MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Generally, there’s one slight advantage for a new coaching staff heading into its first game – it’s a nightmare for opponents to scout.
Neither side will have a leg up in that regard when West Virginia hosts James Madison Saturday. Much like Neal Brown, JMU counterpart Curt Cignetti is breaking in an entirely new coaching staff for the Dukes.
With the majority of Cignetti’s staff coming from the FCS level, Brown has had to cast a wide net to scout the Dukes.
“The challenge for them is just like the challenge for us,” Brown said. “We’re watching film from where Cignetti was at Elon, and where the offensive coordinator was at Charlotte, and where the defensive coordinator was at Maine. The special teams coordinator at Mercer. And then you’ve got to watch JMU personnel.”
In terms of assessing personnel, Brown’s staff does have a slight edge. With James Madison returning 19 healthy starters, it’s much easier to diagnose the Dukes. Many of WVU’s young players have little-to-no film available.
But that doesn’t mean what the Mountaineers see is what the Mountaineers will get.
“We think we have an idea of what James Madison will do, but they could come in here and be totally different,” Brown said. “We have to be versatile enough to adjust. There will be surprises, positive and negative, in the game. But I have a good feel of what we are now. I’ve felt the same way all five years [as a head coach].”
Sometimes you don’t need specifics to know what an opponent will do. Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning has a pretty good idea that JMU offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery’s eyes are lighting up when he looks at the inexperience populating West Virginia’s secondary.
“I’m sure they’ll try to attack a lot of places when they look at all the [freshmen] on the roster,” Koenning said. “There’s a lot of unknowns. The most important known is if our guys play hard as they can, smart as they can and fast as they can.”
Koenning said it’s his job to make sure the Mountaineers are prepared for those challenges, and even gave an assist to famed pastor Joel Osteen.
“I was listening to a Joel Osteen thing coming into work. It brings things back in perspective,” he said. “We’re here to serve, so I have to get these guys as good as they can be and not disrupt them by being negative or fearful. We’re going to do that. That’s the approach we’re taking.”
As much speculation as both coaching staffs are doing at the moment, Brown expects the opener to be more about each team playing to its strengths rather than trying to exploit the other’s weaknesses.
“What happens in these opening games is you go to your strengths, what you think your players do well, and emphasize that early on,” Brown said.