"Generally, I'm really pleased with where we're at in this class," Rodriguez told reporters gathered in the team room at the Puskar Center. "I think there's a lot of athleticism on both sides of the ball. We addressed our needs with some big guys on both sides of the ball. I think we signed a couple of outstanding quarterbacks, and I thought our staff did a nice job. We had lost a few coaches after the bowl game, so I thought that the rest of the coaches did a nice job of picking up the slack, going out there and continuing our recruiting momentum."
Following West Virginia's 38-35 win over Georgia Tech in last month's Gator Bowl, the Mountaineers lost three assistant coaches to other programs. Assistant head coach and offensive line mentor Rick Trickett took a similar postion at Florida State. Wide receivers coach Butch Jones was named head coach at Central Michigan. Perhaps the biggest blow to West Virginia's recruiting efforts for this class was the loss of tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Herb Hand, who took a job as co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Tulsa.
The loss of nearly one-third of the coaching staff may seem like a huge obstacle to overcome, but the timing came so late in the recruiting game that it didn't change a whole lot of West Virginia's plan for the final few weeks leading up to signing day.
"It was a little extra work, but when you have three coaches leave you still have six (coaches staying) plus myself which is seven on the road," Rodriguez explained. "That's the NCAA limit on the road anyway. The most you can have on the road is seven. All it did was mean that those seven were going to cover everybody else. The hard part was the timing, and that happens to everybody. When a coach leaves, all of the sudden those young men that he was recruiting and primarily responsible for fall onto somebody else. That's difficult to do because the (coach taking over their recruitment) hasn't established a relationship with them."
A few weeks ago, Rodriguez announced the hiring of Greg Frey as offensive line coach, and Rod Smith as quarterbacks coach (filling the void left by Hand as former QB coach Bill Stewart will now coach tight ends). Both coaches came to West Virginia from Big East foe South Florida. Though they were hired before the signing period began, neither Frey nor Smith will have their fingerprints on this class.
"Rod and Greg were hired so late that we didn't have them go after or recruit the guys that they were recruiting at South Florida," Rodriguez Said. What we'll do is sit down as a staff next week, and get our areas established with where we're going to put Rod at and where we're going to put Greg at, then let them go ahead and start."
Of the 25 players West Virginia signed, as many as 16 could end up on the defensive side of the ball. The class is heavy with linebackers and defensive backs, which were two positions of need for the Mountaineers. Though it's no guarantee that any of the signees will provide immediate help, Rodriguez does hope that they will provide instant competition at each individual position.
"The goal, I think, of every Division I football program is to have competition at every position to elevate everybody's play," said Rodriguez, who has now signed his seventh class since taking over the program following the 2000 season. "We really felt that we needed that, particularly at linebacker and at corner on our defense. You don't have to get a junior college guy to do that, but you have to sign some guys that you think can compete there. I think that we addressed that in this class."
Two signees – safety P.J. Shirdan and running back Terence Kerns – have suffered knee injuries. Shirdan missed his entire senior season at Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill, Pa. recovering from the injury, while Kerns had surgery after the season to repair a torn ACL. Despite their injuries, though, Rodriguez and his staff never wavered on their commitment to the two players.
"I think that most coaches would tell you this: if we make a commitment to a young man and they make a commitment to us, we're going to keep that commitment even if he gets hurt," Rodriguez said. "I've heard stories where coaches back out of their commitment or whatever, and to me that's not right. If they make a commitment to you and you stick with it, then you make a commitment to them. We'll stick with them if they get injured, we just hope that they do what they have to do with treatments and all of that. P.J. Shirdan has done that, and Terence Kerns has done that."
The 25 signatures received prior to the press conference will likely not be the last ones to come through the fax machine this year. Rodriguez noted that a few players have remaining obstacles with regards to qualifying academically, which would open up a few more spots. Rodriguez also said that he hopes to have a new wide receivers coach named within the next two weeks.