The announcement of Tony Gibson as defensive coordinator, first provided by BlueGoldNews.com on its premium board, became official, as did the assignments of Damon Cogdell as the defensive line coach and Joe DeForest as the safeties coach, in addition to his special teams duties. Gibson will coach the linebackers spot vacated by former WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. Holgorsen will make the final assistant hire within the next week-plus. The coach said he was looking for the "best available" and the hire could come on either side of the ball.
"Being a Mountaineer is important to Tony," Holgorsen said. "Nobody cares about being a Mountaineer and the state of West Virginia than Tony and I think that goes a long way. You've seen that pattern with the hires over the last few years. When I announced it to the team the other day, it got a standing ovation. They respect him."
Holgorsen also announced that the Mountaineers, who will remain a three-man front under Gibson, will hold four open practices around the state. The schedule is to play in Wheeling on March 22, in Morgantown on March 29, in Charleston on April 5 and in Morgantown for the Gold-Blue spring game on April 12. All sessions will be open to the public. Times have not yet been released.
"We want all of Mountaineer Nation to come and see it," Holgorsen said. "Come and support the team and show support to us and we will show you the hard work that we have put in that hopefully makes you proud of us in 2014. … I understand everybody wants to win and how much it means to everybody. We are going to work harder and have more continuity and have more experience. There were some exciting games out there last year that we just happened to come up a couple points short in. Come and watch and see what you think. Our guys are working hard and are excited about 2014. I do think the product is improved and we will put something out there that you will be proud of."
Holgorsen also announced that quarterback Clint Trickett will not physically participate in all of the spring drills. He will gradually work into throwing as the practices progress. Linebackers Wes Tonkery and Jared Barber (knee) will miss spring drills. Both will be full go around July 1. Offensive lineman Tyler Tezeno will miss the majority of spring ball after knee surgery. Players coming off injury or other limiting status and cleared and ready to practice include safety Malik Greaves, linebacker Shaq Petteway, running backs Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie, defensive lineman Christian Brown, safety Ricky Rumph and corner Nana Kyeremeh. Also, West Virginia has named five spring captains: Michael Molinari, Quinton Spain, Cody Clay, Karl Joseph and Nick Kwiatkowski. Those captain slots honors will hold only through the spring.
The Mountaineers are currently in the midst of winter conditioning. Holgorsen said WVU held nine early morning workout sessions and will have two more in the coming week. The Mountaineers have also held six sessions where the coaching staff can meet and show film. They will have two more next week.
"They've been doing a great job," Holgorsen said. "Mike (Joseph, head strength coach) and his staff do a phenomenal job of utilizing the weight room. The space in the indoor (practice facility) for an offseason has been tremendous. We've had six good weeks of work. The goal is to get bigger, faster, stronger and healthy. We have accomplished that to this point."
Holgorsen confirmed March 2 as the start date for spring drills. The coach noted that he's pleased to have 70-plas players on scholarship, reiterating that it helps to have a more full practice experience with greater depth. West Virginia is likely to hold all the non-padded sessions in the IPF.
"We are planning to try to get three non-padded practices in, a lot of teaching," Holgorsen said of the initial week. "Lot of teaching inside all three days. That leads into spring break. When we come back, we will have four weeks for the meat of the schedule. We will have 12 practices, all able to be padded. That'll be the majority of the work. We set four Saturday practices (around the state)."
Holgorsen said, despite the change in defensive coordinators, the overall styles and schemes would remain the same. There will be minute changes on all three sides of the ball, including a move to a left-right format for cornerback play as opposed to the field-boundary used under Keith Patterson. That serves multiple purposes, among the foremost is that the coaches teach the same thing to both corners, and thus the depth increases as one isn't teaching one style to half and another style to half. Second, Gibson said, the speed of Big 12 play doesn't allow much time for players to flop to the wider or shorter sides of the field. This way, an individual play their side. The secondary will also use a backpedal in coverage as opposed to the slide step used last season. Corners coach Brian Mitchell and Gibson believe that their corners have a better foundation after a season in the program and Mitchell thinks it's a superior set-up and that players can now execute.
"All three schemes will be relatively similar to what we were last season on all three sides," Holgorsen said. "You always have to evaluate what you're doing and see if you can do it better. Hopefully, the outcomes will be a bit better based on having 70 scholarship guys healthy and ready to roll."
Holgorsen said he was most impressed with the linebacker depth on defense. He also praised incoming quarterback Skyler Howard – who will be available for spring drills – as a workout warrior, but noted that he couldn't truly comment on his execution or style prior to watching him in live drills. Because of injuries, WVU has moved former Logan Moore to quarterback fulltime. Moore and Paul Millard give the Mountaineers three arms for practices. Holgorsen also said the "running back room has a bunch of experience and depth and that he went slower than he ever did in terms of time between snaps last season and that he doesn't like proposed rule that would force a team to wait at least 10 seconds between snaps.
West Virginia opens with the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta on August 30. The Mountaineers also play Towson at home and against Maryland before the nine-game Big 12 slate.
"We are the ones that made the schedule," Holgorsen said when asked about the difficulty. "I OK'd it. We are trying to schedule as many high-profile games as we can. I think that'll be the future of college football. Oliver (Luck, WVU's Director of Athletics) has the foresight for that. Will it be challenging? Absolutely. But we wanted to be relevant and be in a situation in which we are playing as high of competition as possible."