MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — The Boone County boy in Tony Gibson understands why West Virginia fans felt betrayed when he ran off to Michigan with Rich Rodriguez before the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. Heck, Gibson even excuses the pockets of bitterness that exist five years later, now that his winding country road of a coaching career has led him to become a Mountaineer once more.
“I understand the fans of West Virginia — I’m from West Virginia, and I’ve been a part of it,” Gibson said Wednesday in his first interview since being re-hired at WVU on Jan. 16. “I grew up loving West Virginia football with my family, and the fans are so passionate about this football team in this state. I understand all that. It’s nothing personal.”
Countering the vitriol from that stormy and litigious exit, Gibson said he has received a string of hospitable texts, calls and Facebook messages welcoming him back. He hopes he’ll soon be judged by his performance on Dana Holgorsen’s staff and not the messy way he left with Rodriguez.
“There were things that were said and done that I wish wouldn’t have been, but it’s in the past, you know,” he said. “That’s why as soon as (Holgorsen) offered, I said ‘I’m coming.’ I didn’t negotiate, didn’t do anything. I was excited to get back home.
“What I have to do is just come back in and do my job. Coach Holgorsen hired me to recruit and to coach the safeties, and I’m going to do the best I can.”
His recruiting connections paid off promptly when Gibson convinced two Arizona commitments to sign with WVU on Wednesday. No better way to mend fences with Mountaineer Nation than by opening the barn door on RichRod’s recruits.
“It happens — that’s just recruiting,” said Gibson, claiming that signees Mario Alford and Brandon Golson actually called him to inquire about WVU. “I was going through the hiring process and was off the road for a couple days, when I couldn’t answer calls and didn’t talk to any recruits. The day I got cleared, they were calling me up, and we kind of went from there.”
“There were things that were said and done that I wish wouldn’t have been, but it’s in the past, you know. That’s why as soon as (Holgorsen) offered, I said ‘I’m coming.’ I didn’t negotiate, didn’t do anything. I was excited to get back home.” — Tony Gibson
But having played under Rodriguez at Glenville State and coached with him for 12 seasons at four schools, doesn’t plucking Alford and Golson from Arizona’s commitment list strain the relationship?
“I’m sure it does, but I work for West Virginia right now,” he said. “Coach Holgorsen liked the guys and the offensive and defensive staffs liked the two guys, so I recruited them. West Virginia’s where I’m at. They write my check and I’m going to do everything I can to help us win.”
That meant enticing Alford with an opportunity to run and catch the football in many of the same ways Tavon Austin did. For Golson, it was emphasizing his prominent role as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme.
“But mostly what I did was I sell ’em on West Virginia, and that’s not hard to do,” said Gibson. He certainly was sold when the call to return came.
“There’s no better place in the country — the college football, the town, all the things that I’ve missed over the last five years I’ve been gone. The opportunity came and I jumped all over it.”