Differing Philosophies

Few would dispute that the West Virginia University football team will play the 2011 season with two of the premier coordinators in college football on the coaching staff in defensive boss Jeff Casteel and offensive guru Dana Holgorsen. But the two men have one noteworthy difference in the way they each find success.

As Holgorsen has fielded a seemingly endless series of questions about his football philosophy since accepting the job as the Mountaineers' offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and head coach in waiting, many interesting nuggets have come to the surface.

One of those came when Holgorsen revealed that he and his staff of offensive coaches would install the core elements of his system within the first three days of spring practice, and despite that pace, he didn't expect much in the way of confusion from his players.

The obvious question was then asked: how is that even remotely possible?

The descendant of the Hal Mumme and Mike Leach school of offensive football explained that he does his best to keep things simple for his players. The terminology, Holgorsen said, just makes sense. The way he teaches the system has been polished after seeing it done at Texas Tech, and then doing so again, first at Houston and then at Oklahoma State.

And one of the lessons Holgorsen learned from those years of experience was to quickly identify where players are best suited to play and then keep them there. Moving people around to different positions -- even from inside to outside receiver, he explained -- keeps those players from grasping the nuances of one position.

Better to be a master of one, in Holgorsen's estimation, than a Jack-of-all-trades.

This is in sharp contrast to what Casteel has done with West Virginia's 3-3-5 stack defense, one that is filled with interchangeable parts at almost every position.

Jeff Casteel
Safeties are asked to step up and play cornerback on certain third down defensive packages. Defensive linemen might play multiple spots within the same game, and almost always play multiple positions during their careers.

Casteel, the linebackers' position coach, said heading into the spring he didn't know who his leaders were at weak-side, strong-side and middle. All he knew was he would work to find the three best players in spring practice and worry about who would line up where later.

There are obvious benefits to this approach. When a player goes down due to injury or suspension, there are multiple options to fill the gap. Casteel can slide a starter at another position over to the vacant spot if he's more comfortable with a backup at a different position.

Think of former WVU defensive lineman Scooter Berry and his injury-and-suspension plagued 2009 season. Casteel opted to move Julian Miller from his typical defensive end position to play Berry's tackle spot because he liked the reserves better at end.

The same pattern held when Bruce Irvin emerged on the scene last season and came in to play a rush end position on passing downs and Miller again shifted over to tackle -- a move that is being made permanent this season with the coaching staff hoping Irvin will be an every-down player at defensive end.

There is also the argument that tasking players with learning multiple positions forces them to better learn the overall objectives of the defense on each individual play.

That is one reason the defensive backs were able to disguise coverages so well a season ago -- they were moving as if they were "on a string" as head coach Bill Stewart often said. They knew not only where they needed to be, but where their teammates needed to be. And they responded accordingly.

Of course, the statistics bear out that both men are well within reason with their thought processes.

Holgorsen and his "one man in one place" theory have managed to produce offenses that have ranked no worse than third in the nation in total offense since 2008.

Casteel, of course, was the architect of a 2010 Mountaineer defense that was among the best in school history, shutting down opponent after opponent and finishing third nationally in total defense. He too, has proven himself over the course of several years and no one will question his decision to move his players around.

All of this just shows that there are multiple winning philosophies when it comes to the game of football and that there is no one magical formula to find success.

West Virginia fans will just have to sit back and hope both men can continue to push all the right buttons on their respective sides of the ball -- even if that occasionally means their ideas of what buttons need pushing might differ.

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