EXCLUSIVE: Former Colleagues of Lesley Believe He is the Answer for WVU
UPDATE: Since the release of this article, Jordan Lesley has been named co-defensive coordinator alongside defensive backs coach Jahmile Addae.
In what was expected to already be an abnormal season for West Virginia's second-year head coach Neal Brown, the recent events that took place surrounding now-former defensive coordinator Vic Koenning made things even more challenging.
In mid-June, sophomore safety and Charleston, WV native Kerry Martin Jr. took to Twitter to release some thoughts on Koenning's treatment of the players, citing politics, religion, and ethnicity being brought up in conversations during practices and/or meetings.
After a month-long investigation, Koenning and West Virginia "mutually agreed" to part ways. Now, West Virginia will have to shake up some of the coaching responsibilities on the defensive side of the ball and according to a source close Mountaineer Maven, defensive line coach Jordan Lesley is "expected" to be the new defensive coordinator.
Over the last week, I have talked with a handful of people who have worked with or been around Lesley during his coaching career and each respective party had nothing but great things to say about him.
"My experience with him was very positive. He was a leader on the field and was a hard-nosed player and whatever you needed from him, you got. He wasn't a flashy athlete or anything, but he was a hard-nosed football player," former Troy head coach Larry Blakeney told Mountaineer Maven.
Aside from playing for Blakeney from 2000-04, Lesley served as a grad assistant under his watch in 2006.
Blakeney also mentioned how surprised he was with the news surrounding his former colleague, Vic Koenning, calling him "one of the best guys I've ever been around." Despite his relationship with Koenning, Blakeney knows that the situation is a tough one for Lesley to step into, but has the utmost confidence in his ability to get the players back together and get them heading in the right direction.
"It's pretty late in the game when all this took place and you don't want to change a whole lot. I think it's a wise decision to try to hire somebody like Jordan and I really think Jordan can do the job. This ole boy can get it done, I promise you that, he'll get it done. He's got a good personality and he was raised right. I think Jordan Lesley is a high-quality man and that leads to being the high-quality coach he is in my opinion. He's one of my favorites of all-time."
As for what kind of defense the Mountaineers would run under Lesley, Blakeney doesn't have much of an idea, but feels that he would take bits and pieces of what he has learned throughout his previous coaching stops to form his scheme. Although we were informed that the coaching staff has been going over the playbook and making some changes, Blakeney believes it won't be that much of a change from what Koenning ran.
"I'd say it's exact, but I don't know. I haven't talked to them about their scheme, but they're probably in some even-odd type scheme where they can do whatever they need to do to depending whether you're in the gun, or the power-I or whatever. They may say they're 4-3, they may say they're 50, but it doesn't matter. They are going to be able to get in from one to the other pretty easily."
Continuing the Troy connection, Mountaineer Maven spoke with Troy play-by-play caller, Barry McKnight. He echoed much of the same sentiments that Blakeney referred to and believes Lesley is ready for this responsibility.
"Jordan does a GREAT job relating to players and establishing a rapport with them, but I think his three main strengths are his intelligence (he’s laid back, but country smart), his relatability (he’s a GREAT recruiter), and his ability to get the most out of his guys. He can size up a player in just a few reps and can almost immediately sense where he should be playing and how he should be used. What you want to watch out for is listening to his Mississippi drawl and laid-back manner; you might miss two things, he’s likely the smartest man in the room and he’s DEFINITELY the most competitive."
The third and final former colleague of Lesley's I was able to speak with was the former head coach of Northwest Mississippi C.C., Ricky Woods. Lesley was the team's defensive coordinator in 2012 and helped the Rangers to an 8-2 record. Woods' intentions were to initially have him (Lesley) be a defensive assistant, but that all changed with the suggestion of another coach on staff.
"I had a veteran defensive coordinator (Andy Greening) who coached at Division-II and he came back to help me at junior college. Greening came and told me that this is the guy [Lesley] we probably need to make the defensive coordinator and I'll just coach the linebackers," Woods said with a laugh. "We were both older guys and I was really impressed with how he handled himself around the kids at his age. He was really good. I knew he was going to do really well and I knew he wanted to be a Division-I coach and shoot, he helped us win a bunch of games.
"I didn't even know Jordan and actually after I hired him and we got to talking, I didn't know he grew up with my niece's husband - I didn't even know that when I hired him. But Coach Greening knew a little bit of him and knew some guys that knew him and he just gravitated towards that spot (defensive coordinator) and it was really Coach Greening's idea."
Although he was unfamiliar with Lesley at first, Woods and his wife, Susan, welcomed Lesley into their home, and ever since, they have remained close to one another.
"Jordan lived with me and my wife for three months before he found a place and my wife thinks the world of him - he's sorta part of the family. Every time he gets close to the area, he comes through anytime he can. He'll call every now and then and I'll call him."
Something that Blakeney, McKnight, and Woods all mentioned was his ability to relate to the players and how the players love being around him. Woods detailed that along with a few other things that impressed him during his one year at Northwest Mississippi.
"He's just got a personality that everyone wants to gravitate to. He's real genuine, he's real honest, and he's really smart and you put those three things together and you've got a pretty good guy," he stated. "If he has such a relationship with those players right now and they trust him, then he would definitely be the guy to bring them all back together. Like I said, the kids are going to gravitate to Jordan. He's going to be good to them and he's going to expect a lot out of them. Somebody's got to give them a sense of direction and he's a guy who can do that."
Over the years, Lesley has built the persona of being a hard worker and film junky. His advanced knowledge of the game is what has helped him elevate through the coaching ranks as quickly as he has. Woods can attest to that.
"He also studies the game a lot. Whenever you go by his office, he's always studying film and a lot of the film was from major universities that would send him game tapes and he would sit and watch their defense and learn what they were telling him. He was just real eager to learn.
"He's really smart speaking of just on the field, but my main thing is he has so much energy at practice. He's never tired or in a bad mood. A lot of these young coaches are a lot better than they know because a lot of us older coaches are set in our way, but he really brought the fun to practice. I'm a 39-year veteran and my first 20 years, I didn't think you were supposed to have fun at practice - just watching him sort of made me change a little bit. But he'll be coaching as long as he walks through the door, he's just that type of guy.
"This is not a surprise to me, I'm telling ya. I knew he was going to do well. I mean you just know you got some guys that are going to make it and I knew he would be the one."
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