Gameday: It's a small world, this coaching business
MORGANTOWN -- There are some real coaching oddities involved in tonight's 104th Backyard Brawl, not the least of which is the link between two head coaches in their first year at their respective schools.
West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen and Pitt's Todd Graham are first-time head coaches in this game, but they have all sorts of familiarity with each other.
In fact, it will be the fourth straight season that the teams they coach will square off. Graham was the head coach at Tulsa the last four years. In the last three his team faced an opponent whose offensive coordinator was Holgorsen -- 2008 and 2009 Houston, and 2010 Oklahoma State.
Call it a small world.
Something else, though, seems even more bizarre. West Virginia and Pitt each employ 10 full-time coaches. And of those 20 combined, there are more with WVU ties on the Pitt side than on the West Virginia end of things.
Think about it. Of the Mountaineers' 10 full-time coaches, six had no ties at all to the school before this season. Only defensive coaches Jeff Casteel, Steve Dunlap, Bill Kirelawich and David Lockwood have ever been part of a Backyard Brawl.
On the Pitt side? Well, five of the 10 worked previously in Morgantown. In addition to Graham, there's Tony Gibson, Calvin Magee, Tony Dews and Paul Randolph. All, at one time or another, were assistants on Rich Rodriguez's staff.
Don't figure on many of them getting all nostalgic when they walk into Mountaineer Field, though.
"Our feelings and emotions are a lot more on figuring out how to win that game than on going back to the stadium or anything like that,'' Graham said.
For the record, the Pitt coaches with WVU ties had varying degrees of experience in Morgantown.
Graham, Gibson and Magee were on Rodriguez's original staff in 2001. Graham stayed just two years -- the second as defensive co-coordinator with Casteel -- while Gibson and Magee were around until leaving for Michigan with Rodriguez. Dews and Randolph had shorter tenures.
"I spent two seasons there. It's not like I was there 10 years or something,'' Graham said. "For Calvin it's going to be different because he was there for seven years. For (Tony Gibson), it's going to different. But I can tell you it's just been a dream come true for all of us to come together and work together.''
The fact that former coaches sometimes return to WVU as opponents is nothing new, of course. Dunlap, for one, knows all about that.
He played at West Virginia and coached in Morgantown for the better part of two decades before he lost his job when Rodriguez arrived. He would go on to stops at three other schools before returning, and at two of those jobs -- Syracuse and Marshall -- he coached against the Mountaineers.
"I've been on the other end of that, too,'' Dunlap said. "I'm on the wrong sideline and (the fans) are getting after me. And I'm like, 'Wait a minute. I'm one of you guys.'
"It's a strange feeling. But that's our profession. They don't make any new schools. There's only so many schools and when the musical chairs stop sometimes you're in somebody else's chair.''
If anyone on the Pitt staff is likely to get a rude reception from the fans at Mountaineer Field, it will probably be Gibson and Magee.
Gibson is a state native (Boone County) who was connected at the hip to Rodriguez, who is not exactly the state's favorite son. Magee left in a blaze of controversy when he accused WVU of racism when he says he wasn't afforded an opportunity to become Rodriguez's successor.
Graham, though, was just a nice guy with no real West Virginia ties who left after two years to return to his roots in Tulsa. He became the defensive coordinator there, then used that as a springboard to head coaching jobs at Rice, Tulsa and now Pitt.
"Coach Rodriguez gave me an opportunity there, so there's a very special place in my heart for West Virginia,'' Graham said. "But it's coaching. In this business, to be successful and to be a head coach you have to move. And I've moved to get to this point.
"And it's not just me. There's five of our coaches who were (at West Virginia). But there's no awkwardness. We're focused on Pitt and what we're doing.
"I can tell you that everyone who works for me has tremendous respect for West Virginia, just like I have tremendous respect for Rice or Tulsa and the places I've been and the people who have helped me along the way.''