Over the past two weeks, we’ve broken down each position group and what to expect from the 2017 West Virginia football team. Today, we pay homage to the coaching staff who prepare and recruit these Mountaineers.
Dana Holgorsen (Head Coach)
Holgorsen enters his 7th year as the head coach at West Virginia after spending the 2010 season as an offensive coordinator for Oklahoma State. In 2016, Holgorsen led the Mountaineers to its second 10-win season since 2011 and its first second place finish in the Big XII. Under his guidance, West Virginia has had a Big XII best nine players selected in the first three rounds of the NFL draft over the past five years. Despite the growing concerns in which the Mountaineers were unable to compete for a Big XII title from 2012-2015, Holgorsen reinforced his job security by branching off the coaching tree in which he came from. Although known for grooming some of the best quarterbacks and receivers in the Big XII, Holgorsen elected to run the football at a higher rate than traditionally assumed in order to further compete in league play. In 2015, Holgorsen boasted a top-15 run game led by the Big XII’s leading rusher in Wendell Smallwood. Last season, the trend continued as JUCO transfer Justin Crawford finished as the Big XII’s 3rd best rusher with 1,184 yards. 2017 should prove to be another chapter in Holgorsen’s evolution as a head coach with Crawford returning and the emergence of Will Grier at quarterback.
Tony Gibson (Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers coach)
It’s best to call Tony Gibson the multi-tool for West Virginia’s coaching staff, but he is best known for being the standard as a defensive coordinator in the Big XII. Gibson enters his 4th year as the defensive play caller and has quickly turned the Mountaineers’ defense from one of the worst to the Big XII’s best in scoring defense, total defense and opponent’s first downs gained. Since his inception as defensive coordinator, he has led the West Virginia defense to a top-25 ranking in nearly every statistical category. The 2017 season provides a similar narrative to that of 2016’s. Gibson is tasked with retooling his linebacker’s and defensive back’s group after losing Justin Arndt (LB) and Rasul Douglas (CB). There is a lot of talent returning, however, on the depth chart and by way of players who suffered a season-ending injury a year ago.
Jake Spavital (Offensive Coordinator)
Spavital returns to West Virginia as the first true offensive coordinator during the Holgorsen era. Since 2011, Dana Holgorsen has served as both a head coach and play caller for the offense. Coach Spavital’s relationship with Holgorsen, however, led to the head coach “firing” himself as the coordinator and allowing Spavital to take full control of the offense. Under Spavital’s tutelage, quarterbacks Geno Smith, Johnny Manziel, Brandon Weeden, and Davis Webb were able to hear their names called during the NFL draft. West Virginia’s Will Grier has the opportunity to add his name to such list in 2017.
Joe Wickline (Offensive Line Coach)
Wickline has coached football longer than Carrier and Belk have been alive. So, we should assume he knows what he is doing because he does. In 2015, his first year in Morgantown, Holgorsen was comfortable enough with Wickline from their days together at Oklahoma State to name him the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. Wickline has brought with him a wealth of Big XII football knowledge after stops at Oklahoma State, Texas, and Baylor. With his help, the offensive line has been able to pave the way for Justin Crawford. As it stands right now, the offensive line is in a bit of flux, having to deal with players returning from injury and the graduation of long time starters. Wickline’s experience should help guide his young linemen to another stellar season.
Tyron Carrier (Wide Receivers Coach)
Carrier has completed only two years as a full-time coach but is now seen as a great hire by Holgorsen. In 2016, both Dakiel Shorts and Shelton Gibson earned All-Big XII honors and now play professionally in the NFL thanks to Carrier’s guidance. Carrier was once a receiver himself at Houston where he played for Holgorsen during his coaching stint with the Cougars. 2017 will force Carrier to use a wide receiver by committee approach after losing Shorts and Gibson. However, a lot of experience returns in Ka’Raun White, Jovon Durante, and David Sills.
Tony Dews (Running backs Coach)
The 2017 season will be Dews’ third stop in Morgantown (1999-2001, 2007) since completing his Master’s degree at West Virginia in 2001. Dews has coached a variety of positions from special teams to defensive line but will be called upon to guide running backs Justin Crawford, Kennedy McKoy, Martell Petteway, and Tevin Bush for the Mountaineers. Much like coach Belk, Dews has already made his presence felt by way of recruiting. He already has secured the commitments of wide receiver Randy Fields and running back Leddie Brown for 2018.
Bruce Tall (Defensive Line Coach)
Despite serving as an assistant coach for Michigan in 2010 and at Charlotte from 2011-2014, coach Tall has been a staple in Morgantown for the Mountaineers. From 2003-2007, Tall coached safeties under Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia and returned to the Mountaineers in 2015 under Holgorsen. During his 35-year coaching career, coach Tall has helped produce 35 All-Conference players.
Doug Belk (Defensive Backs Coach)
Belk joins running backs coach Tony Dews as the two newcomers to Holgorsen’s coaching staff. Prior to coming to West Virginia, Belk served as a defensive graduate assistant under Nick Saban at Alabama from 2014-2016. He has yet to roam the sidelines at Mountaineer Field as a coach but has made his presence felt on the recruiting trail. Being from Georgia, Belk has made great strides in mining the Peach State’s rich football talent. Thus far, Belk is credited with alluring Oyenmwen Uzebu (OT), Sam James (WR), and Jayce Rogers (CB) into joining the 2018 recruiting class. On the football field, Belk has his hands full finding replacements for Rasul Douglas and Maurice Fleming. At his disposal will be senior Elijah Battle and JUCO product Mike Daniels Jr.
Matt Caponi (Safeties Coach)
In 2016, Caponi was brought to Morgantown after stints at Arizona and Pittsburgh. Caponi has coached the defensive side of the ball in some fashion since graduating from Mount Union as a three-time national champion in 2004. Under his watch, he helped guide the 2016 Mountaineers secondary to a No.35 ranking in interceptions (14).