All the focus on the West Virginia University Mountaineer football team seems to center on new head coach Dana Holgorsen and his offense.
After all, Holgorsen’s offense has been among the nations leaders for the past three seasons, at two different schools no less, an unprecedented accomplishment to say the least.
Here is another unprecedented fact about the 2011 version of Mountaineer football: at season's end, the defensive staff will have completed 75 years of coaching in Morgantown.
When tallied, the defensive staff at WVU has over 120 total years of experience coaching young men to play the game of football.
Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jeff Casteel started coaching in 1984 as a graduate assistant at California, Pa. Casteel is entering his 11th season as a defensive coach for WVU.
Assistant head coach Steve Dunlap, also in charge of safeties, started coaching as a graduate assistant at WVU in 1978. Dunlap was the defensive coordinator on Don Nehlen’s staff for 10 years. Overall, Dunlap is entering year number 25 as a defensive coach at WVU.
David Lockwood is in charge of corner backs and has been coaching since 1989, Lockwood also started as a graduate assistant at WVU. Lockwood is the young gun of the group, entering his sixth season in Morgantown.
The greybeard of the bunch, Bill Kirelawich, began coaching in 1970 at Cardinal Brennan High School, Pa., as the head coach. Kirelwich is entering year number 33 on the Mountaineers’ defensive staff and is in charge of the defensive line.
The Mountaineers 2011 football schedule presents an interesting challenge to the defensive staff.
It starts with members of the Mountaineers out of conference opponents.
The season opener against Marshall features John “Doc” Holliday as the Thundering Herd’s head coach. Holliday has a history in Morgantown, ironically. Holliday spent 22 years as a coach at WVU.
Suffice to say the defensive staff for WVU has met Holliday.
Maryland’s new head coach is none other then Randy Edsall, formerly of the University of Connecticut, a member of the Big East conference. Casteel and his band have coached against Edsall repeatedly.
Louisiana State University will make their first appearance in Morgantown this year. WVU has only played LSU one other time, last year in Baton Rouge. The Tigers beat the Mountaineers 20-14.
Les Miles, the head coach at LSU, lost his offensive coordinator Gary Crowton from last year to Edsall and Maryland. Miles then hired Steve Kragthorpe to coordinate the Tigers' attack.
Kragthorpe is the former head coach of the Louisville Cardinals, another member of the Big East conference, also, another coach the defensive staff is very familiar with.
Ironic, with all of the changes yearly in college football that so many of the foes the defensive staff has faced would end up on their out of conference schedule.
When you look at the changes to the various staffs in the Big East, irony gives way to uncanny.
Connecticut hired former Syracuse Orange headman Paul Pasqualoni to replace the departed Edsall. Note the former Syracuse part and, as with the other new coaches, WVU’s defensive coaches have more than a working knowledge of the head Husky man.
During the Pasqualoni years in Syracuse, the yearly match-up with WVU was a heated rivalry.
Speaking of Syracuse, Nathaniel Hackett is the new offensive coordinator for head coach Doug Marrone. Nathaniel is the son of legendary NFL guru Paul Hackett.
Syracuse, with Hackett, is the exception for WVU’s defensive staff.
Even long time Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano jumped on the new offensive coordinator bandwagon.
Frank Cignetti Jr., formerly the offensive coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh, is the new offensive coordinator at Rutgers. As with the other changes, the Mountaineers’ defensive staff has faced Cignetti and his offense before.
Cignetti’s father was once the head coach in Morgantown, prior to Don Nehlen’s hall of fame tenure.
Then there is WVU’s most hated rival, Pitt. The Panthers just happened to find themselves in the need of a new head coach and offensive coordinator in the off-season.
Todd Graham was eventually tagged as the head coach and Calvin McGee was brought in by Graham to run the offense.
If the names of those coaches seem familiar to Mountaineer fans, they should. Both Graham and McGee are former Mountaineer coaches; Casteel has an extensive understanding of Pitt’s new coaches.
By any standards, Casteel and Company are rebuilding their defense for 2011. Graduation took a heavy toll on the nation's No. 3 unit from a year ago.
That is not to say there is not talent in Morgantown, there is. That talent is young and inexperienced. What the players lack in experience they make up for in speed.
In fact, believe it or not, the defense that is being built in Morgantown may be the fastest that has ever worn the Old Gold and Blue.
Many in Mountaineer Nation are starting to believe it a leap of faith that Casteel and his fellow defensive coaches can mold the inexperience into a formidable defense.
If that leap is akin to stepping off a curb, I am in total agreement.
First-year coaches coordinate most of the offenses that WVU will face this season. Coaches that are familiar to Casteel and his staff.
It almost does not seem fair to those coaches to have to face the amount of experience Casteel and his staff bring to the table.
Casteel and company have shown a propensity for molding defenses at WVU. Even last year’s unit did not hit their stride until the third or fourth game of the season: typical for the Mountaineer defense under Casteel.
Still, football is a team game; as such, the defense in Morgantown will need help from WVU’s new offensive coordinator and head coach Dana Holgorsen.
If Holgorsen’s offense fails to put points on the board, the season may turn into a long one for the defense.
The Achilles heel of the 2011 Mountaineer defense appears to be a power running attack. If an opponent can stop Holgorsen’s offense and turn the game into a defensive struggle, WVU may not fare well.
Fortunately, the opponents on WVU’s schedule do not have the same depth of knowledge about Holgorsen and his offense. The lone exception being Graham at Pitt, Graham and Holgorsen have faced off before at previous coaching stops.
In six months, the 2011 season will be ending. By comparison, six months is a drop in the hat to the tenure of the defensive coaches. It is all in a days work, 75 years worth of days in Morgantown.