WVU’s new defensive coordinator ready for Big 12

January 13, 2019

CHARLESTON — Vic Koenning wants his football defense to play so effectively, it almost feels illegal.

“The best way of saying it is we’re going to make the other team feel like they’re playing 13, 14 guys,” West Virginia University’s new defensive coordinator said Thursday.

While new WVU football coach Neal Brown is still building his staff, he made sure to announce during his introductory news conference that Koenning would follow him from Troy — where Koenning guided a defense that finished 28th nationally in points allowed (22.0 per game) and 31st nationally in yards allowed (347.9 per game) — to Morgan-town.

In the last three seasons at Troy — where the Trojans have won 31 games, including three bowl victories — Koenning led defenses in the national top 40 in both yards and points allowed in all three of those seasons. He said that overwhelming opposing offenses has been the key.

“We’re gonna try to be everywhere and nowhere,” he said. “Show this, be that.”

While Brown is one of college football’s youngest head coaches at just 38 years old, the 58-year-old Koenning is a decades-long veteran of the profession. He got his first assistant’s job with Memphis in 1991 and has crisscrossed the country ever since plying his trade. His career includes stops as a defensive coordinator at Wyoming (1997-99), Clemson (2005-08), Kansas State (2009), Illinois (2011) and North Carolina (2012-14). He had two stints as DC at Troy, manning the post in 2003-04 before his most recent term from 2015 to this past season.

He also served as head coach at Wyoming and interim head coach at Illinois.

A self-professed “football junkie,” he’s picked up a little from all of his coaching stops to flavor his philosophy at Troy and soon at WVU. He likes to blitz a little more than a quarter of the time, which should fit in what Brown called the “attacking” defense the Mountaineers will employ this season.

Koenning also makes sure he has some “backstops” for his defenses. When going up against the proliferation of spread offenses in college football, which love using the entire width of the field, those backstops are necessary.

“Growing up playing ball, if you throw the ball and don’t have a backstop, you miss the ball and you’re running down the street,” he said. “You’re spending all your time chasing the ball. Defensively, we want to have edges and backstops. So we’re going to have to get really, really good up front.

“That’s been the secret to our success everywhere we’ve had success,” he added. “We were really good up front and able to beat guys.”

WVU lost a couple of good players on the defensive line this winter. Both fifth-year seniors Kenny Bigelow and Jabril Robinson have departed.

But the Mountaineers should return both Dante Stills and Darius Stills, sons of WVU linebacker great Gary Stills, along with Reese Donahue.

Koenning will have to fill a few more big holes at other spots. Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year David Long decided to forgo his senior season for the NFL Draft. Safety Dravon Askew-Henry is gone as well.

Hell play a lot of matchups this season. It’s what college football has become, very similar to the NFL in that regard. So what the defense ultimately will look like will depend on the players on the roster and the ones recruited.

The makeup of Koenning’s defensive staff is up in the air as well, dependent upon who he and Brown are able to bring in to populate it.

Koenning knows what he’s getting into in becoming a Big 12 defensive coordinator. The offenses in that league are anything but kind to those guys. Four of the top 20 offenses in the Football Bowl Subdivision in both yards gained and points scored last season came from the Big 12.

But he’s ready.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Koenning said. “I interviewed at Oklahoma State and a friend of mine on that staff said it’s a graveyard for defensive coaches. So we’ll see.”

Koenning also is ready for one more thing — singing “Country Roads” with the WVU fans following a home win. No songbook will be necessary.

“I grew up a John Denver fan,” he said. “I’m not gonna have to learn that song.”

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