MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Maybe the cherubic mug conveys inexperience. Perhaps the reputation of a celebrated recruiter leaves fans wondering if he actually has the coaching chops. Maybe factions of Mountaineer Nation simply will never condone Tony Gibson once leaving their nation for the not-so-promised land of Wolverines.
But here’s the thing: Gibson returned to West Virginia a year ago because he wanted to, not because he had to, and he did so by untethering himself from the very same Rich Rodriguez he notoriously followed to Michigan in December 2007.
Also, as Gibson pointed out after Friday’s public acknowledgement that he’s becoming the Mountaineers’ new defensive coordinator, he’s not new at this at all.
“Everybody says it came quick, but this is my 20th year as a college football coach,” Gibson said. “Everybody says, ‘Ah you’re young’ … well no, this is my 14th year at the Division I level.”
That nervousness peppered across the fan base? It springs from Dana Holgorsen entrusting his defense to a first-time D-I coordinator, which already happened once. In 2012. With statistically-comical results.
Yet let’s not overlook that Gibson has worked under a two-time Super Bowl-winning coordinator (Greg Robinson), a Broyles Award-nominee turned head coach (Scott Shafer) and a former Big East coordinator of the year (Jeff Casteel). Having seen solid coaches successfully orchestrate a defense, it’s his turn to put a stamp on his own defense.
Also don’t underestimate the peer power Gibson will draw from longtime friend Tom Bradley, whose Penn State units were darn salty from 2000 to 2011. Not the arrogant sort, Gibson will seek and absorb Bradley’s ideas. (The stance that Bradley should have been Holgorsen’s choice as coordinator is a non-starter, because Bradley wouldn’t be coming to WVU if not for his connection with Gibson.)
Enveloped by reporters at a spring kickoff luncheon inside the Milan Puskar Center, Gibson thanked Holgorsen for pushing through the promotion, “for attacking it and saying ‘Hey, man, it’s your deal—let’s go get it done.’”
Added Gibson: “For someone to have that much confidence in me after one year of working with him, he’s going to get the best that I have to offer.”
Squarely in Gibson’s favor was Holgorsen’s longing for at least a sliver of continuity. With WVU about to tap its fourth defensive coordinator in four years, the boss heavily factored how Gibson shared the philosophy of the departed Keith Patterson, which also meant sharing terminology and giving players a comfortable point of reference. If statistical gains were sorely lacking in 2013, at least the defense could benefit from some elements of familiarity.
As for concerns that Gibson’s promotion might hamper his ability to keep pulling recruits from Pennsylvania, well, those worries are entirely reasonable. So reasonable that Holgorsen raised them to Gibson when Patterson’s exit started the latest round of staff-shuffling.
“That was one of the first questions Dana asked: ‘Now, this isn’t going to affect recruiting, is it?’” Gibson said.
He trusts the relationships with high school coaches in his territory are deeply rooted enough to remain fertile.
“Phone calls and writing letters (to recruits), that’s going to get a little harder,” he admitted. “But that’s time I’ve got to find, whether it’s in the morning or at night. That’s all good. My wife’s all in—she doesn’t want me at home anyway.”