Over the last two months West Virginia has been forced to reshuffle its coaching staff after losing offensive line coach Ron Crook to Cincinnati, running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider to Florida and cornerbacks coach Blue Adams to South Florida. While the Mountaineers brought in three new coaches, none have drawn more reaction and fanfare as the hire of Jake Spavital.
That, in part, is because Spavital will be the first offensive coordinator who will call his own plays under Holgorsen's direction. During his first stint at West Virginia (2011 and 2012) the coordinator worked closely with former quarterback Geno Smith, who threw for 42 touchdown passes in what was the most lethal passing attack in school history. But shortly after the 2012 season concluded, Spavital accepted a position as a full time offensive coordinator at Texas A&M and spent three seasons with the Aggies before taking the same position at the University of California year ago.
"After I left I the 2012 season I wanted to go out and try (calling plays) on my own," explained Spavital. "I thought over the course of three years at Cal and Texas A&M I grew as a play caller and as a coach and over those years Dana and I have had many conversations about philosophy and how to move the ball and all of those years of conversation and me doing it on my own has led to coming back to Morgantown."
During his time away from the mountain state Spavital worked with some of the best offensive minds in the country in Kevin Sumlin and Sonny Dykes and coached come pretty decent quarterbacks as well (names like Johnny Manziel, Kyle Allen and Davis Webb come to mind). So what did he learn and how has he grown over that time period?
"There’s a lot of living and learning with calling plays but you have to put these kids in the position to go out there and have success. You can’t ask a kid to go out there and do something that he’s not comfortable or not capable of doing. That was a lot of the growing up that I had to do over the years. The scheme may have been great but we didn’t have the right players at those positions so you have to adapt to the personnel you have and you have to go out there and put those kids in the best position to go out there and have success"
In other words, as it pertains to offensive personnel, don't try to fit a square peg in a round hole. And that's something Spavital's mentor, head coach Dana Holgorsen, has been adept at over the past two seasons as suited his offense to fit the abilities of Skyler Howard and reworked his offense to become more run oriented. And when asked about the biggest difference between West Virginia's program in 2012 and now in 2017, Spavital said he sees much different body types on the Mountaineers' roster.
"When I was at Texas A&M the personnel was kind of where Dana has evolved to with fullback and tight end body types. When I got to Cal there wasn’t any tight ends so I had to use a lot of 10 personnel looks (one running back, no tight end) to move the ball but I think the best the offensive minds get the best 11 out there and find a way to move the ball efficiently. Just from a recruiting stand point you see a change in the profile of kids. They’re bigger up front, they’re more physical, they’re tougher and the running backs are very impressive."
So even though Davis Webb threw over 600 passing attempts at Cal a year ago, don't expect to see any less of an emphasis on the running game in 2017.
"I think (Justin) Crawford is one of the top guys in the country and you want to get that guy the ball as many times as you can," said Spavital. "Especially with Will Grier and his arm talent. When you look at all that and the speed of the receivers I think Dana has evolved with where he’s recruited. You can tell that he’s got a plan and he’s going with it so I’m excited to go with it.