By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
What had been a nightmare for the last two defensive coordinators was called “a dream come true” for West Virginia University’s newest D.C., as Tony Gibson was finally officially announced as Dana Holgorsen’s fourth defensive coordinator in four years.
Holgorsen took the opportunity presented by the annual pre-spring practice media luncheon on Friday to officially announce Gibson’s appointment that had long been reported on the Internet.
Gibson will not only coordinate but also coach the linebackers, which is a change for him as he has mostly handled corners and safeties.
“Obviously all my experience came in the back end. I coached linebackers at smaller schools, when I was a coordinator there,” he said, referring back to his days at Cumberland (Tenn.) University and West Virginia University Tech.
“To be involved and get a handle on both the run game and the passing game, coaching linebackers is the best place I can be, and I need to be there,” he said.
That means that newcomer Damon Cogdell will coach the defensive line, even though he was a linebacker when he played at WVU; Brian Mitchell will remain with the cornerbacks and Joe DeForest will return to coaching defense with the safeties.
Newly hired Tom Bradley’s defensive assignment has yet to be announced beyond senior associate head coach.
“It’s obviously a dream come true to be in my home state, coaching the Mountaineers in the role I am going to be in,” Gibson said.
This, of course, is just his second season back at WVU and working with Holgorsen, but he doesn’t see that as a problem.
“Everyone says it’s come quickly. Well, this is my 20th year as a college football coach,” he noted. “They say, ‘You’re young.’ Well, no, this is my 14th year at the Division I level. How much longer do you have to go to get your opportunity?”
Still, the choice will surely be second-guessed for the way the WVU defense has performed the past two years with DeForest and Keith Patterson, an experienced coordinator, in charge. There are those who would cry out for someone with stronger credentials than Gibson offers.
Gibson was at WVU with Rich Rodriguez from 2001 to 2007 working with the defensive backs, then went to Michigan with Rodriguez from 2008 to 2010. In 2011, he coached defensive backs at Pitt under Patterson. He then joined Rodriguez at Arizona for one season before returning home last year.
“The thing I’m most grateful for is Dana giving me the opportunity and not shying away from it, attacking it and saying, ‘Hey, it’s your deal; let’s get it done,’” he said. “For someone to have that much confidence in me after working one year with me, he’s going to get the best I have to offer.”
Not that Gibson wouldn’t jump at such an opportunity, for while he is inheriting a defense that struggled a year ago, much of it was due to injury, which meant that a lot of players got experience, especially at the linebacker position he is taking over.
“That was another reason when Dana came to me and asked me if I wanted to coach the defense, I said, ‘Heck, yeah!’ That’s where all the experience is. Guys like (Jared) Barber and (Wes) Tonkery and (Brandon) Golson and Shaq (Petteway), they have played a lot of football.
“You look throughout the defense. We have a lot of kids who played a lot of football last year. They have a feel for it. They’re hungry. Once you play and have that feel, it makes you want it even more. I think that’s where the attitude of our kids is right now … We’re going to attack today and let’s get better and then move on to tomorrow.”
And if he sounds excited, he says his players share the feeling.
“We’ve had good meetings with the players. They understand the role I’m taking on. We’ve talked about the future and are going to forget about last year. It’s over. Let’s move on and get better,” he said.
“We do reference back … ‘Hey, why did we struggle at times?’ and ‘Hey, why did we do well at times?’ I think it all goes back to effort, ‘want to’, keep the schemes simple and give the kids a chance to play fast.”
The result is high hopes of improvement.
“Right now the kids are excited,” Gibson said. “There’s a great tradition at West Virginia. There’s a winning tradition at West Virginia. We’ve always had tough kids that played hard. They’re hungry.
“I like our kids. I like our attitude right now. They’re ready to work and they have been showing that in off-season workouts.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.