By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
When Cincinnati comes into Morgantown for its noon Saturday engagement against West Virginia at Puskar Stadium it will have a familiar ring to the Bearcats head coach, Butch Jones, but it will also be eerily different.
The buses will come not from Lakeview Resort, as he was used to when he coached the wide receivers under Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia, but will come down from the Bearcats Pittsburgh hotel. And the crowd that used to meet them with love and kisses as conquering heroes when he rode the West Virginia bus, now will spit venom and offer a vocabulary that is mostly x-rated and reserved for the enemy.
It will be as shocking an entry to a few others on those buses, too.
“We have five individuals who went to school there or coached there,” Jones noted.
Indeed, there is a West Virginia touch on that Cincinnati coaching staff. Jahmile Addai was a popular safety at WVU, now coaching the running backs at UC and ready to turn loose Isaiah Pead on the Mountaineers. A year ago, before Addai joined the staff, Pead rushed 18 times for 175 yards against WVU.
Then there’s Dave Lawson, the strength and conditioning coach who broke in under Don Nehlen, and Milo Austin, a wide receiver under Rich Rodriguez who is the director of player development, and Brandon Myles, a wide receiver under Rodriguez, and offensive line coach Don Mahoney, who graduated from West Virginia State.
“It will be a little different on the other sideline,” Jones admitted.
It will be different, too, when he goes to mid-field during pre-game warm-ups and meets up with Bill Stewart. How many meetings did those two sit in under Rich Rodriguez, how many times did they ride the bus to the stadium together?
“Stew made me a better coach in a lot of areas. Any time spend a lot of time on a staff, you share a lot of things and ideas, how handle different situations,” Jones said.
There was a lot of hard work, but also time for friendship, too.
“We were dear, dear friends,” Stewart said. “You never like to coach against your buddies. There’s not enough time go through how the Stewart family feels about the Jones family. I just love him. You work with someone you get a special bond in sports that people outside don’t understand.”
But they break up that mid-field meeting, shake hands and go to their own corner.
“For a couple of hours on Saturday that friendship is on hold,” Stewart said.
The game is a big one for both teams, although Cincinnati seems to be out of the conference race while WVU does have a shot at it. Both teams were selected tied for second in the pre-season poll, right behind Pitt.
Jones may have some advantage in knowing the 3-3-5 defense that Jeff Casteel has put together at West Virginia, a defense so good that it is ranked fourth in the nation.
However, knowing a defense does not necessarily mean you know how to beat it. Sometimes a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, especially if you give it too much credit.
“I haven’t seen the 3-3-5 for two and a half years,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, you can put your players in the position to be successful, but they have to make the plays. Jeff Casteel has done that and to where Scooter Berry, Chris Neild, J.T. Thomas have come from, to see them grow up after having been part of the recruiting process, is something.
“The scheme challenges you, but it’s also the talent,” Jones said. “They have great speed and disguise their coverages. Being No. 4 in the nation speaks volumes.”
West Virginia comes into the game off a pair of shocking losses to Syracuse and Connecticut and also knowing it has lost two straight to Cincinnati, each a three-point decision, one in overtime.
“We haven’t beaten them in two years,” Stewart said. Both have been good games, both three points. I’m sure it will be an interesting matchup. Both teams need a win and both haven’t played as well as they hope up to this date.
Stewart said he’s not fooled by Cincinnati’s record.
“A fumble here, a big play there,” Stewart said. “Like us, they haven’t finished, haven’t closed the deal.”
One of them is going to have to close the deal in this one.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.