Desert or mountains for Casteel?
MORGANTOWN - It's one of the most-asked questions in two states, but the only guy who knows the answer isn't giving it up.
In fact, he won't even talk about it beyond answering the question with one of his own.
"What does it matter?'' Jeff Casteel asked. "This time of year there's speculation everywhere. It's always been like that. It was like that last year. It was like that the year before. And sometimes it's out in the forefront and sometimes it isn't.''
Well, this one is both out in the forefront and not at the same time.
In the desert, where former West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez was hired a couple of weeks ago as the football coach at Arizona, speculation is rampant that his new defensive coordinator will be one Jeff Casteel.
Here in the mountains, where Casteel is already employed as West Virginia's defensive coordinator, the speculation is more in the form of hushed whispers. Will Casteel still be around after West Virginia's Jan. 4 Orange Bowl date with Clemson?
So, has Casteel talked to Rodriguez?
"I've talked to Rich a lot of times,'' Casteel said rather evasively.
Whether or not any of those discussions have had to do with an opening on Rodriguez's staff, of course, is pure conjecture. The smart money, though, is that Rodriguez could do worse than Casteel and, in fact, has done worse. He had two defensive coordinators during his disastrous stint at Michigan and that, in great part, is the reason he's no longer the coach at Michigan.
A Rodriguez-coached team hasn't had a decent defense since he left West Virginia after the 2007 regular season. That one was coached by Casteel. It follows that if Rodriguez wants to recreate the success he had at WVU it would behoove him to seek out the same coaches.
To date, Rodriguez has filled almost all of his coaching openings. The one glaring exception is virtually the entire defensive staff. He's likely to hire a coordinator first, then allow the coordinator to have a say in filling in the rest of the staff.
So, will that coordinator be Casteel?
"You know, I don't know that that's important,'' Casteel said Wednesday, again evasively. "I think what's important is that we talk about the kids in the bowl game. These kids have worked their tail off to play in a bowl game. Getting into those things, I don't think I need to answer those things. I hope to coach here at West Virginia. That's what I hope to do.''
And, truth be told, Casteel has a pretty sweet deal going at West Virginia. He's coaching in his home state, making $400,000 a year to do it and with a rare (for any assistant coach) three-year contract. His salary also goes up by $50,000 each year, which means that in the final year of the current pact he would make $500,000.
That makes him the highest-paid assistant coach in the Big East and among the elite in the country.
Can Rodriguez and Arizona match or exceed that? Perhaps. But Casteel probably has other issues besides money. He's never strayed far from home, although he did spend one year as an assistant at UTEP before returning to coach for Rodriguez at WVU in 2001. He's been here since.
Then again, while Casteel has been at West Virginia for 11 years now, he's also coaching under a guy who has been around for roughly five minutes in Dana Holgorsen. Who knows how long Holgorsen stays at WVU and what happens if he leaves? He could be here 15 years and Casteel might well retire in his current job. Or a year or two from now it might all change.
Then again, if you want stability, well, perhaps following Rodriguez isn't the answer. Casteel has kids in school - his son was a pretty good sophomore linebacker at University High this fall - and uprooting them is never easy. Rodriguez's last job lasted three years. Maybe this one works out better. Who knows?
Of course, having Casteel might help him out in that area, which is why Rodriguez in all likelihood has him first on his list.
But if Casteel is ready to jump at the opportunity to coach at Arizona, he's not saying. He maintains he's happy as can be where he is, but he also knows that by refusing to toss any Arizona speculation in the trash he's merely fanning the flames.
"I don't care what you read into it,'' Casteel said. "I'm just telling you, I'm coaching here at West Virginia.''
For how long remains to be seen.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.