The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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December 9, 2012

No reason for WVU, Virginia Tech not to play

MORGANTOWN — Forget the conferences, throw out personal grudges and save the scheduling excuses for some other argument. West Virginia and Virginia Tech should meet on the hardwood every year — no excuses.

Not only was Saturday’s 68-67 Mountaineer victory a tremendous basketball game, it was also a reminder of everything that’s been lost with all of the recent conference realignment. There’s just no replacing a rivalry.

For the first time since moving back to West Virginia in July, I felt true energy at a WVU sporting event Saturday — the kind I remember from when Pitt used to come to the Coliseum or Virginia Tech visited Mountaineer Field.

Is bringing Oklahoma to Morgantown for football and Kansas into town for basketball exciting for the fans in gold and blue? Sure it is. Mountaineer Field was rocking for the Sooners, and I’m sure the sounds in the WVU Coliseum will send some fans on a search for earplugs when the Jayhawks visit. But it’s still not the same as the feeling that comes with a rivalry.

WVU fans like nothing about Virginia Tech, and that’s just fine with Hokie fans. They feel the same way about the Mountaineers.

If WVU can fly across the country to play Gonzaga, and Virginia Tech can play in Utah against BYU, there’s really no reason they can’t trade trips to Blacksburg and Morgantown. If conference rivalries are officially dead, nonconference showdowns can take their place.

Put the game on the schedule every year, and then we’ll start working on football.

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While we’re on the subject of football, I was disappointed to see the news Saturday that Mountaineer football coach Dana Holgorsen had decided to part ways with cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts.

“I want to thank Daron for his time on staff at West Virginia,” Holgorsen said in a two-sentence release from WVU Saturday. “We wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

The statement probably should have continued with, “but somebody has to be thrown under the bus.”

It’s easy to look at the numbers, notice a WVU team that ranks 119th out of 120 teams in pass defense, giving up 327 yards per game through the air, and put the blame on the man coaching the players trying to defend those receivers. There has to be a scapegoat to take the fall for a Mountaineer unit that ranked 107th in total defense and probably kept the team from a magical season. So Roberts is the guy.

But in all honesty, coaches get too much blame and too much credit. Roberts probably didn’t deserve the blame for the Mountaineers’ struggles against the pass any more than quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital deserved the credit for the huge passing numbers Geno Smith posted for the Mountaineers.

In today’s game of college football, though, there’s a progression. When something goes wrong, a head coach has to fire somebody. If that doesn’t work, it’s his turn to take the fall.

As a result, Holgorsen had to tell a coach who had earned his way into Division I football the hard way — setting his Harvard law degree aside to volunteer as an unpaid assistant with the Kansas City Cheifs before eventually getting a shot in Morgantown — and by all accounts was usually the first one to work and the last one to leave, to hit the road.

Roberts’ coaching career probably isn’t over. He’ll likely get another shot to follow his dream, somewhere. He’ll just have to hope everything goes right so he’s not the fall guy once again.

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