By Dave Ackermann
(The Orchestrater) (Feature photo credit to BGS)
(any photo credits not identified below should be credited to WVUsports.com)
This Op Ed will discuss some of the challenges to program continuity that effect the WVU football program.
First, let me state a few disclaimers:
- This Op Ed is not intended in any way as a personal affront or a verbal assault on our current head coach Dana Holgorsen, our current AD Shane Lyons, past head coaches or AD’s, nor the West Virginia University administration as a whole.
- There are many facets to “program continuity”, including AD leadership, coaching longevity, offensive and defensive schemes and systems, learning systems and techniques, facility efficiency and upkeep, etc, and some will not even be identified in this Op Ed.
- In some cases, “Program Continuity”, is much more difficult from one program to another. Finances play a huge role in program continuity and many other areas.
- Some changes are deemed necessary for not so obvious reasons and have effects on program continuity.
So let’s begin with leadership and coaching longevity and how these might effect continuity:
The celebrated WVU Hall of Fame football coach, Don Nehlen, enjoyed a 20 year tenure at the helm of Mountaineer Football. Nehlen was hired and presented a new football stadium by then AD George King and enjoyed the end of the successful tenure of Fred Schaus, who followed King in 1981, through 1989 when he retired. Nehlen then enjoyed the long and stable supportive leadership of Ed Pastilong for the remainder of his head coaching career.
Dandy Don got most of what he asked for, but limited to what the University could afford to spend. Remember, for much of Nehlen’s tenure, WVU was either an independent or a member of the Big East Conference, neither of which brought multi-millions of dollars into the Athletic coffers. In fact, without the Mountaineer Athletic Club (MAC), Nehlen would have been limited even further in what he needed and requested.
Most head football coaches are given a minimum of five years to prove their systems are successful and the program is moving forward; of late, these expectations have been challenged in many a college football program with coaches getting only two or three years.
One only has to look at the results when you turnover the entire coaching staff and leadership that soon. The University of Texas is a perfect example, not only in the head football coaching turnover or the forced turnover within the coaching staff (replacing coordinators, etc.), but also in the athletic director situation. I am sure there are many other examples that come to mind such as Miami of Florida, Florida, USC, Colorado, etc., etc.
WVU is an example themselves: The turnover of the Athletic Director has as much to do with a lack of continuity as coaching turnover; new AD’s always seem to add to continuity issues by forcing coaching changes more in line with their personal preferences. This is true in many cases around the country and WVU is not an exception itself, when Oliver Luck replaced Ed Pastilong.
The continuity of the program had already been effected by the departure of Rich Rodriguez and was only being repaired, when Bill Stewart was abruptly replaced by Luck after only three seasons. Good or bad, the effects on continuity are still being felt today, six years later. Oh, and yes, our current head coach is under the leadership of a different AD than the one that hired him (AD Shane Lyons).
Lets look at just the changes in Holgorsen’s own staff over that six year period:
Jeff Casteel – WVU DC in 2011 (Now DC at Nevada University)
In six seasons starting from 2011 spanning to the present, Dana Holgorsen and the WVU Mountaineers have had 4 different Defensive Coordinators and at least three different defensive schemes.
Joe Deforest – WVU DC in 2012 (Now Special Teams/Defensive Coach at KU)
Keith Patterson – WVU DC in 2014 (Now Asst. Coach at AZ State)
The only good news here is that since 2014, Tony Gibson has provided steady leadership and a common scheme for the Mountaineers and is entering his 4th year at the helm of the WVU defense. Gibson just received a new contract for multiple years and at a reported salary averaging $900,000.00 per season.
Tony Gibson WVU DC from 2014-Present
(Credit for Photos to Official Athletic sites of Nevada University, Kansas University, Arizona State University and West Virginia University)
The Defensive staff is next:
This is another area where continuity has been rare over the past six seasons with four (4) different coaches tutoring the position.
- Bill Kirelawich in 2011
- Eric Slaughter in 2012 and 2013
- Tom Bradley in 2014 (Now the DC at UCLA)
- Bruce Tall in 2015 and 2016.
Bruce Tall WVU Defensive line coach 2015 to Present)
Once again, we have seen some turnover, but only four coaches have tutored the Linebackers and three of the four were (or are current) Defensive Coordinators.
- Jeff Casteel in 2011
- Keith Patterson in 2012 and 2013
- Daren Cogdell in 2014 (now a DC at Carol City, FL High School)
- Tony Gibson from 2015 to present.
Here again we have seen many changes with four (4) different coaches handling the corner-back coaching duties:
- 2011 David Lockwood
- 2012 Daron Roberts
- 2013 through 2015 Brian Mitchell (Now at Virginia Tech)
- 2016 Blue Adams
- 2017 TBD (this is getting crazy)
Blue Adams, WVU Corner-backs coach, is now confirmed headed to join USF and new Head Coach Charlie Strong to replace Corey Bell as DB Coach as Bell is headed to the Florida Gators. (See BlueGoldSports.com reporting). So this is now another coaching vacancy that must be filled by Coach Holgorsen.
In six years we have seen 5 different individuals handle the safeties and the coach who tutored them for three years is now coaching at Kansas University:
- 2011 Steve Dunlap
- 2012 Joe DeForest
- 2013 Tony Gibson
- 2014 and 2015 Joe DeForest
- 2016-Present Matt Caponi
Matt Caponi current WVU Safeties Coach
In case the total number of coaching changes on the defensive side of the ball over the six years escapes you. it”s twenty-one (21) changes over the 2011 through 2016 football seasons heading into 2017. That’s just on defense alone and with Adams departure that makes Twenty-Two (22).
(Photo Credit Official Athletic Site of Kentucky University)
While Dana Holgorsen handled the OC responsibilities in 2011, Shannon Dawson was the Offensive Coordinator at WVU and Dana’s right hand man from 2012 through the 2014 seasons (three years). Dawson joined Kentucky for the 2015 season as OC but was let go after the 2015 season and is currently OC/QB Coach at Southern Mississippi.
In 2015, WVU did not have an offensive coordinator and those duties were handled again by Head Coach Dana Holgorsen.
Joe Wickline was hired as Offensive Coordinator the 2016 season and also coached the Tight Ends and Fullbacks. This season, he will take over the Offensive Line duties from now departed Ron Crook.
As we all know, Dana Holgorsen has called the offensive plays from the sidelines for the past six seasons, so the OC designation was really more a tutoring and admin duty. According to Coach Holgorsen, that will all change this season with Jake Spavital, former QB coach in 2011 and 2012 returning as Offensive Coordinator for the 2017 season Dana has confirmed that Spavital will now call the plays.
Jake Spavital – current WVU OC
So that’s four (4) Offensive Coordinators in six years with the fourth (4th) beginning a new job here in 2017 season.
There has been pretty good continuity at this coaching position with Bill Bedenbaugh tutoring the O-Line from 2011-2012 before heading off to Oklahoma in the same position.
Ron Crook did an outstanding job coaching the Offensive Line for four (4) years (2013 through 2016) and placing some hogs into the NFL to prove it. However, he was forced out to make room for Joe Wickline to coach the offensive line and turn over the OC duties to Spavital. Since Crook’s contract was not going to be renewed according to rumors, he had to scurry off to University of Cincinnati as OL Coach on the new staff of former Ohio State OC and new head coach at UC, Luke Fickell.
So Joe Wickline, who has much experience coaching Offensive Line from Oklahoma State and Texas will take over.
This is an area which until just recently, has had great continuity with only Robert Gillespie (2011-2012 who is currently on staff at Tennessee) and Ju’Juan Seider (2013-2016) handling the running backs coaching duties.
JaJuan Seider has accepted the running backs coach position at the University of Florida after spending four years building a powerful stable of solid running backs at WVU and serving as a top recruiter for the Mountaineers. He will be sorely missed. In addition Quincy Wilson had previously left WVU as a counselor in the athletic department to become the Running Backs Coach at Glenville State University. So Coach Holgorsen has some more work to do in both areas now.
Tony Dews possible 2017 WVU RB Coach
(Photo credit to Official Athletic site of Arizona Univ.)
Reports by media outlets, including BlueGoldSports.com indicate that Arizona Wide Receivers Coach Tony Dews will be hired and become the third WVU Running Backs Coach of the Holgorsen Era.
This is another area of constant change for the Mountaineer Coaching Staff.
- 2011 Daron Roberts Wide Receivers / Shannon Dawson Inside Receivers
- 2012 Shannon Dawson Receivers
- 2013 – 2015 Lonnie Galloway Wide Receivers (now at UL as CO OC/WR coach)
- 2016 Tyrone Carrier Wide Receivers
Tyrone Carrier is the current WVU Wide Receivers Coach
- 2011-2012 Jake Spavital
- 2013-2014 Shannon Dawson
- 2015-2016 Dana Holgorsen
- 2017 Jake Spavital will take over
This had been handled by Spavital in 2011 and 2012 and he will handle these duties once again in 2017. In between we have seen Shannon Dawson handle the QB’s in 2013 and 2014 while Holgorsen himself has handled the signal callers in 2015 and 2016. So only three individuals with lots of emphasis from Dana regardless of who held the title.
So offensively, we have seen less changes overall with only about 19 changes heading into 2017.
Again, four (4) overall changes have occurred in the special teams coaching area over the six year span:
- 2011 Daron Roberts
- 2012 Steve Dunlap
- 2013 – 2015 Joe DeForest
- 2016 – Present Mark Scott
Mark Scott is the current Special Teams Coach for the Mountaineers.
So if you add up all of the changes heading into year 7, they amount to 44 changes in the coaching staff and we still await adding a new running backs coach. Now, in all fairness, some of those changes do not involve someone leaving the staff or joining the staff. But if you look at just those changes, you are talking about twenty-two (22) coaches that either left for another job or were let go (contract not renewed or was not going to be renewed).
This means that in 6 years, the average turnover was 3.5 coaches per year. No matter how you view it (good or bad), that is a huge challenge to continuity.
If anything, improvements to facilities has to be an overall positive to continuity. Consider these improvements since Holgorsen arrived to WVU:
- New Locker Rooms
- New Team Meeting Room and office improvements
- Virtually New Weight Room facilities and student athlete area upgrades
- New Outdoor practice area improvements including expansion, turf, grass, fencing and lighting.
- New Stadium Turf including removing the old crown from the stadium and installing updated drainage capabilities.
- Stadium amenity upgrades to East side and West side upgrades underway.
This is an area where data is much harder to get your hands on but in general:
- TV and other related conference income has risen every year and now is an equal share with all conference members. This income is being reinvested into facility updates, student athletes financial benefit expansion and cost of attendance upgrades and coaching staff raises, where merited.
- The cost of tickets has been adjusted at least three times that I am aware of over the period increasing revenues. Beer is now sold in the stadium to increase revenue. Parking rates have been raised as well where the University controls such amenities
- MAC club donations have been adjusted to raise donation levels and increase their abilities to support the athletic facilities and athletes.
All in all, just in the areas mentioned above, it is quite obvious that program continuity is a challenge, at best, and very difficult to limit negative impacts or achieve solid continuity. As mentioned much earlier in this Op Ed, sometimes, due to not so wonderful results and program pressures, change is necessary and it will always be a challenge.