By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Let us begin with a smile on our face, even if we know that before we have finished this Sunday morning essay it will turn to more of a quizzical expression.
The smile is put there by a couple of announcements that came out of West Virginia University’s football office on the completion of Dana Holgorsen’s football coaching staff for the coming season – and we limit it to the coming season because Holgorsen’s track record with assistant coaches makes it foolish to look beyond one year.
The hiring of Tom Bradley goes beyond the hiring of any assistant coach Holgorsen ever has or ever will hire. He is a man of long experience, not only in coaching but in winning, and that is something desperately needed around this WVU program.
He is also a man who has learned at the knee of a true coaching genius in Joe Paterno at Penn State and whose football savvy is not built on some passing offensive fad as college football is now going through with its “hurry up and throw the ball offenses” that are nothing more than the next wishbone or split-T attack, an offense for the moment but one that eventually will be caught up with.
What he learned from Paterno, though, has to be timeless for it lasted for 33 years of winning football, theories and philosophies of how to play like a winner and act like a winner. He grew up in a program that wasn’t interested in how the uniform looked on the player, but how the player looked in the uniform.
It was block and tackle football which, in the final analysis, is what this game has been about since the flying wedge and will be about long after we get past our current fling with flinging the ball.
That Bradley was the linebacker coach at what came to be known as “Linebacker U.” can only be another positive.
The second announcement was that of Tony Gibson being named defensive coordinator and linebacker coach, Gibson being a truly wonderful person and someone who has put in his time and sweat to rise to defensive coordinator.
Taken separately, the two announcements are to be rejoiced.
But, alas, they do not exist in their own little worlds.
In fact, as of this moment, we don’t even know what Bradley’s true assignment is beyond the nebulous title of senior associate head coach on a team that leads the world in undefined titles … Joe DeForest being associate head coach in addition to secondary and special teams coach and Lonnie Galloway being assistant head coach in addition to receivers coach.
Certainly, in the release announcing Bradley’s hire, Holgorsen going out of his way to point out how Bradley and Gibson get along and Gibson noting his relationship with Bradley was meant to deflect from the questions that arise out of this.
Who’s running the show?
There is going to come a time when Gibson and Bradley disagree over something as major as what kind of defense to run or who should start or whether to blitz or not, and when that happens do we hear this conversation?
GIBSON: We’re blitzing. I’m the defensive coordinator, and I say we blitz.
BRADLEY: We’re not blitzing. I’m the senior associate head coach and I say we don’t blitz.
DEFOREST: Hey, don’t I have a say? I’m associate head coach.
GIBSON AND BRADLEY: Shut up!
This may work out fine, but it’s something to keep an eye on, especially if things go badly.
And that leads to another scenario, one far deeper and more disguised.
No one can argue with the fact that bringing Bradley in is a courageous move on Holgorsen’s part, for after seasons of 7-6 and 4-8 he sits squarely on the hot seat.
Now true, he may be bringing in the man who makes the defense so much better that a winning season returns, or he could be bringing in a quite viable candidate to replace him should things go astray.
And they could certainly go astray ... and quickly.
The Mountaineers, a team which doesn’t even know who its starting quarterback is at the moment, opens the season against Alabama, a team that came within one miracle play of probably winning the national title for a third straight season last year, then following that up with Towson State, the Football Championship Subdivision national champion.
And then comes a Maryland team that is supposed to be much improved and then Oklahoma.
Just as easily as that could be a 2-2 start it could be a 1-3 or even 0-4 start, and if that happens how secure would Holgorsen’s job be?
What’s more, after they play Kansas in the fifth game comes – in order – Baylor, at Oklahoma State, TCU, at Texas and Kansas State.
Certainly, Bradley’s presence offers a viable option should athletic director Oliver Luck feel that a change is necessary in mid-season.
True, this is extreme and grows out of the worst of all scenarios, but it is a part of the overall picture as spring practice begins.
We will fill in the blanks as the season plays itself out.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.