Tony Gibson and his Return to Morgantown
At least that’s the meat of one of West Virginia’s long-held credos. Even the briefest moment in the old gold and blue brands one for life, mountain-made. Van’s own, Tony Gibson, has spent more than a moment in those colors. The Glenville State alum, who is just a year removed from his post as defensive coordinator and associate head coach for the Mountaineers, knows a thing or two about flying the colors of the mountain state.
He’ll see those colors fly again this Saturday, albeit from a very different vantage.
When communication between Shane Lyons’ office and now-Houston coach Dana Holgorsen, the winds of change stirred and the inevitable cleaning of the house commenced. Out of all the members of Holgorsen’s staff, Gibson had, by miles, the greatest chance at being retained by incoming head coach Neal Brown. Apart from his status as a beloved fixture within the program by players current, former and future, Gibson is a well-respected football mind. Ultimately, despite some passionate campaigning from within the fanbase, Tony Gibson and the Mountaineers parted ways.
Now, in NC State red and white, Gibson while piloting a Wolfpack defense against a rebuilding, 1-1 West Virginia squad on Saturday, the first time he’s coached for another program since he ran safeties and special teams at Arizona under Rich Rodriguez in 2012.
It would be foolish to expect anything other than cheers for the man most folks call ‘Gibby’. This is, after all, the same coach that earned Big 12 defensive coach of the year honors in 2016. The very same coach who engineered a run from 2014-2016 that saw the Mountaineers finish in the top-10 nationally in multiple statistical categories including interceptions, turnovers gained third-down defense and most opponent three and outs.
Yes, the 3-3-5 was ever-divisive and there’s no question that as a system it broke as much as it bent in big games, but the common thread among Gibby’s guys is that he coached a mean, fast, fearless brand of football. Mountaineer mentality, you might say. How his “Pond Fork” scheme will fare in the ACC Atlantic against the likes of Clemson and Florida State is still a mystery but it certainly enjoyed periods of national relevancy while it was based in Morgantown and it could potentially shock some folks over to the east. Neal Brown certainly respects what Gibby brings to the table come Saturday:
“He knows our personnel,” said Brown. “Hopefully a lot of these guys improved since he saw them last. Some of the personnel playing he hasn’t worked with. He did a really solid job here. I’m sure this game will mean a lot to him. But once the ball is snapped, I’m not sure any of that matters.”
And it’s also fair to point out that Gibson’s not the first coach to exit the mountain state and make his mark elsewhere. There have been other coaches throughout the years, some…notable…names, such as Lou Holtz, Jimbo Fisher, and Nick Saban, to name a few. West Virginia has always exported talent in one form or another.
There’s no shortage of players on the current West Virginia roster who knows Tony Gibson. Many on the defensive side of the ball – the bulk of that side of the roster, in fact – were recruited to West Virginia by the top DAWG. Gibson’s recruiting prowess, at least in the interim, is something West Virginia will likely miss, given that over the course of his long career he’s landed some absolute studs whether it was Denard Robinson at Michigan, Rushell Shell at Pitt (and eventually to WVU) or Pat White, Steve Slaton, Daryl Worley, Karl Joseph and Rasul Douglas to West Virginia. It’s a testament to the type of guy he is and why players so often rallied around him. Defensive tackle Darius Stills is hyper-aware of how emotional it might be to see his former coach on Saturday:
“It’s going to be hard, I feel like,” said Stills. “We all loved Gibby. I feel like he’s going to get a warm welcome coming back. I’m excited to see him, honestly. We all are.”
So Saturday at high noon, Tony Gibson will find himself back on the turf at Milan Puskar stadium. As odd as it will be for us to see him running with the Wolfpack, it may be perhaps stranger for the ball coach himself to be staring across the hash marks at a litany of familiar faces in familiar colors. As a fan, I can only hope that he’s received with nothing but warmth and admiration. Tony Gibson was an exemplary standard-bearer for the West Virginia program throughout two tours of duty and was responsible for helping reel in some of the most talented players to have graced Morgantown in the modern era.
Regardless of the outcome, it will be good to see Gibby again. Let’s hope he’s enjoying himself in Raleigh and that he’s not forgotten about home. It certainly hasn’t forgotten about him.