Looking for Candidates

It's not an election year, but candidates are uppermost on the minds of Mountaineer football fans in the wake of Phil Elmassian's departure from the football program.

A list of possibilites for the vacated defensive coordinator's position has begun to grow, starting with some current members of the defensive staff.

Defensive line coach Jeff Casteel has the most experience, having served as a defensive coordinator at Shepherd College from 1991-1999. Castell only has two years of Division 1A coaching experience, but that puts him at the head of list on the WVU defensive staff.

Linebackers coach Todd Graham, a player favorite for his infectious enthusiasm and positive slant, is also drawing mention, but has even less Division 1 experience. Graham's only job on that level was his past season at WVU. However, he was the defensive coordinator at East Central Oklahaom from 1991-1993, and served as a head coach at two different high schools.

The youngster of the group is defensive backs coach Tony Gibson, who is also in his first season in Division 1. Gibson's highest level prior to this past season was a two year stint as defensive coordinator at WVU Tech.

None of this is to say that any of these candidates should be ruled out because of inexperience. At some point, you have to give someone without any experience a chance - otherwise, they'll never get any experience. That's a Catch-22 that prevents many promising young talents from advancing as rapidly as they should.

Another coach on the early list is Dean Hood, who served as Rich Rodriguez' defensive coordinator at Glenville. Hood has a bit more experience than the three remaining defensive staffers, but not a great deal more so. Hood was the defensive coordinator at Wake Forest last year, and was a coordinator for two years at Eastern Kentucky for two seasons before serving a term at Ohio University as a defensive backs coach.

Hood was on Rodriguez' original list of candidates, but an agreement on duties wasn't able to be worked out before Hood went to Wake Forest. Wake's defense gave up 28 points per game in 2001. They did limit opponents to 3.7 yards per rush, but gave up 245 yard passing per game.

There are probably other candidates and other options that aren't as clear yet. A veteran coach could be brought in to help balance out the youth of the staff. If one of the defensive coaches is elevated to coordinator, another young coach could be brought in, such as former Mountaineer linebacker Chris Haering, who is currently the head coach at Mt. Lebanon High School in Pennsylvania, or Mike Springston, currently the head coach at WVU Tech, even though he is an offensive guy.

The other issue in the replacement is the timetable. A new coach could be named in January, but it's just as likely that one will not be named until after signing day. With Elmassian not directly involved in recruiting, WVU's focus must first be to get the talented players they are involved with committed to West Virginia.

No matter how it plays out, there's no doubt that the choice will have a huge bearing on WVU's immediate football fortunes. WVU needs to right its defensive ship quickly. If another "bad" choice is made that doesn't pan out, the football program could take a big slide. That's a lot of pressure for Rodriguez. Hiring a new coach to mesh with an existing staff is difficult at best, and it's far from an exact science.


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