The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

July 11, 2014

From W.Va. to Oklahoma, Giardina living his dream

FAIRMONT — The old saying goes, “When you know, you know.”

And for Vince Giardina, there was a certainty about a few things.

What he knew was that he loved sports. He knew that he enjoyed football. And he knew he wanted to find a way to keep those pleasures alive and well for a lifetime. He just needed that definitive “a-ha moment.”

That moment came in the fall of 2007, his junior year of high school.

His home state and fourth-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers had just given the 20th-ranked UConn Huskies a 66-21 walloping, and that sealed the deal for Giardina.

“That was the definitive moment,” Giardina remembered.

What the moment cemented was the fact that Giardina would enter the coaching world one day in hopes of becoming a Division I head football coach.

After nearly four years as a student manager for WVU and a year of unpaid coaching at Highland Community College in Kansas, Giardina is now entering his first season as a paid collegiate coach, coaching the running backs at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, an institution in the junior college system.

While his journey is just in the beginning stages, it shows that with a little bit of hard work and dedication, good things can happen.

As a senior at Musselman High School in Berkeley County, Giardina had decided that WVU would be the place where his journey would get its start. After being accepted into the school with a declared major of athletic coaching education (ACE), the next step was to find his niche.

Of course, he eyed the football team.

But it wouldn’t be a journey without a few bumps in the road, the first one being the fact that he wasn’t accepted on as a student manager during his first attempt.

“It was kind of a disappointment at first because in June I had applied for it and I didn’t get on,” Giardina recalled.

But if at first you don’t succeed, try again, right?

“All I did was I called again and kept showing up and then they just told me to show up Jan. 19,” he said. “I still remember the date.

“I worked the first day and then I remember they told me, ‘You’re on the squad,’” Giardina remembered. “And I was ridiculously happy because I grew up a WVU fan, and to be around those guys was amazing.”

For three and a half years, Giardina worked as a student manager, working with the Mountaineers’ offensive line.

While with WVU, Giardina was able to be a part of Mountaineer history, enduring the coaching change from the late Bill Stewart to the team’s current coach Dana Holgorsen, a move which was highly scrutinized around the state.

“It was different,” Giardina said of the transition between coaches. “One thing I’ll always remember, though, is Bill Stewart. He gave me the opportunity. He knew my name and asked how we were and he appreciated everything we did. And we were all obviously excited because Dana was a good coach.

“When that whole ordeal went down, it was definitely different. It wasn’t necessarily scary for me because they don’t fire the student managers, but now that I’m a coach I understand how scary it can be.”

Giardina was there for the ups and went on the ride for the downs, coming during WVU’s late-season collapse in 2013, Giardina’s senior year at WVU.

But from his time there, he learned what it took to be a coach at the collegiate level, leaning heavily on the advice from WVU’s then-offensive line coach, Bill Bedenbaugh.

“Getting a job out of college is extremely hard in general. Coach Bedenbaugh was extremely helpful for me in that process,” Giardina said. “He showed me what to do and I did that. The process was hard and it’s not made for everybody, but it’s part of the learning experience.”

Along with the advice from Bedenbaugh, Giardina credited his time spent in the ACE program at WVU with preparing him for the real world of the coaching profession.

“In all reality, the ACE program was awesome,” Giardina said. “It prepared me for every single thing that I did. Nothing was a first for me.”

After graduating from WVU in 2013, Giardina accepted an unpaid coaching position at Highland Community College in Kansas, halfway across the country from his home in West Virginia.

The position helped Giardina understand even further the satisfaction of working for something, he said.

“If you get handed something you don’t always appreciate what you have,” he said.

With that, Giardina made the most of his time in Kansas, working hard and making his impression on Highland head coach Ryan Held count.

“We went through the season and I came home for Christmas break. On the flight back out to Kansas, Coach (Held) messaged me and said he was in the process with NEO,” Giardina remembered. “And then he told me to be thinking if I wanted to come down.

“When you’re caught up in the every day grind you can’t appreciate building relationships sometimes,” Giardina said. “I guess in the span of the six or seven months that I was in Kansas, I did something right. At Highland, I was in the right place at the right time.”

Now, Giardina and the rest of the NEO staff are preparing for their first season together in Oklahoma.

As he grows as a coach and as a person, Giardina doesn’t know where the next stop for him will be.

Asked where he wanted to be in five years, he couldn’t give a specific map dot, instead saying, “Honestly in the coaching world it’s a little different. The thing I always tell people is that I want to continue to grow and continue moving up. There’s never really a true phase where you can say, ‘Hey, this is where I want to be,” in the coaching profession.

“I can’t say where I want to be. I may be fired tomorrow; who knows?” he continued. “I just think as long as I’m on the right track to getting to my long term goal of being a Division I head coach, I’m doing good.”

Email Matt Welch at mwelch@timeswv.com or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.

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