Former WVU Defenders Praise Tony Gibson - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Former WVU Defenders Praise Tony Gibson

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MORGANTOWN -

A familiar name is back on the tips of tongues throughout West Virginia University athletics this week as news of Tony Gibson's return began to break.

While no official hire has been made, sources have confirmed the reports that Gibson, who served as WVU cornerbacks coach from 2001-07, will be hired back to the Mountaineers staff.

Dana Holgorsen's decision, which likely included input from defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, has been met with a strong reaction from West Virginia football fans who became familiar with Gibson during his time serving under former head coach Rich Rodriguez.

One of Gibson's former students who says he is excited to welcome the coach back to the old gold and blue is Larry Williams, who spent five years learning from the once and future WVU position coach. 

"I feel like he's a wonderful coach and he's going to be a great asset to the community," Williams says. "He's from West Virginia, he went to a school in West Virginia (Glenville State) – we need a little tradition, we need a little bit of that edge back because it's clear that we lost it."

Williams is not alone as far as past Mountaineer defenders who feel that last year's squad was missing something more than just what the statistics showed on the field.

In seeking interviews for this story, one member of both the Rodriguez and Bill Stewart era defenses who wished to go unnamed said he was happy Gibson was returning because he would bring an attitude that West Virginia lost over the past season.

Former WVU linebacker Mortty Ivy, who was recruited to Morgantown by Gibson, echoed that sentiment while giving a glowing recommendation based on their experiences off the field.

"The man came at me with so much respect and told me how it's going to be, how the college lifestyle is going to be and how I can make an impact with the team and the school and get a good education," Ivy says of his recruiting process with Gibson. "On Thursdays [during the season], his wife would make me some oatmeal cookies and bring them straight to me. He always showed me the utmost respect and that's why I give him the utmost respect and I still to this day will always support him on any decision he makes."

One day in both of their careers, though, Williams and Ivy watched Gibson leave. As seniors, preparing for their final game, the coach who they had such a strong bond with left town with Rodriguez for Michigan before then coaching a year with the team that kept WVU from the national championship, Pittsburgh.

Those decisions, while not popular with fans, are things that these Mountaineers say are simply a part of the business that is college football and should be forgotten if Gibson is returning to his home state.

"That's what life is about," Williams says. "Life is not just about giving to people, it's also about forgiving people. Yeah, I might have felt hurt, but at the same time, you've got to look at it from his perspective – a check is a check. When he had to feed his family, you've got to do what you've got to do."

On top of the questions raised about a coach who left his team during bowl practice, though, there are concerns about the job Gibson did on the field. When David Lockwood replaced him, some remarks by players who worked with both coaches indicated that the new coach came with far greater knowledge than the last.

Add to that the notion that Gibson was one to follow Rodriguez wherever he went and the past few days have been filled with trepidation from fans who wanted a home run hire, not a retreat to a coach circa 2007.

"When he was coaching us, how many times did a team just go bombs over Baghdad on his specific position? It was rare," Williams says, citing a song by rap duo OutKast in the process. "Teams didn't want to throw the ball in the air when we had [safety Ryan] Mundy and [cornerback] Antonio [Lewis] and [safety Eric] Wicks. They didn't want to throw the ball on us like that. We look at it from his point of view, he did his job. He can't help what was called, he could only teach us what we had to do when it was called."

Both Williams and Ivy bring up that thought, that Gibson is a position coach and he will teach what he is asked to. Williams says that in conversations with former WVU corners coach Daron Roberts, he felt that he was speaking with a man who knew his football, but clearly the results on the field did not translate.

So part of the question, when rehiring Gibson, naturally focuses on how he coaches, while also acknowledging that Holgorsen has yet to make any sort of announcement regarding the staff and specific assignments.

Keith Tandy, now with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, only played his true freshman season under Gibson's guidance, when he watched games from the sideline and spent most of practice with the scout team.

He admits that his memories of that year are not as strong as the next four, but there are specific differences between Gibson and his next coach, Lockwood, that stand out.

"The one thing I remember from Gibby is he was a really good motivator and he had his players willing to do anything for him," says Tandy. "He was a good recruiter because he could always relate to the kids and get them to trust him."

That motivation, Tandy recalls, was a big part of how Gibson got his cornerbacks to be successful.

In those days, he remembers the team running almost exclusively Cover 2 and 3. When Lockwood took over, he introduced more coverages, with a base look of Cover 4 to go along with Cover 1 and man on top of Cover 2 and Cover 3.

Tandy says it wasn't that Gibson could not teach those coverages, he simply wasn't being asked to. Lockwood brought that variety to the secondary – and to defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel – when he arrived back at his alma mater in the 2008 season.

"Gibby and Lockwood were the same coaches with totally different techniques," says Kent Richardson, who was recruited by Gibson before playing two seasons under Lockwood. "Gibby was more of an aggressive-minded guy where we always attacked and Lockwood was more of a finesse guy and made us use our feet and shuffle."

Those differences in styles, according to Tandy, made for vastly different goals when the players took the field. Lockwood and Gibson could watch the same play, but their critiques would be nothing alike.

Gibson may be satisfied with the effort and intensity that his player showed, but if the technique wasn't exactly how it should have looked, Lockwood would still get on them regardless of the outcome. The opposite could be said of Lockwood feeling good about a sound technical showing, while Gibson lashed out if he didn't see his guy going 100 percent.

"Both techniques were effective in my book," says Richardson, who just wrapped up a season as the AFL's Defensive Player of the Year before signing a future contract with the Cleveland Browns.

It is unlikely that anyone would argue that West Virginia's defense from the 2012 season could use an injection of attitude and intensity. Whether or not Gibson, and the reported hire of former East Carolina defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell, are part of the answer to move in that direction remains to be seen.

These former players who were close with Gibson each say that they are confident his return is a positive for their alma mater, knowing the true results will not be play out until the fall rolls back around.

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