HARRISONBURG, Va. -- Just hours removed from his introductory press conference, Head Coach Curt Cignetti announced the first seven hires to his James Madison football coaching staff on Monday evening, which includes five assistant coaches and two members of his administrative support staff.
Joining the JMU football program are Director of Strength & Conditioning Brian Phillips, position coaches Mike Shanahan, Damian Wroblewski, Bryant Haines, Jerrick Hall and Ryan Smith and Director of Football Operations James Ferguson.
“When you’re a college football coach, there are two things that really important - you have to be a great recruiter because it’s all about recruiting and development, and you have to be a great teacher and role model who cares about our players beyond football,” Cignetti said. “That is a comprehensive philosophy in this program. These guys all have strong Mid-Atlantic ties and are great developers of players too, so they are great fits here at JMU.”
All five position coaches, as well as Ferguson come to JMU from his staff at Elon, while Phillips joins the program after spending the past season in the same role at UMass, as well as the 2017 season with Cignetti at Elon.
Phillips rejoins Cignetti’s staff in Harrisonburg after spending the 2018 season as Director of Sports Performance at UMass. He previously served as Elon’s Director of Strength & Conditioning during Cignetti’s first year in 2017. Phillips also served strength roles for the U.S. Military Academy, as well as at Nevada, Idaho, Northeastern and USC.
“This role is very important to me,” Cignetti said. “He spends more time with the players than any person on the staff. He’s had a great report with our team, he’s extremely intelligent, he’s on the cutting edge of strength & conditioning and he will improve the quality of movement and flexibility of our team. I feel strongly that Brian’s program will make us quicker, faster and still develop the essential explosive power to be the best you can be.”
Shanahan previously served as wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator the past two seasons at Elon. He also was receivers coach under Cignetti for the 2016 season at Indiana (Pa.), and as a player, is one of Pittsburgh’s all-time leading receivers, finishing with over 2,200 yards.
“Mike is one of the all-time leading receivers at Pitt,” Cignetti said. “He’s extremely bright, he’s an excellent coach and has a great work ethic. He’s also the recruiting coordinator and has done a nice job in developing players at the receiver position. He has great potential in this profession and he’s an extremely loyal and trustworthy guy. His players respect him immensely and he’s only going to get better and better.”
Wroblewski spent the past four seasons coaching the offensive line at Elon, including the previous two under Cignetti. He guided both CJ Toogood and Ollie Udoh to First Team All-CAA honors after leading the CAA this past season with the fewest sacks allowed and ranking second in rushing offense.
“Wrobo, as everyone calls him, is an offensive line coach who I retained when I got the Elon job,” Cignetti said. He’s a strong east-coast recruiter and really a great recruiter wherever I put him. He’s a great developer of offensive linemen. He’s going to be a real asset to us, he’s really knowledgeable and has great relationships with his players.”
Haines spent the past two years at Elon coaching the linebackers. He led Warren Messer to back-to-back First Team All-CAA honors and Matt Baker to Third Team All-CAA accolades this past season. Messer was fourth in the CAA this year in tackles and Baker was seventh in sacks. He also spent one season at UC Davis in 2016 and coached under Cignetti at IUP in 2014 and 2015.
“Bryant is a great coach and a great recruiter,” Cignetti said. “He’s been a graduate assistant at Ohio State and was a really good player in the MAC. He’s coached down guys and linebackers with me at IUP, then left for Cal Davis before rejoining us at Elon. His players play really well and they respect him. He’s extremely organized, has a great football mind and is going to be a coordinator soon. He’s always one of my first go-to guys.”
Hall comes to Harrisonburg after coaching under Cignetti as his defensive line coach at Elon for the past two seasons. In 2018, he mentored Marcus Willoughby to Third Team All-CAA honors and Tristen Cox was one of the league leaders with three fumble recoveries. Prior to Elon, Hall was at Fordham for two years in the same capacity. He played college football at NC State while Cignetti was an assistant in Raleigh.
“Jerrick was a player at NC State when I coached there on a team that went 11-3 and beat Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl,” Cignetti said. “He’s an excellent defensive line coach but an even better person. He’s one of the most trustworthy people I’ve ever known. He’s a great role model for our players and a terrific coach and recruiter.”
Smith is no stranger to the CAA, as he played his collegiate ball at William & Mary before beginning his coaching career. He spent the past two seasons as Elon’s defensive backs coach, guiding Greg Liggs, Jr. to Second Team All-CAA laurels and Tyler Campbell to Third Team All-CAA honors this past year. Prior to Elon, he was a grad assistant at Penn State for two years and spent his first season as a GA at UTSA. He was also a two-time CAA Academic All-Conference honoree for the Tribe.
“When [Penn State Head Coach] James Franklin recommended Ryan, almost every coach on the staff reached out to me within 12 hours of me taking the Elon job,” Cignetti said. “He’s a strong Virginia recruiter, he’s recruited the Richmond and Virginia Beach areas for us and has a lot of contacts. He’s extremely intelligent, has a bright future and he’s a perfect fit for this school and this job.”
Ferguson has been on Cignetti’s staff in each of the past four seasons, serving as Director of Football Operations at Elon for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, while also coaching the offensive line as an assistant for two years at IUP while obtaining his master’s degree. He helped IUP’s offense rank fourth nationally in 2016 in rushing offense. He has also spent time as a volunteer assistant scout and camp operations intern with the Buffalo Bills.
“James was a volunteer with me at IUP and I rewarded him with the position at Elon,” Cignetti said. “He’s extremely likeable, everybody likes Ferg and I’m glad he could make the trip with me to JMU.”
On Wednesday, Cignetti will welcome the first signees to the JMU football program for the 2019 season as part of the December early signing period. He will continue putting together his coaching staff in the coming weeks and official coaching titles will be unveiled once the staff is complete.
“I thought I had a great staff Elon and I’m appreciative of everyone’s contributions,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that all of them would come up here and excel. There’s an obligation as the head coach to put the best staff together for James Madison. I’ve added five [position coaches] right off the bat who can make an impact for us in recruiting and left five behind to help [Elon] with their signing day because it’s important to me that job was finished correctly. There are still some people on that staff who are under consideration for positions here.”
He continued, “I’m excited to get going and moving this program forward. A lot of the recruiting is in place right now, about half our class will sign early and the other half will sign in February. We’re still going to uncover some new prospects, we’ve already begun that process by talking to some people with anticipation of having two scholarships available and I want to add some running backs to the roster. Then we’ll go home and enjoy the holidays for a little while, come back and get at it. I’m excited to meet the team when they come back.”