MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — “Vic Koenning has been canceled!”
In a world where politics has transitioned from third-rail topic to seemingly the whole train track, that is how many are bound to interpret the defensive coordinator’s departure from West Virginia following a month-long investigation into his actions based on allegations from sophomore defensive back Kerry Martin Jr.
In reality, cancellation does not come with a $591,491 price tag payable over the next 19 months. Especially not in this economy. If it did, people would be shouting offensive statements out their windows and from the rooftops until the moneybags dropped.
Among other things, Martin claimed he felt uncomfortable when Koenning brought up building the border wall to “keep Hispanics out,” and when Koenning would repeatedly encourage him to convert to Christianity. One has the right to proselytize — it’s the definition of having one’s heart in the right place — but not on the state’s dime.
Martin was also offended by being called “retarded” after a mistake during a drill. Such an insult might be laughed off by a player in 1990, but not in 2020.
WVU athletic director Shane Lyons and head football coach Neal Brown did precisely what they needed to do on Tuesday in wishing Koenning well on his way out of Morgantown.
Koenning had the ability to make amends with members of the current team, but the damage was already mortal where it matters most in college football — on the recruiting trail. If recruits have any inkling that a team’s defensive coordinator is desperately out of touch or even worse, perceived as racially insensitive, you aren’t going to have a very good defense.
That die was essentially cast once Martin took to Twitter with his grievances.
Unfortunately, a glance at social media shows that Martin is being scapegoated for having the guts to go public rather than filing an anonymous, faceless complaint.
These attacks are wrong on a number of levels.
Firstly, you’re fooling yourself if you believe that these subjects weren’t already being discussed by players. Whether Martin went public or not, Koenning was seen by many in the locker room as a divisive figure. Recruits are exposed to that on visits.
On top of that, Martin is precisely who Mountaineer fans claim they want representing the Mountaineers — an in-state talent who proved himself good enough to earn significant playing time as a freshman.
The WVU fan base rightly excoriated the previous coaching staff for its failure to land West Virginians like Martin. Those who would prefer that the player walk out the door rather than the coach are proposing to kneecap their own program and continue whittling away from the bedrock upon which it must be built.
That, of course, is only one side of the irrational anger equation.
Some will argue that WVU did not do enough and should have fired Koenning outright. It’s impossible to say whether those people are right unless WVU releases the results of its investigation, and even then an answer might only be conclusive to those who have already made their minds.
Given the nature of these things, it’s more likely that West Virginia would have spent more money on lawyers and an out-of-court settlement if that’s the route that would have been pursued. WVU still managed to leave 45 percent of what it originally owed Koenning in its pocket. And no one wants to relive the Rich Rod Lawsuit Era, particularly in an economically precarious time for college athletics.
For those that are happy to see Koenning gone, it will be easy enough to engage in character assassination. But it needs to be pointed out that at his core, he is a good man.
There’s no better testament to that than Martin himself, who acknowledged that Koenning brought him a meal all the way in Charleston after players were sent home during the spring semester.
“He has done good by me and is not a bad person,” Martin wrote in June after making his initial allegations.
But if a good man can’t get the dozens of players on his side of the ball to see eye-to-eye with him because he is viewed as the inhabitant of a different time and place, he’ll end up in the same spot as a good man whose defense allows 40 points a game.
In fact, Koenning is arguably in a better spot in the short-term than the team he is leaving. As Bill Stewart once did to great success, he has the opportunity to learn from a moment of insensitivity and reinvent his approach.
The Mountaineers, on the other hand, must either reinvent or tweak their defense in a shell of a normal training camp with the season theoretically soon approaching.
Even with that being the case, West Virginia did what needed to be done.
Don’t believe me? Listen to Koenning.
“Personally, I’d love to get back to coaching our guys, but I know that doing so would create additional scrutiny and lingering distractions for our program,” he said. “Taking all this into consideration, we have come to this mutual decision to separate.”