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WVU football: Patterson took unlikely route to new job

MORGANTOWN - Keith Patterson could be the defensive coordinator today at Arizona State or at Auburn. He could be the head coach at Arkansas State or a high school in Texas or Oklahoma.

He could be a professional, an ordinary 9-to-5 type making the most of a business degree and the well-intended wishes of his mother.

That he's West Virginia's defensive coordinator is perhaps the most unlikely outcome of all.

Patterson joined the Mountaineers staff in February and was named the co-coordinator the same time Coach Dana Holgorsen named Joe DeForest the defensive coordinator.

Holgorsen had hired DeForest a month earlier and based his faith in the future on the 2010 season he spent on the Oklahoma State staff with DeForest.

It's Patterson, though, who will run the defense during and after WVU plays Syracuse in Saturday's Pinstripe Bowl. Holgorsen last week confirmed the move he said he made the morning after the regular season ended with a Dec. 1 home win against Kansas.

"There was no sense in wasting time with it," Holgorsen said. "It gives Coach Patterson two-and-a-half weeks sitting here coaching and teaching. There was no sense pushing the pause button when you know you're going to do something at the end of the season. It just gave us an opportunity to move forward.

"I feel good about it. Is every single problem going to be fixed? Of course not, but we're going to make progress."

Patterson grew up in Oklahoma, where his father was a high school coach who inspired Keith to follow in the family trade. His mother wanted a calmer, more stable life for her son and she suggested he get his degree from East Central University in Oklahoma and pursue his MBA.

He couldn't shake the itch to coach, and though he was a Division II player who didn't have many contacts in the college coaching business, Patterson pressed onward. He built a career as head coach and assistant coach in high schools in Oklahoma and Texas.

He nearly took a job at WVU working for Todd Graham on Rich Rodriguez's staff, but was at Tulsa with Coach Steve Kragthorpe in 2003 and the co-coordinator three years later.

He joined Graham when he took the Pitt job in 2011 and impressed Holgorsen with the way the Panthers defended the Mountaineers in WVU's win in the Backyard Brawl. Others took notice, too. Graham wanted Patterson to move to Arizona State when Graham took that job. Patterson declined and eventually took Gus Malzahn's offer to be the defensive coordinator at Arkansas State.

Arizona was too far from home in Oklahoma. Arkansas was close enough. Patterson didn't want his high school-aged son to be at a third school in three years. He didn't want to complicate things for his daughter, who had already transferred from one college to another. He wanted to make things easier on his wife, who took care of their son and pitched in on team meals the day before his high school football games.   

About two weeks into his job in the Sun Belt Conference, where Malzahn spent just one season before taking the head coaching job at Auburn, Holgorsen called Patterson and pleaded with him to come to WVU. It was a tricky proposition, but one Patterson felt he could accept. Recruiting trips and road games for a Big 12 school, like WVU, would take him home and let him be with his family more than the job at Arkansas State.

"At some point, you have to step back and say, 'When is enough enough?' " he said.

And that's the very question Holgorsen had to ask himself this season as WVU's defensive performances conspired against winning offensive performance and the statistics plummeted to embarrassing levels. Holgorsen moved DeForest from the sideline to the coaching box and moved Patterson from the box to the field after six games.

When the schedule ended and the Mountaineers were No. 107 in total defense, No. 114 in scoring defense and No. 119 in pass defense, Holgorsen fired cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts, demoted DeForest to safeties coach/associate head coach and made Patterson the defensive coordinator, a title he's held on his own just once in 10 years as a college coach.

"Joe's experience has been different than mine and that's what's shaped and molded his coaching style and philosophy," Patterson said. "I've been shaped and molded by different people, so therefore there's going to be natural differences. You can call the same defense, the same front and the same coverage, but it's probably going to be different because of the nature of our experiences."

Holgorsen said he preferred Patterson because he's the team's linebackers coach and his feel for the middle of the defense gives him a better perspective for things along the defensive line and in the secondary.

Patterson said the defense will remain a 3-4 base, but that it will be versatile, which means dropping the fourth defender to the defensive line, but also mixing up who that fourth pass-rusher is. He said his defense also will vary man-to-man and zone coverage in the back.

The Orange pose a challenge, too. They're No. 21 in total offense (473.42 yards per game) and No. 21 in passing offense (301.58). Quarterback Ryan Nassib is tied for No. 13 in total offense (312.33) and passed for 3,619 yards, 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Receiver Alec Lemon caught 70 passes for 1,063 yards and seven touchdowns.

"It's going to be a process getting guys to gain an understanding of the concepts of what we're trying to get done," Patterson said. "We'll be very multiple in our coverage concepts, yet to do that, you have to be multiple and you have to be able to execute.

"You can't make wholesale changes at this point, but I think you'll see some differences. There will be some different concepts versus certain personnel grouping and things of that nature."

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


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