WVU coaching staff unset as spring practice nears

CHARLESTON – West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen has some catching up to do with his staff before he can start building his team for next fall.

With time winding down until spring practice begins on Sunday, Holgorsen still must hire a running backs coach, a position that opened up last week. Four other assistants have been with the Mountaineers less than two months.

“It hasn’t affected us one bit,” Holgorsen said Tuesday.

The recent hires include cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell, safeties coach Tony Gibson, receivers coach Lonnie Galloway, and Ron Crook on the offensive line.

The defensive coaches have been meeting for the past seven weeks, “so we feel like we’re in great shape there,” Holgorsen said.

The offensive-minded Holgorsen said he and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson “are continuously looking at it to see what we’ve got to do to get better. But from a coaching change standpoint, it’s nothing to worry about.”

Holgorsen’s work already is piled up as the Mountaineers embark on the post-Geno Smith era. Not only does he have to identify some potential new playmakers on offense, he’ll look to fix a defense that allowed a school record for points in a disappointing 7-6 season.

Keith Patterson took over the defensive play calling for Joe DeForest before a 38-14 loss to Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl in December. Patterson insists he hasn’t spent a moment thinking about last season.

While it’s going to take time to put a new defensive plan in place and execute it, “I really like our players’ frame of mind,” Patterson said. “We’re going to get kids to play with that chip on their shoulder again. We know the expectations don’t seem to be where they were a year ago, and our kids are going to go out and try to prove people wrong.”

There will be plenty of leadership positions up for grabs on both sides of the ball. In addition to Smith, the offense lost record-setting wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.

Paul Millard backed up Smith for two seasons and will split time in spring practice with Ford Childress and newcomer Chavas Rawlins.

Holgorsen isn’t ready to hand over the reins of the offense to Millard just yet. Millard threw for 87 yards and two scores while appearing in seven games in 2012.

“As this thing goes on, we will discuss it,” Holgorsen said. “We’ve got a lot of practices ahead of us and we won’t name a starter for a while. Paul’s got more experience. He probably understands the offense a little bit better than the other guys, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to give him more reps.”

Another problem: No returning wide receiver had more than 100 receiving yards last season. But Holgorsen wants to turn that deficiency – along with the fact that their position coach is new – into a positive.

“Coach Galloway has been in here with the receivers trying to motivate those guys to get better and better, which he will do,” Holgorsen said.

Holgorsen specifically mentioned holdovers K.J. Myers, Devonte Mathis, Connor Arlia and Jordan Thompson, along with newcomers such as Daikiel Shorts and Kevin White.

“Obviously, ending the season the way we ended the season, and losing a lot of star power, we’ve got a lot of hungry kids that are anxious to prove themselves,” Holgorsen said.

Running backs coach Robert Gillespie was hired by Tennessee last week. His replacement will inherit a position with depth.

Joining veterans Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison in the backfield this spring are junior-college transfer Dreamius Smith and freshman Wendell Smallwood.

“Probably the strength of where we’re at right now is the running back position,” Holgorsen said. “That’s where all our production is returning. We’re going to lean on them for some leadership.