Many big questions for the 2020 Mountaineers deal with on-field issues, but there are certainly some focused on the sideline as well.
That’s particularly true of West Virginia’s defensive coaching staff, which features just two of the five assistant coaches who were mentoring the unit in 2019.
Jahmile Addae (cornerbacks) and Jordan Lesley (defensive line) are the only two defensive assistants returning from 2019, as outside linebacker coach Al Pogue left to take a job at Auburn and inside linebacker coach Blake Seiler moved on to Old Dominion to become the Monarchs’ defensive coordinator.
Those two absences were known shortly after last season was completed, and WVU’s second-year head coach Neal Brown had time to do a deep search, coming up with Dontae Wright (originally slated to coach outside linebackers but now working with the safeties) and Jeff Koonz (inside linebackers).
Then in the summer, a bomb exploded within the Mountaineers, and veteran defensive coordinator/safeties coach Vic Koenning agreed to “mutually separate” from the program after being accused by sophomore safety K.J. Martin of making insensitive comments, especially in areas of religion and politics.
Thus Brown was forced in late July to make another adjustment to his defensive staff. He was fortunate to have an excellent candidate already in his employ, as Jeff Casteel, who has spent 32 years coaching in the college ranks, 27 of them as a defensive coordinator, had returned to the Mountaineer program last spring to work as an analyst. Brown promoted Casteel to a full-time assistant’s job, overseeing WVU’s outside linebackers. He also moved Wright to coach the safeties. Addae and Lesley will share the coordinator responsibilities.
That’s a lot of change in one offseason. How will it all work out?
Will the coaching changes hamper the defense? The hybrid defense installed by Koenning for the 2019 season took on various looks, employing everything from a 3-2-6 to a 4-2-5 and many alignments in between.
Though Koenning is gone, Addae and Lesley are not going to make major changes to the scheme. They’ll certainly add their own tweaks, but the basics will remain the same.
Huge changes aren’t necessary, as West Virginia returns 11 defensive players who started at least one game last year. And it’s a unit that got much better as the season progressed. After allowing 24 points or more in six of their first seven games, the Mountaineers held four of their final five opponents to 20 points or fewer.
Can WVU’s defense continue its upward trend despite all that turnover within its coaching staff?
Best-case scenario – The hope is West Virginia’s defense continues its strong play in 2020, just as it did when limiting its final five 2019 opponents to an average of 22.4 points per game after allowing 33.4 points per game in its first seven contests.
The new co-coordinators are both good, experienced coaches. Addae has spent 14 years in the coaching profession, while Lesley has been in the business for 15 years. Neither has been a major college coordinator before, but Lesley was a D.C. in the junior college ranks for five years. On top of that, they have Casteel to lean on, and being able to call upon his experience will be extremely valuable.
Other than having to rebuild the cornerback position, these coaches have a lot of experienced players at their disposal on the defensive side and certainly having quality players is the thing every coach needs first and foremost.
Admittedly WVU lost some very good coaches with the departures of Koenning, Seiler and Pogue, but the Mountaineers’ defensive staff still is knowledgeable and experienced.
Considering the players aren’t going to have to adjust to a new scheme, their learning curve should not be very steep, and hopefully they will have little problem continuing to progress.
Worst-case scenario – Obviously the concern is that the turnover in defensive coaches is going to lead to confusion among the players.
Scheme is usually an overrated aspect of football, but still, the architect of WVU’s hybrid defense is now gone. New coaches Casteel, Koonz and Wright have never coached this scheme before, and Addae was part of it for the first time last year. Lesley, who worked this scheme for three years at Troy and last year at WVU, is by far the most experienced with this system.
Teaching the scheme may not be as big a deal as the other aspects that go with coaching football. Three new position coaches mean those players are likely undergoing different fundamental training, even if it’s only slight – a first step here, eyes going there, turning to drop in this manner, ripping through a blocker in that way. There can be many changes, and while most if not all are relatively small, the concern is they will force the defensive player to hesitate and think for a split second rather than just reacting. That split second can be the difference between victory and defeat.
Previously in Best Case\Worst Case