The Times West Virginian

December 31, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Casteel mum on possibility of leaving WVU

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — As a columnist, a column can rattle around in your head for only so long until the clatter gets too loud, too annoying and so distracting that you have to let it out.

It has been that way ever since the football coaching change began in its initial version at West Virginia, with Dana Holgorsen signing on as offensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting. As soon as that transpired you know that Jeff Casteel’s entire situation had changed and that he would be put into a situation where he had to begin weighing his own future.

 Casteel was the defensive coordinator, one who the previous season had put together one of the nation’s top three defenses, a veteran, athletic group put into an untraditional configuration referred to by football minds as a 3-3-5.

He was a hot ticket item in college football but also a very different kind of item, if for no other reason in a profession where class is not listed among the first 50 qualifications a prospective employee should possess, he overflows with it.

He is straight-forward and honest. He is dedicated. He is proud not only to work for West Virginia University, but to be from West Virginia, and that as much as anything else is why he remains here today when assistant coaches all around him fled first to join Rich Rodriguez in Michigan and now are following him to Arizona.

The rumors, of course, are that Casteel will join Rodriguez following the Orange Bowl, rumors that don’t seem to have any basis in fact. If he wouldn’t go to Michigan to join Rodriguez, why in the world would he go off to the land of scorpions and sidewinders?

Besides, you listen to him speak about his past, about West Virginia, the state where he was born and grew up, and you sense a bond that is strong enough to not be broken unless he really feels it to be a matter of survival.

Take the story he tells about his days at Paden City High.

It was 1979 and he was about to lead Paden City to the Class A state football championship.

The opponent was Bishop Donahue, a team they had beaten 19-6 during the regular season.

As Casteel remembers it, they knew they would need something new for the championship game down at Laidley Field in Charleston, so the team would go into the school gymnasium in the morning as a whole new offense was installed.

Actually, it was a whole old offense — the single wing, a relic from another era.

They never showed it in practice for the game, running their regular offense when the world was watching. And, when the championship game came, they used their regular offense in the first half.

Ah, but at halftime, Paden City switched to the single wing and wound up winning the game over Bishop Donahue by the same 19-6 score they won the regular season game.

It is that kind of story … the stories about life in West Virginia, about cold winters and about steel mills and the like that Casteel tells with such emotion and so much glee that you know any decision to leave would be a difficult one at best.

But it could happen. He has little more to prove to the world as a defensive coordinator and has quietly, secretly informed some close associates he would consider a head coaching job if one came along.

 Oliver Luck, the athletic director, says he expects Casteel to be here next season because he has contract, a rather farcial comment coming from someone who is involved in a number of lawsuits over a contract he and WVU are trying to get out of with the Big East. The school claims the situation changed in the Big East football conference with the defections of Pitt and Syracuse, to say nothing of previous defections from Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College.

In truth, however, so, too, did Casteel’s situation change when Bill Stewart was fired and Holgorsen took over, for the emphasis moved squarely from his defense to an offensive-oriented head coach who surely would be looking to build the offense while putting Casteel’s defense on the back burner.

It may not be the strongest argument in the world, but then neither is the argument Luck and WVU are basing their immediate departure from the Big East upon.

The truth is, no one really knows what Casteel has in mind. When Dave Hickman of the Charleston Gazette recently pushed and prodded to get an answer, Casteel evaded the question over and over, and when Hickman complained Casteel argued that it didn’t matter because Hickman would write it anyway … which is exactly what he did.

"What does it matter?'' Casteel asked Hickman during the interview. "This time of year there's speculation everywhere. It's always been like that. It was like that last year. It was like that the year before. And sometimes it's out in the forefront and sometimes it isn't.''

Is Casteel looking to move on?

Let’s just put it this way, if he is, he’s putting the move together in the high school gymnasium of his mind, hidden from public view, doing it the way they do things in Paden City.

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