By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
If Tony Gibson’s return to the West Virginia University defensive coaching staff is correct as has been reported, and there is no reason to question the veracity of such a report, it is a move which offers hope that the dreadful season past has gotten through to head coach Dana Holgorsen that he must remake his team in ways that will allow it to compete successfully at the top level of college football.
Gibson, of course, comes bearing baggage, being tied so closely to one-time head coach Rich Rodriguez. Having left with him in the wake of the 2007 Pittsburgh debacle, his career path following Rich Rod to Michigan, then to Pittsburgh when Rodriguez sat out a year (which is where Gibson came across WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson) and then back to Rich Rod at Arizona.
And if the WVU faithful are not yet ready to welcome Rich Rod back with open arms, one must understand that Gibson was but a pawn in that game and that even though his background lies in Van and Glenville State, his guiding angel was Rodriguez at that time.
Gibson is expected to replace Daron Roberts as cornerback coach, while the Charleston Daily Mail has reported that Brian Mitchell, fired a week ago as defensive coordinator at East Carolina and a secondary coach, will be Holgorsen’s choice to fill his other defensive vacancy created by the firing of Steve Dunlap.
Holgorsen and Mitchell were both assistants under Mike Leach at Texas Tech.
The importance of turning toward Tony Gibson, however, isn’t to be found in either his ties to Rich Rod or his West Virginia roots, but instead in the brand of defensive football that he has learned over the years … a kind of defensive football that has always carried the Mountaineers to their highest heights.
Offense, yes, was good, but defense was the rock, the attitude, the way of life, the way of the state and the way of the football program, and that is exactly what was missing this past year and it is something that must be re-established in a hurry.
This is not just for the good of the program but because the 2014 season carries with it an opening game that can ignite the direction the program goes through the rest of the first quarter of the century, the opening foe being nothing less than Alabama’s national champions.
See, Alabama and — to a lesser degree — Notre Dame once again established that championship football is not found in the glitz of the computer-game offenses but built through a toughness that comes with running the football and rock-ribbed defense.
This is how the legacy of West Virginia football — and we’re not talking the university here, but instead the entire state — is viewed. Jason Gallaher, a West Virginia State Trooper, offered this post on Facebook on Wednesday morning:
“Fielding Yost (Fairview), John McKay (Shinnston) and Nick Saban (Monongah) have a combined 14 National Championships in football. All born and raised in West Virginia.”
It is a state that understands winning football, a state that also brought forth Lou Holtz and Rich Rodriguez and Jimbo Fisher, a state which has grasped what it takes to win.
USA Today, in a story prior to the BCS championship game, spoke to Saban about what it takes to win national titles and his answer was revealing.
“I really believe in games like this, the same factors — controlling the line of scrimmage, stopping the run, being able to run the ball, explosive plays, turnovers, red zone efficiency on both sides of the ball — all those same factors that affect outcomes of games probably are going to affect the outcome of this game.”
And they did.
This wasn’t a matter of Tavon Austin-like dynamics, although that kind of thing is always part of it, but it is attitude from 11 players on every play.
Why was Notre Dame able to succeed until the championship game, even playing without the same kind of offensive skill that WVU used in a 7-6 season?
It was able to do it because of defense and attitude. It was pointed out that in Kelly’s three years his Notre Dame teams were 23-2 when they outgained the opponent on the ground, 4-9 when they didn’t.
And Saban has followed the same path since his second year in Alabama, going 50-0 now when rushing for 150 or more yards and 11-7 when he didn’t.
Additions like Gibson, stressing the kind of football that Karl Joseph established as a freshman safety this year, and with as much credit going to giving a black eye on defense as has previously been saved for offensive heroics, can get West Virginia back to its place in college football.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.