. This allowed Stinespring to spend more of his focus on the offensive line, a group he used to coach, and also allowed him some extra time to focus on recruiting on Friday nights. Plus, O’Cain’s close relationship with the quarterbacks made him a perfect person for the job anyway.

Not to mention his experience. O’Cain used to be Beamer’s offensive coordinator at Murray State. He also called plays at other stops, including North Carolina and his alma mater, Clemson.

He last called plays during the 2004 season while at Clemson. Ten days after the season finale – a 29-7 victory over rival South Carolina – head coach Tommy Bowden walked into O’Cain’s office and relieved him of his duties as an assistant coach.

At the time, the dismissal stung O’Cain. But Beamer brought his trusted friend to Blacksburg. O’Cain nicely developed Tyrod Taylor into a threat at the quarterback position, and now, he essentially handles the reins of Tech’s offense.

Before the game, he performed his usual array of duties. But he felt butterflies in his stomach, and they fluttered rapidly when he got into the saddle in the Lane Stadium press box.

“Yes, absolutely,” O’Cain said when asked if he was nervous. “I’ve never been in a game where I wasn’t nervous. Ever.

“When I was a head coach, I was probably calmer. I was calmer as a head coach than an assistant coach because, as a head coach, you’re responsible for the whole thing, but you don’t have that game day pressure, like calling plays or your guy going out and performing at a high caliber. But yeah, I was nervous.”

Then, he added with a chuckle, “That first play, though, calmed me down.”

Tech’s first snap of the season went for a touchdown. David Wilson scored on a 20-yard run, and the Hokies rolled to a 66-13 win. The offense racked up more than 500 yards.

In other words, O’Cain’s debut was a snap.

“I’m going to be honest – it was easy today,” O’Cain admitted following the game. “You don’t have many days like this. You could call about anything and it worked.

“You know it’s going to get harder, but it was a good game for me to get back into the rhythm of things. I had tremendous help from our staff, and that’s the thing you like. You’ve got everybody giving input.”

Between series, O’Cain sought the input of Stinespring, Curt Newsome, Kevin Sherman and Shane Beamer. That’s one of the great things about Tech’s staff over the years – they communicate well and work together. With 32 years of coaching experience under his belt, O’Cain understands and appreciates the importance of that.

“I know some coaches have to do it all themselves, but I’ve never been that way,” he said. “Curt has a feeling of what’s going on and sees things that I don’t see from an offensive line standpoint. Stiney is the same way. Sherm sees things in the secondary that I don’t see.

“When we get it all put together, that’s when I think we are at our best.”

Tech’s offense could be very good again this season – remember, the unit led the ACC in scoring a year ago. With guys like the dynamic Wilson, ever-improving Logan Thomas and a stable of receivers, the unit could put up similar numbers to those in the opener against Appalachian State.

But O’Cain keeps things in perspective. He knows the competition gets stiffer.

So he’ll continue to do what he usually does – go to work and do whatever it takes to get the job done.