By Cam Huffman
Tony Gibson’s appointment as West Virginia’s new defensive coordinator has been about as well-kept a secret over the last few weeks as Dana Holgorsen’s love for Red Bull.
When WVU announced on Feb. 6 that Keith Patterson was leaving the position to take a similar spot at Arizona State, Gibson’s name immediately popped to the forefront, and the Van native’s Twitter account listed WVU football defensive coordinator as his title two weeks ago.
On Friday, during the Mountaineer football pre-spring media luncheon, the news finally became official when Holgorsen announced the hiring.
“He’s been doing a great job for us,” said Holgorsen in announcing the move. “Being a Mountaineer to Tony is important. Nobody cares more about the Mountaineers or the state of West Virginia more than Tony does. I think that goes a long way.”
Gibson has only been a member of Holgorsen’s staff since last January, but he’s no stranger to WVU. Gibson coached defensive backs under Rich Rodriguez form 2001 through 2007. After some struggles that first season, WVU went 58-14 over the next six years, playing in six straight bowl games, including two BCS bowls. The Mountaineers won or shared four Big East titles and won two BCS bowl games.
Gibson, a graduate of Glenville State, began his coaching career at Gilmer County High School as head coach in 1995. He coached with Rodriguez at Glenville State in 1996 and then spent two seasons at Cumberland (Tenn.) University as the special teams coordinator.
West Virginia Tech was the next stop and his first stint as defensive coordinator. He worked there for two seasons before joining Rodriguez’s staff in 2001.
Gibson left with Rodriguez and coached at Michigan, working under defensive coordinators Greg Robinson and Scott Shafer. When Rodriguez was fired, Gibson landed at Pitt, where he worked for the first time under Patterson.
Gibson re-joined Rodriguez, and former Mountaineer defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, at Arizona in 2012, before Patterson lured the coach back to Morgantown, a move he was more than happy to make.
All those experiences, the father of two said, have readied him for this newest promotion.
“I’ve worked for some pretty good coordinators,” said Gibson. “I’ve always been a big part of game planning. Those guys asked for my input, and they trusted me on game day to make calls, too.
“I know it’s different when everything falls on you, but that’s when you need great assistant coaches. That’s what we have here.”
Gibson will be the fourth new WVU defensive coordinator in as many years. Casteel stayed on staff during Holgorsen’s first season in 2010, but he left for Arizona following the Orange Bowl victory over Clemson. Joe DeForest was hired to take the position, but was moved to a different role after 2011, statistically WVU’s worst defensive season of all time. Patterson then took over the duties last year. The defense showed some improvement, but Patterson chose to join his former Pitt boss Todd Graham at ASU.
With so much instability, Gibson said it’s critical that he limit the changes.
“When we line up, people aren’t going to say, ‘Wow, they’re different,’” he said. “You’re still going to see three down linemen, four linebackers and four (defensive backs). But we’re going to do some things a little different to make our scheme better.
“We’re going to keep it simple,” he continued. “What we’ve asked the coaches is that if we’re going to change something, let’s make sure that we’re using the same terminology the kids know. Make us learn it. It’s a lot easier for four guys to learn it than 14 guys.”
Gibson has been a part of some strong Mountaineer defenses in the past, coaching guys like Adam Jones in his first run at WVU, and his goal is to return defense to a strength for the Mountaineers.
“There’s a winning tradition at West Virginia, and they’re embarrassed (about the last two seasons),” said Gibson. “They’re hungry. I really like our kids, and I like their attitude.”
According to Holgorsen, the feeling’s mutual.
“When I announced (the promotion) to the team the other day, he got a standing ovation,” said the head Mountaineer. “You can tell the kind of respect they have for him. He’ll do a tremendous job, as he has ever since he’s been here.”
Spring practice for WVU begins March 2 in Morgantown.
— E-mail: email@example.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.