MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Tony Gibson was officially hired as a member of West Virginia's football staff Wednesday. For the Boone County native, it came not a moment too soon.For starters, he'd been sitting idle for a few days, his hands tied by university policy that forbade him from going on the road recruiting or even making calls. Shoot, the school couldn't even give him a university cell phone until his paperwork had gone through all the proper channels."I was basically just sitting at my desk with nothing to do,'' Gibson said. "There was nothing I was allowed to do.''That rather momentary lapse of activity wasn't the primary reason Gibson wanted to get to work, though. He just wanted to get started because he was back where he felt comfortable and felt at home.
"In hindsight, it was the worst mistake I ever made when I left,'' Gibson said. "If I had to do it over again I never would have left.''That Gibson did leave, of course, is well known, as are the circumstances surrounding his departure. It was part of one of the most divisive periods in WVU football history.In December of 2007, Rich Rodriguez abruptly resigned as WVU's head coach and went to Michigan. It was mere weeks after the Mountaineers had lost to Pitt and blown a chance to play for the national championship and just weeks before the team was to play Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.Much of Rodriguez's West Virginia staff went with him, including Gibson.Understand, of course, that many things played into Gibson's decision to go with Rodriguez, not the least of which was a sense of loyalty. Gibson had played for Rodriguez at Glenville and coached under him at WVU.But there was also a sense of urgency attached to Gibson's decision and a need to do what was best for his career and his family. At that moment, anything other than following Rodriguez seemed like a risk."You had to go because no one could guarantee you a job as an assistant coach when there wasn't even a head coach in place [at West Virginia],'' Gibson said.Indeed, at the time West Virginia was preparing for the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma. Bill Stewart was hastily named the interim coach, but the school vowed to conduct a national search for Rodriguez's full-time replacement.No one was guaranteed a job at WVU - not Stewart and certainly not Gibson."You have a family to feed. You have a career to think about,'' Gibson said. "I have a wife and two kids. I had to do what was best for them.''That's not to say that staying in West Virginia would not have been for the best, but Gibson didn't know that. The safe move was to follow Rodriguez.
As it turns out, the stint at Michigan lasted just three years before Rodriguez was fired and his staff was out of a job. While Rodriguez spent a year out of coaching, Gibson and the others did not have that luxury. So Gibson signed up on the new staff at Pitt being organized by Todd Graham, who was another former Rodriguez assistant at WVU.That's also where Gibson accidentally got back on track toward a return to his home state. The defensive coordinator at Pitt was Keith Patterson, who is now in the same position at West Virginia and was instrumental in hiring Gibson now.Still, a West Virginian coaching at Pitt - and against the Mountaineers - was, to say the least, unusual."That was a nightmare,'' Gibson said, referring not necessarily to the job at Pitt but to having to walk back into Mountaineer Field in 2011 as a member of the Panthers' staff. "I was not looking forward to that at all. There were so many different feelings.''The job at Pitt lasted just a year before Rodriguez was back in coaching and assembling a staff at Arizona. Gibson was among his first hires on a staff that now is dominated by former Mountaineer coaches.But then when West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen began shaking up his defensive staff after a historically awful season in which the Mountaineers ranked among the worst defensive teams in the country, Gibson took notice. A short time later he was being offered a job. Gibson will coach WVU's safeties.
He couldn't be happier to be back. After playing football and graduating from both Van High School and Glenville State, Gibson had almost never left his home state. He coached at Gilmer County High School and at both Glenville and WVU Tech before rejoining Rodriguez, his college coach, at WVU. His only time out of state was a short stint at Cumberland University.And he missed it."It didn't matter where I was - Michigan, Pitt, Arizona - you were always checking to see what West Virginia was doing,'' Gibson said. "It's where I'm from and where I belong."I've left coaching jobs before at other places, and when I did there were times I couldn't have cared less about what they were doing, never checking on them. Not all the places, but some of them. But West Virginia is just different.''Returning after all the animosity and angst involved in the Rodriguez move to Michigan, Gibson understands there will likely be those in the West Virginia fan base who are at least torn about his return."I understand. I'm from here. I know the passion West Virginia fans have,'' Gibson said. "When something like that happens, things are said on both sides. But you have to understand, my passion for West Virginia is just like their passion.''In addition to Gibson, two other new coaches are going through or have gone through the hiring process. Former WVU receivers coach Lonnie Galloway is awaiting approval to begin his job in the same position, while former East Carolina defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell was officially hired on Tuesday to become the cornerbacks coach.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.