By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
There was an event that took place in the National Football League within the last few days that holds a good bit of significance when looked at in the spectrum of what is happening at West Virginia University this year.
For the first time in 14 seasons, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid dismissed an assistant coach in midseason. To make it all the more dramatic, the coach was a good friend, a man he had promoted to the position of defensive coordinator a year earlier.
“I put Juan (Castillo) in this situation and things didn’t work out the way I had hoped,” Reid said. “I take full responsibility for putting him in that situation.”
This NFL move normally would slide by in this neck of the woods with little more than a cursory glance in the context of how it might affect the local heroes up the road in Pittsburgh.
But, considering the unrest over the performance — or lack thereof — of the West Virginia Mountaineers’ defense and their first-year coordinator Joe DeForest, this decision by Reid becomes something that might require more analysis.
Indeed, the Twitter World has been filled with calls for DeForest’s head, and anyone who has watched the defense melt week after week like a piece of provolone cheese between two slices of bread in a grilled cheese sandwich can understand the reaction.
Historically, WVU has been solid defensively, sometimes ranking at or near the top of the national rankings. Certainly, sitting 114th among 120 teams in total defense and 109th in scoring defense would tend to make the natives restless.
This stands out like Prince Fielder would at a convention of anorexics, maybe even more so when you realize that the Eagles’ Castillo lost his job while his defense was ranked just 13th in points per game, 10th in yards per play and fourth in third-down percentage in the NFL.
The difference, of course, is that until this past week, West Virginia had escaped the shootouts it had been involved in with victories because of spectacular offensive output while Reid’s were losing close games due to dismal offense.
Winning, you see, cures all evils, and so it was at WVU, even though after beating Baylor while allowing 63 points one of the WVU defenders — safety Darwin Cook — admitted, “I feel like we just lost.”
Then this past week, following the 49 points that Texas Tech put up on the defense, the same Cook was moved to say that on the flight back home, “I felt like Christmas ain’t coming, man.”
Indeed, to be a defender in this season where offense rules in West Virginia leaves one with an empty feeling, especially as the heat grows among the public.
Now Reid, upon firing his friend, made a statement that sums up exactly the situation Holgorsen finds himself in.
“I have to do what I think is right, whether it’s with public opinion,” Reid said, “or against public opinion.”
So does WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen, but you sense that while he is growing short with the defensive situation, he does not feel that DeForest should be dismissed … and perhaps that is what’s right, the public be damned.
To begin with, they have installed a new defensive scheme that in many ways goes against what the holdover players had been playing and, in truth, the players who were inherited really had not accomplished a whole lot in their careers coming into this season.
If over the last few years the Mountaineer defense was good, it was probably because WVU had turned a host of defensive players loose in the NFL, no fewer than three defenders drafted last season and four the season before, names like Bruce Irvin, Najee Goode, Keith Tandy, Brandon Hogan, Robert Sands, J.T. Thomas and Chris Neild.
Not now. Give him a chance to right the ship, to get some talent in, to see if there is improvement … beginning this week.
Maybe double secret probation is more fitting at this stage of his career, six games into being a defensive coordinator.
There’s something there which says he may figure out a way to get the job done, the fact that he is an honest guy, a standup guy who rather than being off in hiding when the roof is caving in is instead sitting there and meeting with the media and admitting to shortcomings and talking about correcting them.
This week, after the embarrassment in Lubbock, he analyzed what had happened.
“We have to play with more passion. We have to play with more mental toughness … more effort mentally and physically. It’s a strain. College football is a strain,” he said.
“We have a lot of things to correct, but they are all correctable. Our kids saw that on tape. We pointed out the things that need to be corrected both effort-wise and technique-wise. We have a huge challenge ahead of us this week, but we have to move on from that.”
If he is the man for the job, it will show by the end of the year. If he isn’t the man, he certainly will have no defense if they go to fire him.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.