MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For West Virginia football players trying to absorb Vic Koenning’s scheme, the trick is unlearning tendencies they utilized in the old 3-3-5 Stack. Springtime is the right time for starting over.
“They just need an Etch-a-Sketch,” Koenning said. “Shake it up and go.”
Koenning, a key lieutenant in the fresh-smelling regime of head coach Neal Brown, is shaking up more than football terminology. Beyond Spurs becoming Spears, beyond realigning run fits and refining pursuit angles, there’s a holistic approach to players buying in.
After Saturday’s practice at Milan Puskar Stadium, Koenning addressed the team-building aspects that don’t involve the tackling sled:
“There’s a lot of off-the-field issues that go with that, as far as teaching them how to take notes in meetings, and how to listen.”
And he added one more: “How to sit in a chair properly.”
Yup, turns out seat discipline is a thing. Ah, how the motivational posters practically write themselves: “A winning culture equals winning posture.” Or maybe, “Don’t slouch — this ain’t a couch.”
From tighter classroom monitoring to demanding players remove their caps indoors, you sense some etiquette training is being imparted upon these Mountaineers. If you’re worried the new staff may be turning a Power Five football program into a boarding school, I’ll doff my derby and respectfully ask you to point me toward the football truism which states that post routes and Emily Post remain mutually exclusive. It seems you can be Dawgs on the field and gentlemen off of it.
In order to maximize learning and minimize distractions, Koenning even changed the seating arrangement in his meeting room — forced to separate a couple guys “because when they’re together they don’t do like they need to.”
Then came the recent no-no in which a player checked his phone during a position meeting. Koenning was boggled.
“I said, ‘Come on, really?’ You can really get ugly and start hollering, or you can say, ‘Come on, you know the dadgum right thing to do,’ so let’s do the right thing.”
With the first week of spring practice leaning heavily on installation, players have homework —and Koenning checks a printout to see when players are watching film. He wasn’t thrilled to see some defensive guys waiting until 1 a.m. to log in — by which time they should’ve been resting.
“I mean, what are we doing here? That’s defeating the purpose,” he said.
Koenning recognizes these 15 spring practices are even more developmental than normal, considering there’s virtually no carryover from the scheme Tony Gibson orchestrated the past five years. As Koenning tries to be patient, he admits defensive coaches aren’t by nature accommodating.
“We’re like the old buzzards sitting on the tree, where one buzzard says to the other buzzard, ‘Patience my ass — I’m gonna go kill something.’”
Yet the 59-year-old Koenning isn’t so deep in Baby Boomer’ville that he can’t relate to Gen Z or the indiscretions of youth in general.
“I remember a whole bunch of times when I was in college, where I probably got an hour (of sleep) and then we were up at Saturday morning workouts,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do, but somehow I survived it.”
Of course, this new staff is hungry to make a strong first impression and won’t settle for players merely “surviving” practice. After Brown asked his video staff to work longer and harder — to the extent that clips are typically available for viewing an hour after practice — he expects players to capitalize on that access. That means actually digesting film and not repeating mistakes.
“I’m OK if they mess up … [but] I want them to fail up,” Brown said. “I feel like failure allows you to grow, but you shouldn’t have repeated things, especially consecutively in practice or back-to-back days.”
It’s a foundational example that jibes with next season’s ultimate mission: To make other Big 12 teams sit up in their chair and take notice.