West Virginia University football head coach Neal Brown announced that the 2020 edition of the Mountaineer defense will be led by a committee of coaches and not a defensive coordinator. This is following the “mutual agreement” by former defensive coordinator Vic Koenning and Neal Brown to part ways after mistreatment allegations by sophomore safety Kerry Martin Jr.
Essentially, you can say defensive backs coach Jahmile Addae and defensive line coach Jordan Lesley are co-defensive coordinators after Lesley was appointed to oversee the front of the defense, and Addae was chosen to oversee the back of the defense, but that’s not how it was announced.
There were other shifts within the defensive coaching staff. Dontae Wright, who was hired in February to coach the outside linebackers, has taken over the safeties, a responsibility that was held by Koenning. Jeff Casteel served as defensive coordinator for the Mountaineers from 2003-2011 (under three different head coaches - Rich Rodriguez, Bill Stewart, and Dana Holgorsen) was brought back in January as a defensive analyst and is being promoted to outside linebackers' coach. Jeff Koonz will remain at inside linebackers and still oversee special teams.
There was a glaring piece of the puzzle that was missing in the announcement, it did not state who will be calling the plays on Saturdays (Most likely Jordan Lesley).
You can start a list of reasons why Brown chose a "committee" based on speculation but after getting to know Neal Brown over the past year and a half, I'm confident in saying he wants to address this and some of the other glaring questions at his next media availability personally.
It is an interesting decision nonetheless. From the outside looking in, it does seem like an unconventional approach.
West Virginia already has co-offensive coordinators on the offensive side of the ball in Chand Scott (running backs) and Gerad Parker (wide receivers) but Brown is an intricate part of the game plan and calls the plays.
I do not have any statistics on success rates on a program that has four co-coordinators but based on memory, I’m fairly confident no program has won a championship with such a blueprint. Championships or not, I have never heard of co-coordinators on both sides of the ball, although I'm sure it has been done before. That, however, does not mean it can’t be successful.
What is the measure of the success of the 2020 edition of the Mountaineer defense? West Virginia ranked sixth in total yards (399.3 ypg) and passing (239.9 ypg) and seventh in rushing (159.4 ypg) in the Big 12 Conference. To have success, they will need to get in the top half of all three categories. I guess how much that improvement is and how far they move up will be key to determining the amount of success the defense will have.
Before the pandemic, ultimately you wanted to see improvement across the board and be at the top of the defensive categories in the Big 12 and the NCAA.
But, missing spring practice and not being able to get reps for the young corners that have to replace seniors Keith Washington and Hakeem Bailey was detrimental in the progression of the defense.
Not having the spring period may have tempered expectations for some, but having Dante and Darius Stills, Josh Chandler, and Tykee Smith highlighting the defense probably didn't move the needle for others.
Then, following Koenning's departure, the confidence surrounding the defense may have faltered a bit, being that he was the architect of the defense that held their opponents to an average of just 19 points in the final three games of the season.
However, during unprecedented times, expect the unexpected and whether or not it will be successful this season, hinges on their performance on Saturdays.
At first glance, the decision does seem a bit odd but an unorthodox approach might be what is needed to navigate these uncharted waters, then again, maybe not. It is an interesting concept though.
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