It's difficult and capricious to sum up nine games's worth of work by WVU coaches during this football season in a simple letter grade.
So let's go ahead and do it. We'll start at the top:
Head coach Bill Stewart: C
I'm sure this grade will rankle several WVU fans, but I think it's just about right. It is true this WVU football team has failed to meet (too-high-in-retrospect) expectations, but the truth is, it stands at 6-3 and is in a three-way tie for the Big East crown. Aside from two holdovers, Stewart has assembled an all-new coaching staff since January, invoked strong discipline on the team (kicking off bad apples) and generally faced the music.
On the other hand, he takes the ultimate blame for running at least two wheels of the Ferrari that was WVU's offense into a ditch, failing to develop a real fullback -- which led him to the very bad decision to make his backup quarterback the hard-yardage back -- and for occasional bumbling that made him and the program look bad on TV.
Assistant head coach Doc Hollday: B+
He coaches fullbacks and tight ends in addition to heading recruiting. Given how much work WVU's fullbacks and tight ends get, it's clear: Holliday's sole job is bringing talent to WVU. So far, especially in his first year, he has done very well.
He would have rated a lower grade in the immediate wake of losing Taj Boyd, the nation's eighth-rated prep quarterback, but then gained back his ground by signing Eugene Smith, the nation's sixth-rated prep quarterback.
Top wide receiver Logan Heastie (Boyd's teammate) is still in the fold, as are other top recruits who've gotten an upclose and personal look at WVU's underwhelming offense this season and still decided to play there.
One question: Holliday is great at recruiting offensive talent, both at WVU and Florida. But how is he on recruiting defensive talent?
Offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen: D
Again, the team whose plays he is designing and calling is 6-3 and still in the Big East title race.
However, with the admirable goal of diversifying the WVU offense, he has poured sugar in the gas tank. He has developed no solution for third-and-short, he is still learning -- painfully -- how to call a game, he has had to abandon the multiple-motion exotica for which he was hired, he has taken the ball out of Pat White's hands in the right spots and put it there in the wrong spots.
I don't know if it's White's decision or Mullen's idea to try to protect White (which hasn't worked this season at all), but White no longer holds onto the ball and runs in the zone read-option. It stops being an option if the defense knows White is always going to hand it off. As seen from my end-zone seat at Mountaineer Field, I don't know how many times I saw nothing but green in front of White when the defensive end has crashed down, following the handoff to Noel Devine or Jock Sanders. This play, or the threat of it, was bread-and-butter for the Mountaineers over the past three seasons -- remember White's touchdown run to start the game against Mississippi State last year or his four TD runs off the play against Syracuse the year before.
In some ways, in hindsight, I think it's too hard to install a new system with a veteran quarterback. I wish Mullen and Stewart had simply run last year's offense this season, risked the two losses when teams stacked the box, and then started fresh next season with Jarrett Brown.
Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel: A-
This defense lost almost all of its starters from last year. Yet, after nine games, it is ranked 20th nationally in total defense and 10th in scoring defense. In its mature form, it has lapsed only once all season when it mattered, as far as I can remember -- against Cincy in overtime -- and laden with freshmen and sophomores, this unit should dominate next season.
Running backs/slot receivers coach Chris Beatty: C-
For some smart and occasional play-calling (Dorrel Jalloh's TDs against Auburn) and his ability to divine that Jock Sanders runs better from the spread-back set and Devine from the I-set, Beatty gets good marks.
For not just losing Taj Boyd, whom Beatty apparently was brought in to recruit, but also for Beatty's inability to judge that Boyd looks like a head case and for Beatty's inability to develop a third-down back other than the backup quarterback, Beatty gets poor marks.
Wide receivers coach Lonnie Galloway: C+
Galloway gets downgraded for completely losing Tito Gonzalez and failing to figure out how to use very tall Wes Lyons, even if he is slow. Galloway gets good marks for working Jalloh more into the mix, teaching Alric Arnett how to be a Division-I receiver and teaching Sanders how to run patterns. Still, WVU possesses no big-play threat, a la Chris Henry.
Offensive line Dave Johnson: F
Johnson gets one of two failing grades of the group. Handed an intact offensive line that utterly dominated Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, Johnson has destroyed it. The offensive line looks weak, confused and overmatched. WVU's inability to convert third-and-short is less a function of losing Owen Schmitt than of gaining Dave Johnson.
Agreed, the run-based zone-blocking scheme that has been so successful for WVU in recent years takes time to learn to perform in synchronicity. And, for the first time, the offensive line is having to pass-block more than infrequently. But Johnson took almost no time in ruining the line; the speed of his destruction was impressive and efficient.
If one WVU coach is to get fired for poor performance, it should be Johnson.
Special teams coach Bill Stewart: F
We take that back. Stewart should be the first fired and it's for neglecting his special-teams duties. It's obviously too difficult for him to be a head coach and a unit coach at the same time. It is true the special teams have suffered injuries, but regardless, they look slow and clueless running down the field on kickoffs. The only solid performer on special teams is kicker and punter Pat McAfee, who, thankfully, is a good enough athlete to have prevented at least one other kickoff from being returned for a touchdown.
Defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich: B
Despite losing Keilen Dykes and Johnny Dingle to NFL hopes, Kirelawich has created a solid replacement line, anchored by end Scooter Berry and nose guard Chris Neild. He has also effectively rotated Doug Slavonic, Julian Miller and others into the mix, reating a solid run-stuffing and pass-rushing front.
Cornerbacks coach Dave Lockwood: B
If for no other reason than developing slot receiver Brandon Hogan into a cornerback, and one who will be a star, in the course of a half-season. Hogan has been embarrassed only a couple of times and has interceptions and fumble recoveries and hits hard. This is a successful move.
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