Chuck McGill: WVU line coach has come full circle
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Ron Crook's circuitous and somewhat unconventional route through college football started on country roads.
West Virginia University's first-year offensive line coach returned to his home state after coaching stops in the Mountain State (West Liberty, Glenville State and West Virginia Tech), Cincinnati, Clarion (Pa.) College, Illinois, Harvard and Stanford. The Parkersburg native, who graduated from Parkersburg South, played college football at West Liberty before his coach, Larry Shank, offered Crook and his ailing back a job as a student assistant. His playing days finished, he found a way to stay close to the game he loved.
Crook was retained the next season (1990) when Bob Eaton took over the West Liberty program. Crook said he was paid about $5,000.
"I was loving life," he said. "Thought I was on top of the world."
Twenty-four years later, all of one in which he coached offensive linemen or tight ends, and Crook feels the same way. He is, after all, a Mountaineer.
It's a position he's coveted since his two stints at alma mater West Liberty, Glenville State and West Virginia Tech.
He never aspired to be the man in charge.
At a press conference inside the Puskar Center earlier this month, Crook watched as WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen fielded questions from the media.
"I could never do that," Crook said.
Instead, he's spent his 24year career honing his skills as an assistant.
That education started inside the state's borders, and he said he carried those lessons with him in the 11 years since he left.
After one season at Illinois he spent eight seasons at Harvard (2003-2010) and the last two at Stanford, where he watched the son of WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck, Andrew, operate behind his tackles and throw to his tight ends.
"The biggest thing I learned through all those stops was it doesn't matter where you're coaching or on what level," Crook said. "You're coaching the same things.
"You are coaching linemen or you are coaching tight ends to do the things you believe in. When I see people I knew back at West Liberty, they'll tell me that I'm doing the same things at Stanford that I did back then.
"It's because I believe in them."
Before he tried to lure recruits to Cambridge, Mass., or Palo Alto, Calif., he had to convince them to play in Glenville or Montgomery.
"Recruiting doesn't change, either," he said. "You recruit a guy to come to your school because of the relationship you built with him and his family and his coaches. They make decisions, a lot of times, based on people rather than just a place."
But WVU is a very special place to Crook.
It's also a bit ironic to be working for Luck, who was a quarterback for the Mountaineers from 1978-91.
During Crook's childhood days in Parkersburg, he and his father used to watch the Mountaineers on television. He couldn't have foreseen how his future would dovetail with the quarterback he was watching from his living room TV.
"Oliver Luck was the first guy who I knew who he was in a football uniform," Crook said. "I saw him and I knew, hey, that's Oliver Luck."
Three decades later Crook, who is a father of three, witnessed his two sons discover their first gridiron hero. With Crook at Stanford, his boys looked up to Andrew Luck.
"That was a neat experience for me," Crook said.
It all comes back to relationships.
In 1999, Tony Gibson was the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at West Virginia Tech. Gibson returned to WVU, where he coached from 2001-07, in January.
A month later, Bill Bedenbaugh left WVU for Oklahoma and created the vacancy that would be filled by Crook. That wouldn't have happened without Gibson, who worked with Crook at Tech for one season.
"For some reason, Tony spoke positively about me to Coach Holgorsen," Crook said. "That opened things up. We all felt like it was a really good fit."
One that was a long time in the making.