Crook heading straight into fire
MORGANTOWN - There is an argument to be made that, despite his standing as one of only two state natives on West Virginia's football coach staff, Ron Crook's adjustment curve is just a bit steeper than that of most of the other four new coaches on the staff.
After all, three of those other four have worked here before, and quite recently. Tony Gibson spent seven years on Rich Rodriguez's staff in Morgantown. JuJuan Seider played quarterback here and was a graduate assistant as recently as four years ago. Lonnie Galloway was on Bill Stewart's staff just two years ago.
Crook? He's not coached a day at WVU and it's been 13 years since he blew a whistle inside the state, and that was at West Virginia Tech (which wasn't even WVU Tech then).
Still, familiarity with the state or the program or any of those intangibles perhaps isn't Crook's most challenging adjustment.
It's coaching a different breed of players. He's spent the last two years at Stanford. He spent the eight prior to that at Harvard.
Without disparaging the academic credentials of your state's flagship university - or those of most states, for that matter - there's just a difference right?
"Well, I hope there's not a big difference,'' Crook said.
Well, the truth is, where Crook's position is concerned the difference is probably mitigated. Having covered college football for more than three decades, I can say with at least some sense of certainty that, as a general rule, offensive linemen tend to be among the smartest players who strap on a helmet.
And so given that Crook's task at West Virginia is as the school's offensive line coach, maybe the adjustment won't be so great. At least he hopes that's the case.
"The thing that I've experienced is that at both [Harvard and Stanford], even though there's [a higher caliber of] scholar-athletes, football is very important to them,'' Crook said. "They wanted to work hard at it and they had a passion for it. I think you see the same thing in the guys here. Maybe some of the off-the-field things are different from their standpoint, but I'm not approaching it any differently.''
What Crook, a Parkersburg native, can approach differently is when it comes time to re-
cruit those athletes. At Harvard and Stanford, the list of potential recruits was always a relatively short one. Not only did they have to be top-notch athletes (especially at the latter), but they had to meet rigorous eligibility standards.
Crook never had to hold his breath wondering if one of his recruits was going to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. Harvard or Stanford requirements? That was another story.
"I think the biggest difference is the number of people you're going to be looking at,'' Crook said. "We could eliminate a lot of people at Harvard and Stanford really quickly. I think here you look at a larger number of people just because of that.
"But the things that are important in recruiting don't change - developing a relationship with the prospect and his family and the people who help him make his decisions, developing relationships with the coaches and showing them that you're true to what you say you are. It's about treating people the right way and doing things the right way on and off the football field.''
If there's a difference in the type of athlete Crook will be coaching and recruiting, there's also a difference in the style of what he coaches. At neither Harvard, where he was the line coach, nor Stanford, where he coached tackles and tight ends, was he involved with quite the wide-open, pass-first style embodied by Dana Holgorsen's offense.
Still, football is football, especially where offensive line play is concerned.
"I don't think there are many difference except in how you line up and how you show your formations,'' Crook said. "There are only so many offensive football plays you can run. They're going to be pretty universal. The difference is how you get to them and how you coach them.''
As Crook and the Mountaineers get more and more into padded spring practices - today's will be the fourth overall, the second in pads - he's learning each day what he has with which to work. Having lost the core of the line in center Joe Madsen and guards Jeff Braun and Josh Jenkins, Crook is trying first to find players and then to fit them into positions.
It's going to take a while, he's sure of that, but at the heart of his search is a fairly simply philosophy.
"The No. 1 thing we talk about is finding guys that have a toughness about them - physical toughness, mental toughness, guys who are going to come out on the field and have a presence about them,'' Crook said. "The goal that we'll have is that every game we want to be the dominant force on the field.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1