MORGANTOWN - The intermingling of coaches at midfield prior to West Virginia's game with Maryland last week was rather unusual.There was almost none.Save for West Virginia assistant coach Steve Dunlap jawing with Maryland head coach Randy Edsall, everyone else pretty much stuck to their side of the field during warm-ups. Of course, given that Dunlap and Edsall were pretty much the only coaches with much of a history together, perhaps it wasn't all that unusual.Expect more handshakes and conversations today when West Virginia and Baylor meet at Mountaineer Field. Sure, it's the first meeting of the teams, but most of the coaches go way back.
The head coaches, WVU's Dana Holgorsen and Baylor's Art Briles, were on Mike Leach's staff at Texas Tech from 2000 through 2002. West Virginia offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh was there, too. West Virginia defensive coordinator Joe DeForest spent 11 years at Oklahoma State and played Baylor every year.Then there's Mountaineer defensive line coach Erik Slaughter, who has coached with or against Briles almost forever. He was on Briles' staff at Stephenville High School in Texas for nearly a decade from 1990 through 1998. When Briles - after spending these three years at Texas Tech - was named the head coach at Houston, he hired Slaughter as a linebackers and strength coach.And as recently as last season Slaughter was coaching against Briles when Slaughter was at Stephen F. Austin."He's a great football coach,'' Slaughter said of Briles, who is now in his fifth season at Baylor. "He's a great motivator and he knows how to handle kids. He gets kids to play hard. You'll see that.''That familiarity with Briles and the Baylor coaches can only help West Virginia today. In many ways, every Big 12 game this season will be like a bowl game for the players as far as learning about new opponents. But with such a core of coaches who have faced Big 12 opponents for years, the learning curve won't be nearly as steep.That's particularly true given all the connections to Baylor."It certainly can't hurt,'' Holgorsen said. "Our familiarity with Baylor as far as what kind of a team they are, what their mindset is, we know them very well. There are a lot of guys on our staff that have coached against them or coached with them, so all that stuff can't hurt any."But with that said, they're going to know a lot about the schemes that we use on all three sides of the ball. They've never been to Morgantown, but that happens all the time. There are teams that go play on the road and go in there and do just fine.''Holgorsen hasn't coached with Briles for a decade, so it's not as if the teams are mirror images. Both coaches have evolved over the years, as have the schemes they employ.But some things never change, and Holgorsen said that's evident in Briles' success at Baylor."He's doing the same thing at Baylor that he did [as a high school coach] and at Houston. He builds a program,'' Holgorsen said. "It's not just a couple of guys here or there. They've got a bunch of good players. It's not surprising that they lose the Heisman Trophy winner from last year [Robert Griffin III] and yet they don't miss a beat. They just have a very solid program.''
The bottom line as far as the familiarity between the coaches on the two staffs is probably this: While West Virginia today begins a new era by playing in the Big 12, it's nothing new for most of the coaches. That should help ease the transition."Our job as coaches is to get those guys as familiar with their opponent as we possibly can,'' Holgorsen said. "That's not only from a personnel standpoint, but a mentality standpoint of their coaching staff, their schemes, what their attitude's going to be like on game day, what the color of their uniforms are and where they're from, the history of their program. It's our job to get them familiar with the program, whether it's Baylor or somebody like Maryland last week that they were incredibly familiar with.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.