West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, affectionately known as “Gibby,” may get a few extra goose bumps than others when County Roads blares over the PA system after the Mountaineers win another football game.
Gibson has roots that run deep into the Mountain State. He grew up in southern W.Va. Boone County, smack-dab in coal country. He attended tiny Van High School, a Class A school that is nestled between the hills in the middle of the coal-producing county.
Gibson has pride in the mountain state and knows of the hard – working, blue collar men and women that make up many of the 1.8 million citizens who reside in the state.
“I obviously have a love for that place,” Gibson said during an interview with the Williamson Daily News. “It’s home and I love the people. I had a great experience growing up in a coal mining town. It means a lot to me and my family.”
Which is why he gives back to his home county. Gibson is currently raising money to help 100 families of laid off struggling coal miners in Boone County. On December 8, he plans to hold an event at the old Wharton Grade School, where he will help hand out gifts and turkeys to residents who have hit hard times since the decline in the coal industry. Gibson hopes to raise a few thousand dollars to help with this Christmas giveaway.
“We have got a lot of great people who are helping out,” Gibson added, who plans to attend the event in his home county.
This region was once one of the top coal producers in the country. Now many of those mining facilities are idle.
Last year Gibson and his family made a $25,000 donation to the new edition of the Boone Memorial Hospital that was built near Madison.
Gibson graduated from Van in 1991, where he participated in football and baseball for the blue and gold clad Bulldogs. During his time at Van the athletic teams were successful and won a state championship in baseball.
“It was always a close-knit community,” Gibson added. “It taught you how to have a hard-edge in sports and how to compete.”
Gibson’s dad was a coal miner and died at the age of 55 of black lung disease. His brother Chuck Gibson still leaves in Van and is a member of the board of education. “Coal mining was a way of life down there,” Gibson said. You were either a coal miner or a school teacher.
His said his dad taught him a solid work ethic that he uses today.
“Life lessons that I use today I got from my high school coaches,” Gibson stressed. He rattled off the names of several coaches from his high school days.
After graduation, he went to Glenville State College to play football as a defensive back. He was a part of two WVIAC championship teams.
That path eventually led him to coaching with Rich Rodriguez. He became an assistant coach under Rodriguez, coaching defensive backs. He coached the Mountaineers 2001 to 2007 at West Virginia, and was recruiting coordinator his final season in Morgantown. The Mountaineers enjoyed one of their most successful periods on the gridiron, posting a 58-14 record during those six years on the staff.
He went with Rich Rod to Michigan and then Arizona, before coming back to coach at Pitt for one year. Then he rejoined the WVU staff under Dana Holgorsen in 2013 and now serves as defensive coordinator and associate head coach.
Gibson has built a solid defense at WVU, a program in the high-octane offensive minded Big 12. His defense has held some of the conference’s top teams to some low point totals. The Mountaineer defense held Texas Tech to 17 points and TCU to just 10 points. This past weekend WVU won a huge Big 12 road game against the Texas Longhorns.
The rebuilt defense was a surprise to many football fans. Gibson said he lost eight starters from last year’s squad. In addition, in pre-season practice they lost NFL prospect Dravon Askew-Henry for the season, a top ranked defensive back, to a knee injury. WVU also lost another potential starter in freshman linebacker Michael Ferns before the 2016 campaign started.
“We didn’t know what to expect, but I knew the kids would play hard and compete,” the fiery Gibson said. “They have really stepped up and done a great job. We have some more games left and hopefully we can continue playing well. We have some good teams coming up.”
Most ardent WVU fans feel that Gibson has done an astounding job with getting his defensive to play hard on every down all of the time and making big plays when the team needs it, which in turn helps the offense.
“Overall I’m pleased with where we are at – especially with so many new guys,” he added. “These guys and the coaching staff on the defensive side have done a really good job.”
Gibson, like many Mountaineer fans, likes to see in-state kids come to WVU and perform well.
He says the coaching staff likes to recruit kids from West Virginia that are Division One prospects. Most fans know that the state has a sparse population and sometimes there is not a lot of D-1 talent in the high school ranks.
Currently WVU has Elijah Wellman from Spring Valley, Reese Donahue from Cabell-Midland and Justin Arndt from Martinsburg that have really been key players on this year’s roster who hail from the Mountain State.
“We have a lot of in-state kids on our team right now – as many as we’ve ever had,” Gibson said. “It’s getting better. Our philosophy is if a kid is good enough to play and help us win Big 12 football games – then we are going to recruit him. Any time we can get in-state guys, we want to make them a part of our team.”
“Every time I come out of that tunnel on game day, I’m just as excited as I was the first time,” Gibson said. “It’s a special place and I know how much it means to the people in this state. And to represent it – to coach for your flag-ship school – it means a lot.”
He tries to attend the WVU outings held each summer in Boone County, which includes a golf outing and pig roast.
Van’s favorite son has been successful and is a popular figure in West Virginia. Gibby is a hometown boy that has thrived in the sport and home state he loves.
One fan said he could probably get elected as governor.
But for now, he is happy being a part of the Mountaineers each weekend in Almost Heaven, West Virginia.
(Kyle Lovern is the Managing Editor for the Civitas Media Mountain District including the Williamson Daily News and Logan Banner. He can be contacted at [email protected] or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2277 or on Twitter @KyleLovern.)