First Steps

The grounds of Milan Puskar Stadium have been in a figurative state of upheaval for a while now, what with coaching changes, new offensive systems and pending NCAA sanctions. Still, there was a realtive calm in the weeks running up to spring drills when another coaching defection added a ripple to the waters.

For 2011, at least, everything was thought to be settled and in place on the coaching front. That was, of course, until wide receivers coach Lonnie Galloway opted to take the same position at Wake Forest with Huntington, W. Va. native Jim Grobe.

For a while it looked as if newly-appointed inside receivers coach Shannon Dawson would temporarily fulfill those duties, until the fault lines of change shifted once more. From the most recent shift emerged Daron Roberts, a 31-year old coach looking to make his mark on the sport.

Roberts comes to the Mountaineers after serving two seasons with the Detroit Lions as an assistant secondary coach and two more with the Kansas City Chiefs as a volunteer and defensive quality control assistant.

Roberts has NFL experience -- this can't be ignored. However, the question on most Mountaineer fans' minds surrounds the amount of experience he has at the college level, how he will recruit and how he fits in with the rest of the coaching staff.

"I told these kids I'm going to coach them like I would coach in the pros," Roberts said directly following West Virginia's first spring practice. "It's what I know. On the field, we aren't buddies. I want to treat them like professionals. When that's all done, I want them to know they can trust and confide in me outside of practice."

Roberts conducts himself like a professional, stemming from his background in law and politics. He also wishes to maintain a level of common personality to show that he is capable of separating himself from his work to deal with matters on a more casual level. With all of the questions he knew he'd face on his first day of work, he balanced both demeanors quite well.

The professional background, which included a law degree and work in government, however, was overtaken bu his love of football. After a few years in the legal and government worlds, he decided to pursue his passion.

"There was a friend I played high school football with and I attended a camp with him at South Carolina under Steve Spurrier. That's when I knew I wanted to coach," he said. "From what I saw and learned from the coaches and talking to kids, I knew football was the best way to related to them about anything."

The generation gap between Roberts and college kids isn't as vast as is the case with many coaches in the business. In fact, it's a goal and a commitment he has taken initiative to build independently. He sees football as a conduit, a means through which he can connect with players about life and education. To that end, he founded 4th-and-1, a football camp that includes not only football training, but SAT preparation, professional values and life guidance with no cost to the participants.

The Longview, Tex., native has no college playing or coaching experience, which may weigh in on both sides of the ledger as he begins his collegiate career. His years of learning and coaching under some of the best minds in the highest level of the sport will serve him well. His youth, desire to learn and lack of convention may also help him develop his own methods for training and teaching kids how to play. He'll bring a fresh perspective to college coaching and be able to view things with an new eye.

On the other side of the coin, it may be a hindrance, as he will now be coaching mostly raw, underdeveloped products that could challenge his ability to learn on the fly. Recruiting may be the biggest question mark on his resume, but he has the benefit of an entire recruiting year to show his worth.

Roberts brims with excitement now that he is officially a member of the Mountaineers' coaching staff. He smiles when he talks about football, his eyes gleam every time he hears his name associated with the team and his highly educated manner of pontification demonstrates his passion for the game. Overall, he seems very happy to be part of a BCS-caliber football program, and particularly to be in West Virginia.

"When the opportunity presented itself (to come to WVU), I had people tell me, 'Go there.' I've only been here three days and everyone has been very nice to me. It seems like everyone around here is very passionate about football and this team and I have people at the hotel and at gas stations asking me questions. It's nice."

If the cliché is true and first impressions are indeed the most important, Daron Roberts has passed the eye-ear-and-handshake test. Now he faces the next steps -- learning the Holgorsen offensive system, incorporating his coaching methods, and working with younger players than he has through his NFL career.

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