West Virginia's Casteel happily dodges spotlight
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Jeff Casteel likely will never read this newspaper story.
First, he doesn't have much idle time.
Second, it isn't in his nature.
Casteel, in his ninth season as the defensive coordinator at West Virginia, isn't part of the new-guard of college football coordinators. He doesn't want the network television cameras to zoom in on him, he doesn't need the announcers to talk about the wonderful job he does. He isn't angling for a promotion, the limelight or bushels of praise.
He just wants to coach football.
Casteel, 48, is more comfortable in front of a dry-eraser board diagraming a blitz out of his signature 3-3-5 defense than he is talking to a mob of reporters huddled around him.
"I don't concern myself with all that, that's what people end up writing about," Casteel said of the spotlight that comes with his unit's success. "I just try to do a good job, and that's the best I can do. I don't worry about whether my name is in the paper or not. You are going to be a good coach [dependent on] whether you have good players; I learned that a long time ago."
Talk to those good players at West Virginia, and it goes a bit deeper. They are all sold on the concept that it works equally the other way: No matter how gifted the players, they must be deployed and maneuvered by a coach as remarkable as Casteel if the defense is to succeed.
Or, as standout junior safety Robert Sands said, with a smile, "Just look at the numbers."
Through six games this season, No. 20 West Virginia (5-1, 1-0) is among the top defenses in the country as it prepares to host Syracuse (4-2, 1-1) Saturday.
The Mountaineers rank second in the nation in opponents' third-down success rate (19 for 82), third in scoring defense (12.3 points per game), fourth in rushing defense (83.17 yards per game), fifth in total defense (245.8 ypg) and 11th in passing defense (162.7 ypg). Among the eight Big East Conference schools, West Virginia is first in those five categories.
As the draftsman of such a successful defense -- it has been that way for nearly a decade -- one would think everyone would know much more about Casteel, a native of Paden City, W.Va., a town 100 miles southwest of Pittsburgh on the Ohio River.
He's a quiet leader, a man who grew up five miles from and 10 years the junior of West Virginia coach Bill Stewart. Casteel got his start as a graduate assistant at California (Pa.) University and worked his way up, making stops at Palmetto High School in Florida, Shepherd University in West Virginia, a one-year stint at UTEP and then on to West Virginia as defensive line coach in 2001 before becoming coordinator a season later.
Through the climb, he has remained the same no-nonsense, old-school football coach from the Rust Belt.
"Jeff doesn't have an agent, Jeff doesn't promote himself," Stewart said. "People think what has made us click has been offensive stars. And, I have said it since I have been head coach, and I will say it again, Jeff's defense has kept us in games. ... I hope he stays under the radar so people leave him alone and he stays here forever."
Casteel had the opportunity to jump from West Virginia to Michigan when former Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez departed for Ann Arbor in December 2007, but declined, citing a comfort level he and his family had in Morgantown.
It is that sort of loyalty and dependability, coupled with his football acumen, which forces West Virginia's defensive players to push for their leader.
"He knows what he's talking about," senior nose tackle Chris Neild said. "He doesn't have to brag to anybody about what he does. We play for each other, but we know in the back of our minds we have him to play for.
"When he tells us what to do, we listen."
First Published October 21, 2010 12:00 am