The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 10, 2013

Holgorsen's firings a shame, but hirings could work out for WVU

By Cam Huffman
Sports Editor

BECKLEY — I’ve been asked several times over the last few days about my opinion of the shakeup on the West Virginia University football coaching staff, so I guess it’s time to throw in my two cents — does anybody have two cents I can borrow, by the way.

Let’s start with the firings. In a word, I would sum them up as predictable.

After going from 5-0 and a top 5 national ranking to 7-5 and an appearance in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, something had to be done about a defense that was the worst in school history and among the worst in the country. So cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts paid the price and was let go.

I’ve already stated my feelings on that move. The pass defense was terrible, but that responsibility doesn’t necessarily fall on the cornerbacks coach. Holgorsen was fully aware, however, that he would get support from fans who were fed up with the pass defense by pinning the blame on Roberts. So he let one of his best recruiters — and, by Holgorsen’s own admission, the hardest working coach on the staff — fall on the sword.

After an embarrassing drubbing by an average Big East team in Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl, it was clear that Roberts’ firing wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the angry mob. So Holgorsen went after the other easy target, the only holdover from the staff he inherited from Bill Stewart prior to the 2011 season — Steve Dunlap.

Forget the fact that Dunlap has coached a pair of All-Americans and 11 pros. Who cares about the fact that he was a Broyles Award finalist in 1996 as the top defensive coach in the nation? The fact that he coached the best defense in school history, the one that led the nation in 1996, meant nothing.

Dunlap wasn’t one of Holgorsen’s buddies that he brought to Morgantown, so if somebody else had to go, the Hurricane native — the only coach left with any background in the school or the state — was at the top of the list.

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Now, having spilled my guts about the ones that let go, I’ll have to admit that I don’t understand the grumbling from Mountaineer fans about the two replacements that are apparently heading to Morgantown.

Tony Gibson may be close to Rich Rodriguez, his former boss, and that doesn’t earn anybody brownie points in the eyes of WVU fans. And Gibson hasn’t played a part in coaching many dominant defenses over his career.

What is clear, though, is that Gibson is a great recruiter. A huge portion of the 2006 Sugar Bowl champion team — the last team to beat an SEC champion, Georgia, in a postseason game, by the way — was brought to Morgantown by Gibson.

The other thing he has is a knowledge of West Virginia and the history of the Mountaineer program, and it’s obviously important to him if he’s willing to leave Rodriguez, who has been his coach and then his boss throughout most of his career in  the game, to come back.

I’m not one that believes that every coach has to have some tie to West Virginia or WVU, but it is important to have at least one that understands the culture and knows the history. Gibson can fill that role.

The other coach that appears to be a lock to end up in Morgantown is Brian Mitchell, who was dismissed as the defensive coordinator at East Carolina after an 8-5 season and a 43-34 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl.

I understand that it’s difficult from a perception standpoint for WVU fans to grasp the fact that the Mountaineers are locking onto a coach that even East Carolina didn’t want, but it’s important to remember that Mitchell isn’t coming to Morgantown as a defensive coordinator. He’ll likely be coaching cornerbacks, and he spent three seasons in the NFL playing that position.

Some coaches just aren’t built to be coordinators. That doesn’t mean they can’t be good position coaches. Holgorsen coached with Mitchell at Texas Tech and obviously believes he’s a guy that can handle the job.

Remember, it’s ultimately Holgorsen’s job that could be on the line if these hires end up as a bust. So I have to believe he’s hiring guys that he believes can get the job done.

If not, they’ll be an entirely new set of coaches in Morgantown soon enough.

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Tavon Austin finally received the credit he deserved Thursday when he was announced as the winner of the 2012 Paul Hornung Award, presented by Texas Roadhouse to the most versatile player in major college football.

WVU’s senior wide receiver was one of two players nationally with more than 500 yards in three different statistical categories — rushing, receiving and kick returns — and one of three players across the country with more than 110 catches, teammate Stedman Bailey one of the others.

“I am honored and humbled to be selected as the winner of the prestigious Paul Hornung Award,” said Austin, who compiled 2,910 all-purpose yards this season, averaging 223.8 yards per game. “Whether I am on the field as a receiver, in the backfield or as a returner, I have high expectations for myself, and I have always tried to use my versatility to help my team be successful. I want to thank my coaches and teammates for helping me achieve this honor.”

“I like the way Tavon Austin plays the game,” said Paul Hornung of Austin, who shattered a Big 12 record with 572 all-purpose yards in a 50-49 loss to Oklahoma on Nov. 17, 344 of the yards coming via the rush, a new WVU record. “He is tough, he generates yardage almost every way possible and has a nose for the end zone. Tavon Austin is a deserving winner of the Paul Hornung Award. We look forward to having him with us at our banquet in Louisville in February.”

If Austin wasn’t the country’s best player, he was certainly one of the best. He should have received more attention from Heisman Trophy voters, and it was a crime that he fell one list short of being named a consensus All-American.

It’s refreshing that somebody finally noticed Austin’s rare talents and gave them the proper respect.

— E-mail: chuffman

and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.