Dunlap, WVU To Battle For In-State Supremacy

Former West Virginia defensive coordinator Steve Dunlap has three football letters and a degree from WVU. That doesn't mean he'll have the slightest rooting interest for his alma mater on Saturday.

Dunlap, West Virginia's all-time leading single-season tackler with 190 in 1974, was not retained when WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez was hired in 2001. Since then, the former Mountaineer graduate assistant (1978-81) and 16-year full-time assistant (1984-2000) has moved from Syracuse to NC State and, now, to Marshall, where he is a first-year defensive coordinator for the Thundering Herd. A string of bad luck – head coaches Paul Pasqualoni and Chuck Amato, respectively, were fired from their institutions – led to this move as much as anything. But Dunlap, called a Mountaineer by longtime friend and former fellow assistant Bill Kirelawich, will now do everything he can to beat his alma mater, as he did in 2001 while the Syracuse linebackers coach.

"He is a Mountaineer," reiterated Kirelawich, WVU's defensive line coach. "But he is a Marshall guy now. Believe me, he will do everything he can to win the game for Marshall."

That means employing Dunlap's trademark fire zone (or zone blitz) defense, best known as that run under fourth-year Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. The defense allows coaches to send four to six blitzers on any one play at a variety of angles, the idea being to take away the quick or hot read to a receiver or tight end, then create enough pressure so the remainder of the passing routes cannot be executed before the quarterback, frankly, is. It also serves to shut down the run well because of the zone coverage behind the blitz and because multiple players can overload sections of line blocking.

The defense, usually in a 4-under, 2-deep instead of the 3-under, 3-deep, was utilized at West Virginia by Dunlap, especially when the assistant had rush linebackers Canute Curtis and Gary Stills. The Herd (0-1) is using that base look now out of the 4-3 and it defended Miami reasonably with it considering the speed gap and horrid field position when the offense turned the ball over three times in its own end of the Orange Bowl. Now, however, Dunlap faces his biggest challenge yet in trying to slow quarterback Pat White and superback Steve Slaton.

"Offensively (West Virginia) is very, very explosive," Marshall head coach Mark Snyder said. "There is no where on the field that is safe."

The No. 4 Mountaineers (1-0) will attempt to get one-on-one match-ups for Slaton, White and receiver Darius Reynaud. It has done that in the past with everything from end arounds, zone reads and options to wheel routes and quarterback draws. Dunlap, who knows something about tackling as he still holds the WVU single-game record with 28 vs. Boston College in 1974, is well aware his unit must tackle in open space to have any chance. The Mountaineers were the nation's third ranked rushing team last season. Slaton led the nation in yards per carry with 6.7. Dunlap will counter with a sizeable defensive front and a secondary that was able to hold Miami to 81 yards passing even with the Hurricanes needing to throw until well into the third quarter.

"(Dunlap) has a heck of an imagination and a good defensive attitude," Kirelawich said. "He would be a good guy for Lebeau. He talked with (Cincinnati Bengals head coach) Marvin Lewis and (former New Orleans Saints head coach and current St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator) Jim Haslett. Steve really studied. He looked at hours and hours of film. I thought when this ended (at WVU) that he would be with the Steelers. He knew as much about the fire zone as anybody."

Dunlap has a 1-3 recover overall against West Virginia. After his Syracuse squad defeated Rodriguez's first Mountaineer team 24-13 in 2001 at the Carrier Dome, WVU struck back with three consecutive wins from 2002-04. It outscored the Orange 95-36 in the three victories, including 34-7 and 27-6 at home in 2002 and '04, respectively. Dunlap was the assistant head coach at Syracuse in 2002-03 and the defensive coordinator in 2004. Dunlap and Kirelawich coached West Virginia to its No. 1 overall defensive ranking in 1996, when it allowed the fewest yards in the nation. Dunlap was a Frank Boyles Award finalist following that season as one of the country's best assistants.

"He's a good guy and a good friend," Kirelawich said. "We spent a lot of years together. He is a good coach and a real good game day coach. He is everything good I could say about somebody, a stand-up guy. He is what sports are all about."

In all, Dunlap has been to 14 bowl games and coached in two marquee bowl games that help decide the national title (1989 Fiesta and 1994 Sugar). Both of those were with Kirelawich. But the duo won't be discussing anything this week, let alone past history. Kirelawich said he called Dunlap – who noted that it would always be odd to see his alma mater across the field – after last Saturday's season-opening games, and both agreed not to talk during the week leading into the West Virginia-Marshall contest.

"It always is (difficult)," said Kirelawich. "We don't talk on game week. I'll talk to him Saturday after the game, but we don't want to get into anything on game week."


BlueGoldNews Top Stories