The offseason begins at the football offices of West Virginia University, assistant coaches scamper out the door so they can take a new job somewhere else and your friend, your neighbor, your boss, your mail carrier wonders aloud: What is happening?
Here we go again — and I’m talking only about that last part.
If by now you don’t understand this turnover follows the season like the spring follows the winter, it’s possible you can’t be helped. It’s not a WVU thing or a Dana Holgorsen thing.
Are there variables attached to the Mountaineers or to their coach that make an assistant take a peek? Certainly. No two coaches and schools are the same, and everyone has a unique professional palate. But they’re both part of college football. The same things happen for the best coaches and the worst teams, in the mediocre conferences and within the premier athletic departments.
Now, let’s not ignore, dismiss or condone the obvious. WVU has seen a lot of change. Whoever is hired as the new cornerbacks coach, whether a graduate assistant or a former defensive coordinator, will be the 28th assistant coach and the 27th different person to be on Holgorsen’s staff.
It’s a big number, and it’s because he hired three new assistants before his second year, five for his third, two for his fourth and fifth, four for his sixth and — for now? — three for his seventh.
But let’s not ignore, dismiss or condone this, either. Some assistants are as nomadic as players. Whether motivated by opportunity or discontent, job jumping is to coaches as transferring is to players.
Here, though, is where we make a massive contradiction: Some of the change is indeed about the Mountaineers.
If you can understand why WVU accepts and adapts to recruiting restrictions — why the team doesn’t take its pick from Texas or even south Florida, why it loses battles to other teams — then this will make sense. WVU is going to lose assistants to bigger programs and especially to better opportunities. It might be difficult to accept, but it’s impossible to avoid.
Robert Gillespie went to Tennessee. Jake Spavital went to Texas A&M. JaJuan Seider went to Florida.
Spavital left to become an offensive coordinator, and Shannon Dawson went to Kentucky and Lonnie Galloway went to Louisville to do the same. Keith Patterson, who actually left a defensive coordinator job at Arkansas State weeks after he took it so he could coach linebackers at WVU, left the Mountaineers to run the defense at Arizona State. Tom Bradley left to be UCLA’s defensive coordinator.
Spavital, Dawson, Galloway and Seider were not going to be WVU’s offensive coordinator when they left. Patterson was reunited with his longtime friend, Todd Graham, with the Sun Devils. The Mountaineers got Bradley back in the game following the problems at Penn State, but he wasn’t going to leapfrog Tony Gibson and become WVU’s defensive coordinator.
Some exits are just as easily explained. Jeff Casteel, Bill Kirelawich and David Lockwood were holdovers who had no interest in spending a second season with Holgorsen. Steve Dunlap did, and then he accepted an office job and rode off into the sunset. Daron Roberts, Erik Slaughter, Damon Cogdell, Joe DeForest and Ron Crook were simply not retained.
Other departures are harder to grasp. Bill Bedenbaugh left to coach the offensive line within the Big 12 at Oklahoma, but he’d also been an assistant at Arizona for Mark Stoops, who’d just been hired as the Sooners defensive coordinator. Brian Mitchell is now the cornerbacks coach at Virginia Tech, and he had basically no connections to that staff and that part of the country.
But to blame this on the program, the coach or the athletic director isn’t right, unless you choose to blame every program, coach and athletic director for things like, say, career ambitions, irresistible salaries and homecomings.
A lot of it can’t be prevented. Maybe friendships pulled Casteel, Kirelawich, Lockwood, Bedenbaugh and Patterson away, but it helped WVU get Spavital, Bruce Tall, Joe Wickline, Tony Dews and Matt Caponi. Maybe being closer to home cost WVU Seider and Blue Adams, but it also delivered Gibson. The Mountaineers do what others do to them.
Twenty-one Football Bowl Subdivision teams made changes this offseason, and that’s down from 29 the year before. The moves this year vacated slots for 210 coaches, and then a whole lot of subsequent changes once the dominoes first tumbled. Pretty much everyone is taking hits — including WVU, which lost Adams to Charlie Strong and his new staff at USF — and the Mountaineers can only do so much to prevent it from happening to them.
They do all right with salaries, and they’ve been effective with their raises. They’re even willing to do more now than before. When Galloway and Mitchell left last year, multi-year contracts and guaranteed money were topics, but Galloway had just signed a multi-year deal. The final year of Gibson’s three-year contract was guaranteed, and that was before he signed a new three-year deal in December. WVU offered Adams a two-year contract before he left. Seider was halfway through a two-year deal. Spavital returned on a three-year deal.
The task is recovery, and the Mountaineers have enough to offer. Seider was excellent, and he replaced Gillespie. Gibson, Galloway, Mitchell, Crook, Tall, Adams and even Spavital were replacements. There’s no need to panic about the turnover until WVU is routinely happy to see coaches go and willing to pay to make them leave.
That’s not OK.