The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

March 1, 2014

Mountaineer OC Dawson a converted West Virginian

BECKLEY — When offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson looks around the practice field today as West Virginia University kicks off its 2014 spring drills, he’ll surely feel a little out of place.

The only member of the current WVU coaching staff who has been there since the beginning with head coach Dana Holgorsen, Dawson is also one of the few coaches on the Mountaineer staff without Mountain State ties.

Wide receivers coach Lonnie Galloway is from North Carolina, but he’s in his second stint at WVU, having coached previously under Bill Stewart. Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson was raised in Van and coached at WVU previously under Rich Rodriguez. Offensive line coach Ron Crook is from Parkersburg, running backs coach JaJuan Seider played for the Mountaineers, as did linebackers coach Damon Cogdell.

Only cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell, special teams coordinator Joe DeForest and new associate head coach Tom Bradley lack West Virginia ties, although Bradley has a long history in nearby Pennsylvania.

Finding coaches who understand what Mountaineer football means has been a point of emphasis with Holgorsen and athletic director Oliver Luck with recent coaching hires, but Dawson is confident entering his fourth spring in Morgantown that he has learned a thing or two about the Mountain State, as well.

“We do understand the importance of West Virginia athletics to the state of West Virginia,” said the Clinton, La., native. “There’s no doubt that this state expects a lot more than last year (when the Mountaineers finished 4-8). Don't think for one second that's good enough for us, either. Nobody wants to win more than we want to win. We’re all striving for the same goal.

“It was crystal clear when we got here that the Mountaineer fan base is extremely passionate,” he continued. “There’s no doubt about that. I’ll put this fan base up to any fan base across America as far as the passion and the statewide support. It’s probably unmatched. The state I’m from (Louisiana) is pretty passionate about LSU football, but it’s different (at WVU). People hang their hats on this deal, and it can ruin people’s Sundays, just like it ruins my Sundays.”

Dawson admits that passion can make life difficult when things aren’t going well, but he sees the fan base only as a positive.

“That’s a huge selling point,” he said. “Do you want to be at a place where it matters? If you do, then this is a great place to be. If you want to be at a place where it really doesn’t matter, then go somewhere else. That’s not West Virginia. It’s a place where coaches want to coach and players want to play. You want to be somewhere where it matters.”

Like many of the players Dawson is trying to bring to Morgantown, the coach had to break down some stereotypes himself when he was asked to join Holgorsen’s staff. Dawson said he took some ribbing from friends when he accepted the job, including many who told him good luck finding a female companion.

Dawson’s new wife, Chelsea, is a West Virginia native.

“The perception of West Virginia and the reality of West Virginia are really two different things,” said Dawson. “I dealt with it when I first came here. When I first took the job, I had a lot of buddies cracking jokes at me. I think breaking those stereotypes is important. Anything we can do to inform our kids is extremely important. It instills pride, and when they do that (Mountaineer Mantrip) and walk out onto the field on Saturdays, they’ll understand what it means.”

Dawson said the first 10 to 15 minutes of team meetings are often spent learning the history of West Virginia and its people. He’s also a big supporter of the decision to take the team on the road this spring, holding spring practices in Wheeling and Charleston.

“Spring football is really a showcase of what the fall could potentially look like,” he said. “So I think going to those two places allows more people to get their eyes on the product.”

The Mountaineers will be in Wheeling March 22 and Charleston April 5. The annual Gold-Blue Spring Game will be held April 12.

— E-mail: chuffman and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH

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