Learning Curve Arcs In Both Directions for WVU’s Xavier Dye, Receivers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — One of the primary areas of focus in West Virginia’s 2019 spring football season has been one of adjustment. Much of that has come from the players’ perspective, as they learn new systems, techniques, and even how to practice under the new staff, which had no holdovers from the previous group of 11 on-field coaches.
That learning also has run in the opposite direction, as the incoming coaches have had to learn about the players they will be working with, and how they best can be utilized in what figures to be a challenging transitional season. The veterans on Neal Brown’s staff have been through this multiple times, giving them experience on the process, but for wide receivers coach Xavier Dye, it’s a new challenge, this being his first full assistant job at the FBS level.
Dye’s path is something of a rarity. While many coaches have to work their way up the ladder from smaller schools, he made a quantum leap. He had assistant stints at a pair of South Carolina high schools around one year as a quality control coach at Western Carolina, but then jumped back to the Tiger program as an offensive graduate assistant in 2017 and 2018. For many, the next step would be a full time assistant’s job at an FCS or lower-level FBS school, but Dye was tabbed by Brown to coach the Mountaineer wide receivers in the Big 12.
He admits that he’s still learning — “I don’t know everything yet,” he interjects — but he has been disciplined in the process.
“A lot of the stuff we did at Clemson,” he said of the things he has to teach in Brown’s system. “Some of it is different terminology, and I have to know how (Brown) wants it coached. I write everything down and then read over it so I can coach my guys up.”
Some techniques are the same across any offense, such has how to break contact with defensive backs or how to close their pursuit off once they get an advantage in the route. Other items are different. That’s just the on-the-field aspect, which is only part of Dye’s learning curve. There’s also learning his players and what they respond to.
“These are young guys,” he said of his receivers, who are all freshmen or sophomores outside of junior T.J. Simmons. “Some, you can’t coach them as hard, because you don’t know them as well. If I’m the coach that recruited them, I can coach them a little bit harder, because I know their background You just try to nurture that and make sure your message is getting across the right way.”
One of the main rewards Dye has at his disposal is the potential for playing time, and with little returning experience outside that of Simmons and Marcus Simms, who remains out while dealing with a personal issue, there are plenty of snaps available.
“That’s one of the good things about this offense. A lot of guys can play,” said Dye, who experienced that himself in the similar system at Clemson. “It’s not just one guy getting the ball all the time. A lot of guys can touch the ball.”
Dye is also working with inside receivers and tight ends coach Travis Trickett, at times swapping players during skill development drills and looking for cross-training opportunities.
“We’ve been working together really well, and trying to divvy up everything we do,” he said of Trickett, who has experience coaching quarterbacks and receivers while also serving as offensive coordinator at Samford, Florida Atlantic and Georgia State. “Sometimes we will send them to each other during drills if we are working on something specific. If you can do it all, play both inside and outside, we’d love that. That makes you even more valuable if we can play you at any position. The important thing is learning the concept of the play. If you learn that, you have a great chance of getting in the game.”
For both sides of the coach-player relationship, repetitions are probably the most important item at this point. For Dye, it’s the running of drills, the day-to-day interactions with players and learning to deal with the many added responsibilities of a Power 5 assistant coach. He saw it done at Clemson, but now the pressure is on him to figure out how to get the most out of each of his players. For those mostly young pass catchers, it’s developing knowledge of the system and developing rapport with each other and with their quarterbacks.
To that end, Dye believes that getting passes from four different throwers during the spring is beneficial.
“Getting different balls thrown at them, it’s good for them. It’s good for the quarterbacks too. At this time of year, it’s fine,” he said. “They need that. It can affect timing, but it’s good for both the quarterbacks and receivers, because you can adjust to what you are getting.”
Just a couple of months into the entire process, and only three weeks into work on the practice field, Dye is realistic concerning the progress to date and the outlook for the future.
“I think we are getting better, but we are still a long way away. We are trying to cut down on mistakes, and we can do a better job of preparing more on our own,” he said, echoing a message of other assistants who are pushing their players on the proper ways to study and get ready for practice. “Those guys are hungry for the opportunity. You can see it when they are working out. They are pushing each other, and that’s the mentality you have to have.”