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March 6, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN-Crook feels at home with Mountaineers

MORGANTOWN — Ron Crook realizes that the day he walked into the football office at Stanford and told them he was giving up his job as an assistant coach working with the tight ends and offensive tackles to come coach offensive line at West Virginia that certain people would not be able to understand how he could make such a move.

Stanford to West Virginia?

Leave a school that had been to four consecutive BCS bowls, a school that was turning out NFL players at a pace that almost matches the way it is turning out tech geniuses for West Virginia? Why, for crying out loud, quarterback Andrew Luck was a WVU legacy not only of a former quarterback but a man who wound up the athletic director at the school, and he chose Stanford.

He realized they wouldn’t understand because anyone who wasn’t from West Virginia could not possibly understand.

First off, it wasn’t solely simply for a chance to return to his home state.

Not at all.

“It played a big part in it, but more from a standpoint of growing up in this state and knowing how important West Virginia football is to the people,” he said. “I’ve been gone from the state for several years now. It wasn’t so much coming home. It was more coming to a place where I know football is important to the state and football is important to this university. That was something I wanted to be part of.”

It’s different at Stanford, where he was last, and at Harvard, where he was before that.

Stanford is in California, Harvard in Boston.

There is so much more there, the beaches, the Giants, the Red Sox, the Patriots, the Dodgers, USC, UCLA, Boston College ...

College football was a diversion, not a way of life as it was in his native of Parkersburg.

“As a kid growing up in this state, everything you do revolves around Mountaineer football,” he said. “It was that way for me, and not just football. If there was a West Virginia event on TV, it was on our TV. We watched as a family.

“My father was a big Mountaineer fan. We spent our weekends a lot of times doing that. When you are brought up that way, you don’t lose it. When I was coaching Stanford, I was still following the Mountaineers, seeing how they do.

“My mother-in-law and father-in-law are big fans and after a game we’d talk a little while about the Stanford game and then we always talked about the West Virginia games, too.”

It was always tugging at his sleeve, especially since he missed as a kid coming out of high school.

Certainly it hurt when he came out and had no offer to play at WVU.

“I thought Coach Nehlen and his staff were crazy not recruiting me,” he said, wearing a big smile that told you he was speaking in jest. “As I look back, I don’t think it was hard at all. I played at a different level, so I didn’t find it hard to root for West Virginia.”

He wound up playing and starting his coaching career at West Liberty and, it turned out, he had a knack for coaching the game and the passion that comes from being a West Virginian for the game itself.

His journey was an interesting one, bouncing around a bit until ending up at Harvard for eight years in the Ivy League before winding up at Stanford, which is sometimes referred to as “The Harvard of the West.”

Certainly, the “scholar-athletes” he was dealing with at Harvard and Stanford differed from those he will deal with at WVU, did they not?

“I hope there’s not a big difference. What I experienced at those places is that even though they are ‘scholar-athletes,’ football is very important to them. They work really hard at it and have a passion for it. I think you see the same things in the guys here,” he said.

“Maybe some of the off-the-field things are different from their standpoint, but I’m not approaching it any differently right now.”

That is almost certainly the proper approach, for in most cases the offensive linemen usually are the smartest of the players on the field.

“There’s a lot more involvement with each other on a play-to-play basis,” Crook said, trying to explain why that is. “There’s five guys on the field and what the right tackle does on a play impacts the left tackle. They have to be intelligent enough to work together, to have a strong bond with each other.

“They have to be with each other, working for each other on a daily basis.”

His first job is getting to know his players and having them learn him.

“I don’t think you can have a successful program if you don’t have a good relationship with your guys. Those relationships go different ways on a daily basis. A good relationship doesn’t mean you can’t have issues with each other,” he said.

“There will be times when we certainly will have issues and there are times when they will have issues with me. One of the things I’ve talked to them is communication being the key. We have to be able to work through differences we have.”

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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