MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University and football defensive coordinator Vic Koenning have mutually agreed to separate less than a month after safety Kerry Martin accused the veteran coach via Twitter of inappropriate and insensitive dealings with himself and at least one other player.
Koenning had been placed on administrative leave and an independent investigation of the situation was launched almost immediately, culminating with the school’s announcement on Wednesday morning.
“This mutual separation is in the best interest of our football program,” Athletic Director Shane Lyons said in a press release sent out at 9 a.m. “Coach Brown and I have set high expectations for our coaches, staff and student-athletes, and it is that culture that will allow us to compete for championships. We are moving forward as a program and our coaches, staff and student-athletes have my complete confidence and support.”
Coach Neal Brown said he and Koenning had spoken and agreed it would be impossible to continue moving forward together.
Koenning served as Brown’s defensive coordinator at Troy and followed him to WVU when Brown was hired to replace Dana Holgorsen as head coach after the 2018 season.
“As I’ve stated previously, I care deeply about Vic and every player, coach, staff member, and administrator who touches our program,” Brown said in the press release. “This decision was not made lightly and both parties agree that it places us in the best position to positively move forward.”
Brown did not say anything critical of Koenning in his statement.
“Vic has meant a lot to this program over the past 18 months and to me, personally, for our time together both here and at Troy University. I know that Vic will find continued success as a coach. However, Vic and I both reached the conclusion that the current circumstances make continuing in his role as Defensive Coordinator challenging. At the end of the day, we all — Vic included — want what is best for our program.”
Koenning, who offered a public apology for anything he might have done that was taken as an offense shortly after Martin went public with his accusations, remained apologetic while admitting he wanted to remain on as coach but understood that would create an untenable situation.
“I remain apologetic to anyone who perceived something I said or did as hurtful,” his statement began. That was never my intent. I wish to thank all the current and former players, coaches and colleagues – of all different ethnicities and backgrounds – whose support and encouragement have been invaluable to me and my family.
“I am relieved the process is over but will be forever changed by the experience. Personally, I’d love to get back to coaching our guys, but I know that doing so would create additional scrutiny and lingering distractions for our program,” Koenning, 60, said.
“Taking all this into consideration, we have come to this mutual decision to separate. I will always be grateful for the relationships formed with so many players, coaches and WVU supporters. I am not done coaching. I remain passionate about leading young men and look forward to the next coaching chapter in my life. I wish nothing but the best for all Mountaineers.”
Koenning’s contract, which ran through the 2020-21 seasons called for a salary of $675,00 and $700,000 and included a standard clause that allowed “termination for cause” without further compensation.
Terms of the separation have not yet become public. It was reported by 247Sports.com, citing an unidentified source, that Koenning will receive 55% of what’s due him over the next 19 months, which comes to nearly $600,000.
Koenning had been considered a solid defensive coordinator in a journey that started as a graduate assistant at Memphis State in 1986 and had many twists and turns with stops at Wyoming,, Troy, Clemson, Kansas State, Illinois and North Carolina. He had one highly unsuccessful run at head coach at Wyoming, going 5-29 from 2000 through 2002 and served as interim head coach at Illinois in 2011, beating UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl game after replacing the fired Ron Zook.
There was nothing in Koenning’s history that suggested the trouble he would find at WVU. Last December, in an article on Fightingillini.com looking back at that game his former players offered high praise of him as a coach and person.
Coach Vic had a lot of respect from the players for who he was and what he stood for,” said former Illinois quarterback Nate Scheelhaase.
Former defensive end Whitney Mercilus echoed that assessment.
“When Coach Vic was named, it definitely eased the transition from Coach Zook, especially for the defense” Mercilus said. “Like Coach Zook, Vic was very much a player’s coach and he cared a lot for his guys.”
Martin, however, had a very different view at WVU.
In his Tweet, Martin alleged that Koenning had called him “retarded” for making a mistake during a practice, a remark that hurt because Martin said he had family members that are “actually mentally ill.”
He also charged that Koenning had antagonized him and teammate Derek Pitts over religious beliefs and that he often had political rants during meetings that included his support for Trump building his wall to “keep Hispanics out of the country” and went into the growing protests on the streets across the country saying if the protestors “didn’t want to be tear gassed and pushed back by police they shouldn’t be outside protesting.”
Martin also said he had discussed the matter with Coach Brown but Brown denied that in a letter to Mountaineer fans, saying he didn’t learn of Martin’s complaints until the Tweet he posted.
Martin also had claimed that his high school coach, Jon Carpenter, had suggested that Koenning had displayed a “slave master” mentality after a visit the two had during recruiting.
Carpenter, however, denied ever having said that to Charleston sportswriter Tom Bragg.
“I am heartbroken and shocked,” Carpenter said in Bragg’s article on ThisWeekinWVSports.com. “Heartbroken that Kerry could feel that way. I think I (am) speaking for everybody that coaches with us, but that’s new that he felt that way. It almost feels like a train wreck that I wish we could have got out in front of. It’s hard because I love Kerry Martin. Nobody would care two cents about Jon Carpenter the football coach if it wasn’t for people like Kerry Martin.”
Martin did, in his original Tweet, say that “Coach Vic is not a bad person and he does mean well in many (different) aspects but his heinous actions towards us overrules the good things he has done and many of us are uncomfortable with being around him.”
It’s believed that a search has already begun to find Koenning’s successor as defensive coordinator and that a replacement will be named quickly.