MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When Tony Gibson left his post as West Virginia defensive backs coach in December 2007 to follow Rich Rodriguez to Michigan, he expected he would never be welcomed back in his home state again.
The Van, W.Va., native had spent six successful seasons on Rodriguez’s staff in Morgantown, but with Rodriguez out the door, Gibson had no promise of a job at West Virginia.
“I know I was hated,” Gibson said Friday. “People hated the way we left. I hope that everybody realizes it was all about having a job at that point.”
A year ago, Gibson got a second chance with the Mountaineers when West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen brought him aboard as safeties coach. Gibson was back home, and he even got his old office back.
“It was a no-brainer,” Gibson said. “With the way everything went down [in 2007], I never thought I’d have the opportunity. To get away from here and then realize how good it was, that’s probably been the biggest thing.”
At the West Virginia spring football luncheon Friday, Holgorsen officially announced Gibson as the Mountaineers’ new defensive coordinator. He replaces Keith Patterson, who left earlier this month for Arizona State.
“Nobody cares more about the Mountaineers or the state of West Virginia than Tony does,” Holgorsen said.
Friday night, Holgorsen introduced former Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley as senior associate head coach to round out his staff.
Bradley, 57, spent 33 seasons under Joe Paterno, including 11 seasons as defensive coordinator, and was interim head coach for four games in 2011. His specific duties at West Virginia have not yet been determined.
“Tony Gibson and I have recruited against each other in Pennsylvania for a lot of years, and it will be good to finally be on his side,” Bradley said in a statement. “I look forward to working with my friend to build a strong defensive unit at West Virginia.”
When Holgorsen announced Gibson’s promotion to the players, they gave Gibson a standing ovation — “you can tell the kind of respect they have for him,” Holgorsen said.
Gibson, 41, will be West Virginia’s fourth defensive coordinator in four years. He inherits a group that was 99th in scoring defense in Division I last season, allowing 33 points per game.
Gibson won’t overhaul the defensive system — it will stay a 3-4 base scheme with the same terminology — but he will be quick to tweak and adapt. With eight starters returning on defense, Gibson expects an experienced and reinvigorated effort as spring camp opens.
“There’s a great winning tradition here at West Virginia,” he said. “We’ve always had tough kids that played hard. And they’re embarrassed right now. They’re hungry.”
Spring dates set
West Virginia will open spring practice March 2 and close with its annual spring game April 12 at Mountaineer Field. In between, the Mountaineers will have three Saturday practices open to the public — March 22 in Wheeling, W.Va., March 29 in Morgantown and April 5 in Charleston, W.Va.
“We’re working as hard as we can possibly work, and I do think the product is going to be improved,” Holgorsen said. “I think we’re going to put something out there you can be proud of.”
Other coaching changes
New hire Damon Cogdell has been assigned to the defensive line, Brian Mitchell will work with the cornerbacks and special teams coordinator Joe DeForest will add the safeties to his duties.
Junior quarterback Clint Trickett had shoulder surgery in January and will not be cleared for spring practices, Holgorsen announced. Linebacker Wes Tonkery (shoulder) and offensive lineman Tyler Tezeno (knee) also will miss the spring.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.