There's no denying that WVU's football team has problems that must be addressed. However, wholesale changes might cause more problems than the original maladies – poor tackling, confusion over assignments and lack of aggressiveness.
The knee-jerk reaction to bad play is to start firing people – coaches, players, administrators, maintenance guys, you name it. We've seen plenty of that from fans and the drive-by media in the past week. Wholesale changes and abandonment of ideas that a few weeks ago were being universally praised are also included in those pundits' get-well schemes for the Mountaineers. And, just like the rantings of a chosen few on-line hacks, those proposals are wrong, because they might cause more damage in the long run.
Take, for example, West Virginia's shuffling of players at linebacker and in the defensive secondary. In week one, it took all of one series for a change to be made at mike linebacker. Week two saw the shifting of Mortty Ivy to a new position, with yet another change for another starter (John Holmes) on the outside. Spurs and bandits have been swapped out as well. But despite all the shifting, the problems remained, and in fact, worsened in week two.
That begs the question: Might the moving around just be causing more confusion for a defense that has struggled to consistently execute its assignments, let alone make solid football plays, during the first two weeks of the 2008 season?
To their credit, a pair of West Virginia's best defenders says no.
I wouldn't say it's affecting us," linebacker J.T. Thomas said. "You still have to do your job. We put Mortty at middle linebacker, and I think he did a good job. [The position moves] don't really cause any confusion. It's still a gap assignment defense. You just have to do your job. We just didn't execute as well as we should have. It will take us time to build chemistry on the defense."
Ivy, the subject of a move himself, agreed.
"No, it's not that," Ivy said of the suggestion that moves were part of the problem. "We worked together a whole week. We just have to execute better. ECU came out fired up, played hard, and we got beat. We didn't come out like we were supposed to."
Despite the denials, the thought lingers. Ivy and Thomas are veteran players who are likely to be less affected by changes than younger players with less experience. They also aren't likely to point the finger of blame at anything other than their own play. They are leaders, and are going to accept responsibility for shortcomings. But that doesn't negate the fact that WVU continues to play tentatively.
Which brings us back to the initial question – is making wholesale changes the right move to correct problems that much of the coaching staff attributes to lack of experience? Players aren't going to get quality repetitions if they are being moved about, and if schemes are changed from week to week. At the same time, doing nothing is not the right answer either.
In the end, it's the same old Mr. Miyagi theme – balance – that probably provides the best answer. While it's true that underperforming players should not get unlimited chances, it's also true that they have to be given the opportunity to make a few mistakes and build on those to improve.
The difficulty is in determining the limits. How many missed tackles before being pulled? ho many missed assignments before the understudy gets a shot with the first team? In making those changes, you have to recognize that you're probably moving the learning curve back again, and opening the door for further learning mistakes. The hope, of course, is better play in the long run, but for fans and howling media ready to bury a program after a couple of backward steps, the patience required to execute such a strategy just isn't present.
Coaches can't worry about that, however, no matter how far the noise level rises. Conducting the juggling act of making changes is one of the most difficult for a coach on any level to achieve. And as he applies the corrective action that he thinks best, he has to hope that the cure isn't worse than the disease.