Reading the tea leaves on Koenning’s departure

WVU and the football team’s defensive coordinator, Vic Koenning, parted ways this week.  The decision was reached following an investigation by outside counsel into allegations by player Kerry Martin that Koenning mistreated him and other players by trying to force his Christian beliefs on them, disparaging the Black Lives Matter movement, and subjecting players to “his rants about politics.”

News organizations, including MetroNews, have asked the University to release the findings of the investigation, but it is not clear that will happen.  Without that, Mountaineer Nation is left with what Koenning, Director of Athletics Shane Lyons and head coach Neal Brown said in carefully crafted prepared statements.

A close examination of those statements reveals several common themes.

First, each make clear the decision was agreed to by WVU and Koenning. Lyons called it a “mutual separation.”  Koenning said it was a “mutual decision to separate” and Brown said “both parties” agreed.

So, it clearly was not a firing, and the University will pay Koenning a buyout of nearly $600,000. But it sounds as though Koenning’s departure was not exactly voluntary.  “Personally, I’d love to get back to coaching our guys,” he said.

Second, the statements all emphasized what is ahead, more than what has happened.

Lyons said, “We are moving forward as a program.”  Brown said the separation “places us in the best position to positively move forward.”  Koenning said going forward he wishes “nothing but the best for all Mountaineers.”

Third, and this is a big one, there is mention of the “culture” of the program.  Brown has emphasized repeatedly about the kind of atmosphere he is trying to create since he arrived on campus a year and a half ago.

Brown said he and Koenning agreed the parting of ways was “what is best for the program.” Lyons referenced the “high expectations for coaches, staff and student athletes, and it is that culture that will allow us to compete for championships.”

Koenning did not weigh in specifically on the “culture,” but he did say that his continued presence would “create additional scrutiny and lingering distractions” for the program.

Beyond these points, and unless the findings of the investigation are released, Mountaineer fans are left to wonder about details of the split.

Yes, there is the public allegation by a player about a coach who is perhaps lacking in self-awareness, but it is difficult to imagine Brown would have parted with his long-time assistant over one tweet from a player.

Perhaps the player dissatisfaction ran deeper than one player and Koenning was in danger of losing the locker room. Maybe his presence would have fouled up recruiting. Perhaps the disconnect between Koenning and players was irreparable and thus antithetical to the culture Brown is trying to establish.   Maybe Koenning felt he was being unfairly held to account and figured it was just best to move on.

We may never know the full story.


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