By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen has lost his fifth assistant coach of the off-season Friday as running backs coach Robert Gillespie jumped to the University of Tennessee.
The announcement was made by new Volunteer head coach Butch Jones, himself a former WVU assistant, after a five-day search for a replacement for Jay Graham, one of Tennessee’s top aides who left to join another West Virginian, Jimbo Fisher, at Florida State.
“We are very excited to welcome Robert and his family into the Tennessee family,” Jones said via a release on Friday night. “Coach Gillespie brings a vast knowledge of the SEC, having been part of it as both a player and a coach. Robert is a high-energy coach who will get the most out of his players, and he also has a great reputation in the coaching profession as a relentless recruiter.”
Previously Holgorsen had dismissed special teams coach Steve Dunlap, who is still working at the university until his contract expires, and cornerback coach Daron Roberts, while offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh left for a similar job at Oklahoma and quarterback coach Jake Spavital left for the same job at Texas A&M.
The timing of Gillespie’s departure is troublesome in that spring practice is less than two weeks away. It is also hurtful in that he, like Bedenbaugh, is an accomplished recruiter.
Gillespie came to WVU along with Holgorsen from Oklahoma State, where he coached in 2009-10 following a four-year (2006-09) stay in the SEC under Steve Spurrier at South Carolina.
Gillespie is familiar to Tennessee fans because he was a solid running back at Florida from 1998 to 2001, gaining 1,854 yards.
Gillespie was to earn $300,000 as an assistant at WVU.
While all of the coaches who left on their own did so for schools that could be perceived as the equal or better than WVU, they were lateral moves as far as jobs were concerned, leaving a perception of instability at WVU.
This is a major change from the past where Don Nehlen, Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart had stability with their assistant coaches for the most part.
Holgorsen will have to move quickly to find a replacement.
It’s expected Holgorsen, who brought both former assistants Tony Gibson and Lonny Galloway back to WVU, will look hard at former WVU quarterback JuJuan Seider as a replacement for Gillespie.
Seider, who became a star quarterback at Florida A&M as a senior, is working for Doc Holliday at Marshall as running back coach and recruiting coordinator.
Gillespie offered this on Twitter following the announcement that he was leaving:
“The Gillespie Family had a blast at #WVU and you guys will always hold a place in our hearts. We'll always root for The Mountaineers!”
A WVU official said Holgorsen would have no comment on Gillespie's departure.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.