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Casteel, staff's departure not shocking

MORGANTOWN -- Maybe it's just the way things have been around here and the way people seek to keep them, but an offseason at West Virginia can't happen without some sort of a dispute.

Yet for the life of me, I can't find the controversy in what happened to the Mountaineers on Wednesday. In fact, the expected reaction is more celebration than calamity.

True, WVU lost its defensive coordinator and its longtime defensive line coach and its cornerbacks coach to another school.

And as much as that might bother people, especially on the heels of the sort of victory that would anchor people to the Mountaineers, it has to hurt more that Jeff Casteel, Bill Kirelawich and David Lockwood left for Rich Rodriguez's new program at Arizona.

Beyond the sobering fact WVU is going to have to basically rebuild half of its coaching staff for a second straight season because a familiar foe extended his hand, it's hard to see anything surprising or stinging about this situation.

Honestly, none of that is truly shocking. Not if you've been paying attention.

Still, the Mountaineers just scored the most points anyone has ever scored in a bowl, so the timing in losing three defensive assistants softens the blow. The complaints and criticisms of the past several seasons would even suggest a large portion of WVU fans would be relieved Casteel is gone and has taken his 3-3-5 with him to be replaced perhaps by a guy like Joe DeForest, who has been at Oklahoma State for 11 years and who has worked in a 4-3 system for a long time.

DeForest told the Tulsa World Wednesday night that he is joining Holgorsen's staff at WVU.

All of that aside, you had to see this day coming. Rodriguez was hired Nov. 22.

He quickly filled positions and rounded up most of the old gang, with two notable exceptions. He never hired a defensive coordinator. Casteel never disassociated himself from the possibility, despite consistent and persistent opportunities afforded by the reporters who cover the team.

Those same people saw something else. Casteel seemed to be taking a victory lap the last few weeks he was with the team. For a guy who wouldn't talk about his future, he talked a lot about his past. Old wins, former players, previous bowls, even the state championship he won with Paden City High in 1979.

Only the Dragons knew they'd play with a backup quarterback and they'd sneak inside the gymnasium to covertly install the single wing without telling anyone, not even their parents. Casteel delighted in telling that story.

It was subtle stuff from an otherwise private guy, but the rest of it was obvious. Asked during the days before the bowl about the relationship between Casteel and Coach Dana Holgorsen, one person said, "They'd have to talk to have a relationship."

On one hand, you had to ask because there were no public signs that the two might not get along, but on the other hand, you didn't have to have someone tell you that to know this was a weird situation that was difficult to navigate.  

Casteel was Bill Stewart's guy after he was Rodriguez's guy and, don't forget, Holgorsen wasn't supposed to take over until now.

Casteel and Lockwood and Kirelawich and Steve Dunlap all agreed to work the 2011 season for Stewart, not Holgorsen. There were no guarantees any of those four would be brought back for 2012, not even with those new two- and three-year contracts they signed.

When Stewart resigned under pressure over the summer, the best decision for everyone was to stay put. The defensive coaches could have tried to find another job, but the quantity and the quality are scarce in June.

Holgorsen was wise not to get rid of anyone because he, too, would have struggled to find coaches and because by keeping the defensive staff intact he gave himself the best chance to win in his premature first season.

Now, though, Holgorsen was free to make his own decisions and the defense's first impression wasn't the most favorable one. The group allowed the third-most points in school history, 31 or more five times and 47 or more twice.

Was it a young team? Yes. Was it better at the end of the season? Yes. Was Holgorsen comfortable going forward into the far more offensive Big 12? Well, we'll never know, but suppose Casteel didn't want to find out.

He had an offer with a guy he knew and a guy he was grateful to for bringing him back home in 2001 and entrusting him with the defense a year later as the co-coordinator and then a year later on his own.

Casteel told me once that declining Rodriguez's invitation to join him at Michigan was the hardest thing he'd done in his career - and that's from a guy who moved to Miami to coach high school players, Shepherd to coach in college and then El Paso, Texas, to coach defensive ends.

And don't forget this: Casteel has long been bothered by the suggestion he does not want to be a head coach. It's not true. He wants to run a program, not just a defense. Yet he's been at WVU for 11 seasons and he and his family are comfortable. There was this perception attached, though, that he was too comfortable and that he didn't want to leave.

This is the strongest indication possible that he would leave and perhaps athletic directors across the country take notice. At the very worst, Casteel will showcase his nationally renowned skills to a new part of the country.

Similarly, it's extraordinarily hard to blame Lockwood and Kirelawich for accepting Casteel's offer to come along. If their immediate boss is gone, they know Casteel's replacement isn't guaranteed to keep one or both around. It's often easier to get a job when you have one than when you don't.

We'll soon find out where that leaves Dunlap.

Now at its end, there's no way to guarantee that a deal like the one WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck tried to arrange will work perfectly.

Even if these departures do add some legitimacy to the idea there may have been some disharmony behind the closed doors at the Puskar Center, you do have to credit the people involved for keeping private stuff from becoming public stuff.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blog is at



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