Saturday won’t be the first time Tony Gibson has been in West Virginia University’s Milan Puskar Stadium as a visitor, but this time is a bit different.
In 2011, Gibson was the secondary coach at Pitt when the Panthers visited Morgantown. On Saturday, the new North Carolina State co-defensive coordinator returns to West Virginia with the Wolfpack (Noon, Fox Sports 1) less than a year removed from interviewing for WVU’s vacant head coach position.
Gibson, a native of Van in Boone County, came up as an assistant coach under former WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez. He was with the Mountaineers as a position coach from 2001 through 2007 before returning as part of Dana Holgorsen’s staff in 2013. Starting in 2014, Gibson was promoted to defensive coordinator for WVU. In all, he spent 13 of the last 18 years as an assistant coach with his home-state Mountaineers.
“It was 13 years there,” Gibson said. “My kids grew up there, my daughter graduated from high school there. She’s at WVU in her last semester. There are a lot of ties, a lot of family. Again, that’s the emotional side of it. My brother still lives in the state. I don’t know when the sleep is going to stop, right now I’m sleeping pretty good, but I figure the closer we get, the less I’ll be sleeping.”
Gibson was West Virginia’s defensive coordinator until earlier this year when Holgorsen left for Houston in January. He was a candidate for the vacancy and received vocal support from more than a few WVU players during the interview process. The job, however, went to Neal Brown.
“Unfortunately [the job] didn’t happen, but there’s a lot of kids there that I care about, that I recruited, that I coached,” Gibson said. “That’s the emotional side of it, but the football and competitive side, I want to win.
“I did the best and prepared the best I could for [the WVU interview]. Obviously, they made a great choice with Neal. He’s a great football coach and he’s experienced. He turned Troy around and won a lot of games. He’s a heck of a coach.”
When the Mountaineers passed on Gibson in favor of Brown, it opened the door for N.C. State coach Dave Doren to swoop in and snag Gibson to help implement his 3-3-5 stack defense with the Wolfpack.
“It’s just another game at this point,” Gibson said to the media in North Carolina this week. “I can’t get caught up in the emotion of going home and a place that I spent a lot of years at. I helped recruit a bunch of the guys, but what we have to do and what I have to do a great job of is keep preparing our guys and making sure that they’re ready to go.
“Obviously, I’ve got some good insight of what the crowd is going to be like and all that to pass on to them, but right now my focus is getting our guys ready and it’s just another game. It’s the next game. That’s kind of where my focus has been.”
The Wolfpack has played some solid defense in its first two games with Gibson on the sideline. Against Western Carolina and East Carolina, N.C. State allowed combined total of six points. In the opener against ECU the Wolfpack held the Pirates to just 41 rushing yards. Last week against Western Carolina they allowed 8 — that’s 8 total rushing yards for the entire game. West Virginia’s rushing attack is among the country’s worst after two games, and on paper at least, could be poised to struggle again if N.C. State continues to play the way it has to open the season.
Brown said Gibson might have a slight edge due to his familiarity with the West Virginia roster, but downplayed how much impact that could have on Saturday’s game.
“I think Tony’s a really good coach,” Brown said. “I think he’s done a really good job of recruiting, and that’s been documented. I think he did a really solid job here and he does know our personnel. I’m sure this game will mean a lot to him being a West Virginia native and coming back. Once the ball is snapped, I’m not sure any of it matters to be honest with you.”