MORGANTOWN - Steve Dunlap and Shannon Dawson are well aware of what their new official responsibilities on West Virginia's coach staff entail.Dunlap is the Mountaineers' new special-teams coordinator and Dawson the offensive coordinator. Both admit that those titles don't really mean much of a difference in their responsibilities given that Dunlap has coached just about every special team there is and Dawson will still reside in the somewhat considerable shadow of one Dana Holgorsen.Then again, seeing those titles written down in black and white and being handed the rather public responsibilities for how those units fare does, in a way, put targets squarely on their respective backsides."It means,'' Dunlap said with his usual modicum of happy sarcasm, "that now there's somebody to blame.''
"Oh, I've been blamed before,'' Dawson said. "That's nothing new.''Holgorsen on Tuesday finally settled on and made public the assignments for his nearly half-new coaching staff. There are, of course, big changes on the defensive side, where only Dunlap remains and not a single position will have the same coach as a year ago.Shoot, for that matter there aren't many positions that are the same given West Virginia's switch from the 3-3-5 to what Holgorsen called "a 3-4 [scheme] we'll be able to kick down to a 4-3.''What's a Buck? Or a Star? And where oh where has Mike gone?(The answer, for the record and according to co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest, is that the Star and the Buck are the two outside linebackers in the 3-4, with the Buck likely to be the one who kicks down to make it a 4-3. The Mike? Well, there's really no middle linebacker in a 3-4, so they are the Sam and Will. Hey, at least those two guys are still around).Anyway, the big shake-up goes all the way through the defense, where newbie Erik Slaughter coaches the line, DeForest the safeties (only two now) and co-coordinator Keith Patterson the linebackers, mostly the inside guys. Dunlap, when he's not special-teaming it, gets the outside linebackers.Oh, and Daron Roberts, as expected, moves over from offense to coach the cornerbacks.Yes, that makes five defensive assistant coaches as opposed to the four of recent years, which suits Dunlap just fine given that the defensive guys get the brunt of the special-teams work."Really, with the exception of some of the returners, aren't they all defensive guys?'' Dunlap said. "Even the front line on kick returns, those aren't offensive linemen up there. They're safeties and guys who can move.''The most interesting thing, though, is Dunlap's new job as a semi-full-time special-teams coordinator. Has there been a more consistently criticized area of West Virginia's football teams over the past few years than special teams?Of course not.
"Having a guy that focuses on that and spends the better part of his day making sure we do things schematically and evaluating talent and all that is something that is going to pay off,'' Holgorsen said. "But we've still got a lot of guys who can work on special teams.''There aren't nearly as many changes on offense, where Robert Gillespie still coaches running backs, Bill Bedenbaugh the line (his recruiting area, Holgorsen said, might now stretch toward Chicago, "to see if he can get us some linemen that look like him''), Jake Spavital the quarterbacks and Dawson the receivers (all of them now that Roberts has moved).Even the offensive graduate assistant is the same, Vince Cashdollar, although the defensive GA now will be Andrew McGee, fresh from Oklahoma State.As far as changes go, not nearly as intriguing as some of the others is Dawson's choice as offensive coordinator. That's not a slap at Dawson, it's just reality. Holgorsen got his job as West Virginia's coach because of his offensive credentials and he's never likely to surrender control of that area except on paper.Dawson, who along with Spavital watches from the press box on Saturdays and communicates with Holgorsen on the sideline, actually doesn't expect things to change much at all. Will he somehow have more control over play calls or something? Not as long as Holgorsen is on the other end of that headset."There's times when we butt heads,'' Dawson said. "But last time I checked he still had final say. Remember, he can cut communication pretty quickly. All he has to do is take that headset off.''
By the way, for the record, there will be a few position switches when spring practice begins Sunday. Most are on defense and necessitated by the change in scheme.It's really just terminology for the most part, although some of it will matter in a more practical way.For instance, with one of the three safety spots gone, Terence Garvin (and his backups Wes Tonkery and Shaq Petteway) is now technically a linebacker, playing what DeForest says is that Star position. Jewone Snow and Josh Francis are now in the mix at that Buck, which is the linebacker spot most likely to morph into a fourth lineman when needed. Jared Barber and Doug Rigg go into the spring as the top two inside linebackers.Josh Jenkins didn't lose his starting spot because of a season-ending knee injury last spring. He's penciled in as the left guard, while Quinton Spain gets first crack at Don Barclay's left tackle spot.Oh, and apparently Cody Clay is a receiver again. After being switched to center soon after practice began last fall, the George Washington grad is listed as a receiver again.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.