Nomad coaches: nature of the game
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - If the past few months have served to illustrate nothing else where West Virginia's football coaching staff is concerned, it is that Morgantown is not a destination job.
Does that surprise you? Well, it shouldn't.
The reality is that where this group of nomadic whistle-tooters is concerned, there really is no such place. Anywhere.
Not College Station, Texas. Not Norman, Okla. Not Knoxville, Tenn. And certainly not Morgantown, W.Va.
So many people seem so bent out of shape that WVU is losing quality assistant coaches left and right. Three now have left of their own volition. Throw in the two that Dana Holgorsen decided he would be better off without and that's five vacancies on a nine-man staff.
But if you think these guys are fleeing like rats from a sinking ship, well, you just haven't been paying much attention. It's the nature of the business. Considering the three who have left as if they are in a vacuum is to ignore the landscape while focusing only on our one little hill.
Think not? Well, think again. Examine what has transpired.
Jake Spavital left a job where he was the youngest and lowest-paid assistant coach (tied with Erik Slaughter and since-fired Daron Roberts at $200,000) and working in the shadow of his mentor, Holgorsen, in order to coach Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and share play-calling duties at Texas A&M. It can be argued that no one was more loyal to Holgorsen than Spavital, but he advanced his career enormously by doing so.
Bill Bedenbaugh was about to begin making $300,000 as WVU's offensive line coach. He went to Oklahoma for what is believed to be slightly less. Is that a red flag? No. He's closer to his Midwest roots at one of about 10 programs in the country that can legitimately be called elite. He'll have a chance to work with and recruit better athletes, which stands to improve his resume for whatever he wants to do down the road.
And Robert Gillespie just left for Tennessee. Go ahead, look at it in the narrow prism of what WVU and Tennessee have done lately. If you do that, you're missing the point again. Gillespie is now an assistant coach at an SEC school steeped in tradition. He was born in Mississippi, played in the SEC at Florida and coached in the league at South Carolina. He has a chance to help rebuild Vols football, where 100,000 just might show up for Butch Jones' debut against ... wait for it ... Austin Peay. Consider that Gillespie had about 1,500 followers on Twitter after two years at West Virginia. He had over 7,000 followers after two days in Knoxville.
So don't for a minute try to argue that any of those three are diminishing themselves or even making lateral moves in leaving West Virginia. They aren't. The bottom line is that if they aren't in a better place right now, they have at least put themselves in position to be in a better place soon.
That's what assistant coaches do. For whatever reasons. They may be personal reasons or professional reasons. It might be because of family or the chance to work with someone in particular or to broaden their horizons or to position themselves for whatever the next step is. And for virtually all of them, there will be a next step.
But the real point that everyone misses when they try to reduce moves like these is that it's a two-way street. I think everyone can agree that West Virginia doesn't have the appeal that tradition-laden Oklahoma has, or that coaching a Heisman winner has, or that playing in front of 100,000 people in the SEC has. But don't forget that people are moving here, too.
Holgorsen has filled four of the five openings on his staff and will fill the fifth soon. He has to, given that spring practice begins Sunday. And while you're arguing lateral moves or a steppingstone job or whatever you're calling it, consider that three of the four new hires are coming from BCS programs where fans are asking, "Why would he move to West Virginia?''
Ron Crook left Stanford, where all the Cardinal has done is play in three straight BCS bowls and lost four games in his two seasons. Tony Gibson came from Arizona State, leaving the security of his long relationship with Rich Rodriguez and a chance to resurrect that program. Lonnie Galloway left a Wake Forest program that has struggled of late, but was in an Orange Bowl not that long ago and is in his home state.
Only Brian Mitchell, who was jobless after being fired as the defensive coordinator at East Carolina, probably didn't have to think twice about whether going to West Virginia was the right move. The rest had to weigh the pros and cons.
Just as Spavital, Bedenbaugh and Gillespie did.
There's no telling what motivates these guys to move around like they do. Sometimes it's obvious - a better program, more money, a promotion, whatever. Sometimes it's just the fit. It can be argued that all three of the coaches who left saw a better fit. It can certainly be argued that guys like Crook and Gibson, West Virginia natives, saw a better fit.
Sometimes it's not the program. Often times it's not the money or the prestige. It's almost never the nefarious things people tend to imagine are going on behind the scenes.
It's just the nature of the game.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.