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February 15, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Silence surrounding Gibson’s promotion speaks volumes

MORGANTOWN — Personally, if I were Tony Gibson, I’d be asking for a parade, let alone just an announcement that I’d been promoted to defensive coordinator at West Virginia University.

But they don’t do things like that around the Milan Puskar Center, where doors are locked and secrecy is valued above all else.

Certainly, considering his background, to earn the job of defensive coordinator at a major school is a spectacular accomplishment for Gibson and is an opportunity unlike any other he ever could have earned.

But let us first go back to why WVU didn’t so much as make an announcement on Gibson’s promotion, someone leaking to head coach Dana Holgorsen’s confidant, Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports, that Gibson would be the person to replace Keith Patterson, who days earlier had left the program for a similar job under Todd Graham.

Leaving for Arizona State when Patterson did proved to be a far more astute decision than any he made during his year running the Mountaineer defense, for he beat the snow out of town to go to the land of cactus and lizards.

Even after Feldman’s public announcement of something everyone had mentioned as inevitable, no announcement was forthcoming.

In fact, in what has to be a football first, far less important than the first forward pass or no-huddle offense, the move became “official” when Gibson changed his Twitter page to read:

Tony Gibson

Defensive Coordinator for West Virginia Football

Certainly, if it says so on Twitter, it must be true.

Therefore, what popped up there on Friday also has to be true:

Joe DeForest

Associate Head Coach and Safeties Coach at West Virginia University

Now why would not Holgorsen want to allow Gibson to bask in the glory of his promotion?

It is, almost certainly, because his defense staff remains in turmoil ... as it always is.

See, he had let defensive line coach Erik Slaughter go, brought in former linebacker Damon Cogdell to replace him, then had Patterson leave, giving him yet another spot to fill as spring practice came near.

Certainly, you have to assume he heavily considered bringing in an experienced Division I defensive coordinator — naming Joe DeForest, who was not experienced in that aspect of the game, was not a very good move.

But bringing in a new coordinator willing to run the defense he wanted meant starting over and — even though the last two years have been the two worst defenses ever at WVU — Holgorsen felt progress was made last year and didn’t want to start over with terminology and philosophical differences.

He could have, had he wished, brought Steve Dunlap back out of “retirement” as coordinator, a position he has had success with, but you get the feeling that wasn’t considered a real option by Holgorsen.

So while he isn’t sure who will be his linebacker coach — Patterson’s job — or his line

coach — Slaughter’s job — Holgorsen probably felt it best just to say nothing on what had to be the biggest day of Gibson’s career.

Working in this job for Holgorsen is not an easy chore. Gibson becomes the fourth defensive coordinator in four years, and when Patterson left he was the ninth assistant to leave during that span, only Jake Spavital, who left to coach Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, going for a promotion.

In many ways, this is a chance for Gibson that has no downside.

First of all, he’s taking charge following those two terrible seasons on the defense as WVU has put a heavy emphasis on bringing in improved players.

Defense is now a priority.

With four coordinators in four years, if Gibson shows improvement and makes it even to a second year he will have been a success.

And if he doesn’t?

Shouldn’t the finger be pointed at the head coach at that point in time?

But back to Gibson.

He’s a West Virginia native who played for Rich Rodriguez at Glenville State from 1991-94. He spent half a decade as an assistant at Glenville, Cumberland and West Virginia Tech, where he spent two seasons as defensive coordinator before Rodriguez gave him his break and brought him with him to WVU in 2001.

That is humble beginnings, but he has grown from them, become a top recruiter while following Rodriguez to Michigan before breaking ranks with him for a year to coach with Patterson at Pitt, of all places, then joining Rodriguez again at Arizona for a year before coming home.

Just don’t be hasty in your judgments of Gibson. His first game as coordinator is against Alabama.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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