MORGANTOWN - If Geno Smith had his way, Jeff Mullen would be his quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator through the rest of his West Virginia football career.
That sentiment might well change once the sophomore begins working under new offensive coordinator and eventual head coach Dana Holgorsen, but at least for the next week Smith's loyalties rest with Mullen.
And on Tuesday, Smith defended the Mountaineers' lame duck coordinator to the hilt.
"Coach Mullen is a man who people don't see the things he's done for me,'' Smith said. "He took me from a boy who came in not knowing anything about college and a guy who made a lot of mistakes early in my career and molded me into a man with a lot of responsibilities. I'm able to say that I can take care of my business because of him.''
Smith will have only one more chance to work with Mullen, that being next Tuesday's Champs Sports Bowl game against North Carolina State in Orlando. After that, Mullen, offensive line coach Dave Johnson and perhaps all or some of the remaining offensive staff will be out of jobs. Holgorsen, the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, has been hired to replace Mullen following the bowl game and then will become the team's head coach in 2012.
While Smith went to bat for Mullen Tuesday, Mullen and Johnson attempted to deflect the conversation away from them as much as possible, but with mixed results.
While Mullen generally shied away from talking about his ouster, he did point out that the only thing that matters is how they adjust to it all.
"We, as grown-ups, have choices. They don't, so let's worry about them,'' Mullen said. "I think for the most part they're going to be fine. I pray they're going to fine. They're tough kids, resilient kids.''
As for Smith, he wasn't trying to make it a point to run to Mullen's defense. In fact, for the most part, he answered questions that had anything to do with the coaching situation with a simple, "Pass,'' saying he preferred to talk about the bowl game.
Included was a query about what he was thinking about Holgorsen's pass-heavy offense and how he might fit into it.
"I'd be a bad quarterback to my teammates if I was thinking about selfish things like that,'' Smith said.
But where Mullen was concerned, Smith made an exception.
"He teaches me life lessons on a daily basis,'' Smith said. "He's not a guy who is all about the Xs and the Os. He's here genuinely for the players. I appreciate him for that. He was there when I was struggling with the foot injury and going through things and he uplifted me.''