MORGANTOWN, W.Va.-When Jake Spavital last coached at West Virginia University, Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Steadman Bailey were a force to reckon with.
The dynamic trio facilitated the Mountaineers in winning the 2011 Big East regular season title before obliterating Clemson in the 2012 Orange Bowl.
Next year, the three were the face of WVU’s air raid offense, breaking records left and right.
After the 2012 football season, Spavital departed for a co-offensive coordinator job at Texas A&M.
Despite moving on, the former quarterbacks coach remained in close communication with Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen.
“We always kept in contact,” Spavital said. “I’d always call and ask him advice on certain things. He would help me out through the whole process and over the years. We always vacationed together and always met throughout the offseason and talked about anything new he was doing and anything new that I was doing. We always bounced ideas off each other and it’s always a good thing to work for a guy you know pretty well.”
While Spavital chose to spread his wings and leave Morgantown, it ultimately brought him back in the end and as a better coach.
“When we talked about this after I left in the 2012 season, I wanted to go out and try it on my own. I thought over the course of three years at Texas A&M and one at Cal. (California),” he said. “I grew as a play caller, I grew as a coach, and over those years Dana and I have had many conversations about philosophy and how to move the ball. I think after all of those years of conversation and me going out and doing it on my own is what led me back to Morgantown.”
When Holgorsen decided to hand over the play calling obligations, Tulsa, Okla. native was the man he wanted to take over the reigns.
“He mentioned it to me and then he just kind of skipped the whole conversation because he knew that my wife, we are expecting in June,” Spavital said. “So we had a baby on the way and that kind of had a lot more influence with him talking to Meghan about this. At the end of the day, I laugh at it because we say it was my wife’s decision but we did sit down and did have a detailed conversation on it. How we expect things to go and how he expects things to be.”
During his time at Texas A&M and California, Spavital developed into one of the top up-and-coming offensive coordinators in the nation. Now, Holgorsen completely trusts him at the helm of WVU’s offense.
“So what is our identity going to be offensively?” he asked. “I don’t have that answer right now. I think going through spring and figuring out who the guys are and who needs the ball, I think with what we’re doing offensively, we’re going to have the capabilities to go in a couple of different directions but Jake has done a great job at taking control of that room, and I trust him to be able to call the plays the way that we want to get things done. A lot of extra time with the quarterbacks, and recruiting wise, he’ll find some quarterbacks who want to be here.”
For Spavital, the main emphasis is putting his athletes in the best position to succeed.
“There’s a lot of live and learn out of calling your own plays, but the main thing is you have to put these kids in the best position to have success,” he said. “You can’t ask a kid to go out there and do something that he’s really not ready to do or he’s not capable of doing, and that was a lot of the growing up part that happened with me over the course of the years where the scheme may have been great but you didn’t have the right players in those positions. You have to adapt to the personnel that you get and put those kids in the best position to go out there and have success.”
However, Spavital isn’t one to refute a quarterback with talent.
“I like bringing in good football players,” he said. “If you look at the quarterbacks I had, With Davis Webb last year, he would be my fifth quarterback going into the NFL and they are all different. Davis is a 6-foot-5 guy that’s just purely a pocket passer. (Johnny) Manziel won the Heisman off his athletic ability. Geno (Smith) was a pocket passer but was capable enough to get out of the pocket and make some plays. You go through all those quarterbacks and Case Keenum and Brandon Weeden, they are all different. And you got to get real close with them to figure out what they are good at. And I think that’s when you go out there and put them in the best position to have success.”
Now, the offensive coordinator is ready to do more of the same with Grier and the other quarterbacks waiting in the wings.
Cover Photo Credit: Troy Taormina, USA TODAY Sports