MORGANTOWN-The roads they took differ, but first year assistants Ron Crook and Tony Gibson are glad they are back in their home state as they prepare to open the 2013 season at West Virginia University.
"It certainly covered a lot more miles than you would anticipate," former-Parkersburg South standout Crook said. "Being a college coach I've had the chance to spend a lot of time in the midwest, New England and the west coast.
"It's taken me and my family all over the country. But, we're really glad to be home and glad to be a part of this program. You grow up here dreaming about being a part of this. It's been kind of a dream come true for me."
A dream that took a different sort of turn for Gibson, a Mountaineer assistant from 2001-07 before joining then-head coach Rich Rodriguez at the University of Michigan.
"Obviously, my roots are in West Virginia," said Gibson, who will again coach the safeties. "Being here for seven years and seven seasons and all the great kids I have coached, this has always been home.
"When I made the move, obviously, it was because of the head coach leaving and not knowing who was going to be here. I had an opportunity to go and I did it. And, when I got the opportunity and the call from coach Holgorsen, I was very excited to come back.
"So, I landed on my feet back in West Virginia."
Both, however, have their work cut out for them as the Mountaineers begin their second season in the Big 12. Crook must rebuild an offensive front minus Joe Madsen, Josh Jenkins and Jeff Braun while Gibson will team up with cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell to improve a secondary that gave up an average of 312.5 passing yards per game and 38 touchdowns.
"I think it's going well," Crook said. "The guys are showing that every second is important to them. They are starting to trust each other. They are starting to understand what we are trying to accomplish.
"I'm certainly glad we don't play tomorrow, but we're headed in the right direction."
And, it doesn't hurt to have returning starters Quinton Spain (6-5, 335) and Curtis Feigt (6-7, 314). Or a core of other players-Pat Eger, Nick Kindler, Tyler Orlosky, Tony Matteo, Russell Haughton-James, Marquis Lucas and Mark Glowinski-that worked all summer for an opportunity to break into the starting lineup this fall.
"Getting everyone on the same page," continued Crook. "That's one of the things we have worked on all camp. One of the things I like about this offense is the fact that the linemen here have a lot of say in the protection.
"They kind of point things out and shift the protection to where they need to. That means that you've got to trust the guy beside you. We talk all of the time about how hard it is to get to that point and how hard it is to get it back once you've lost it."
An issue the entire team suffered through after beginning last season at 5-0 and a No. 5 national ranking only to lose six of its final eight games to end with a 7-6 mark and dropping out of the Top 25 completely.
For Gibson the issue won't be a lack of experience-WVU returns both starting safeties in sophomore Karl Joseph and senior Darwin Cook-but, trust could come into play as the duo attempt to shore up a pass defense that ranked last in the Big 12.
"A lot of the times we were trying too hard to make plays," Joseph said. "Sometimes, when you are trying to make a play, you actually open the door for the offense to get a big play.
"This year we are trying to get everybody to focus on doing their one-eleventh and trusting the other 10 guys to do their jobs. If we all do that, then we should be much better on defense."
Crook, Gibson and the Mountaineers will receive their first test when William and Mary pay a visit to Milan Puskar Stadium for the season opener at noon on Saturday, Aug. 31.