JaJuan Seider got the call just two days before the start of spring football practice – Dana Holgorsen wanted him to return to West Virginia University as his new running backs coach.
“Dana called late Friday night (March 8) and told me I had the job so I had to get with the AD and the assistant AD to do all the paperwork to get up here Saturday,” said Seider. “We had the quick turnaround. I had to get up here to meet with (offensive coordinator) Shannon (Dawson) so I could have an idea of what we were doing the day before (spring practice started).
“It was fun.”
Ah, the life of college football assistant coaches these days. Seider becomes the fifth new coach for Holgorsen this off-season, or two fewer than the number of coaches Jimbo Fisher has had to replace at Florida State since winning the Orange Bowl. In fact, according to the web site coachingsearch.com, there are only 18 staffs fully intact from last season with one of those being Urban Meyer’s at Ohio State.
For those of us used to watching guys like Don Nehlen and Joe Paterno run their football programs, that is just hard to fathom.
Here is the sequence of moves spanning from Huntington, W.Va. to Chicago that led to Seider’s return to WVU: Robert Gillespie was hired at Tennessee to replace Jay Graham, who took the Florida State job vacated by Billy Napier when he left to join Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama. Saban’s opening came about when Mike Groh took a job with the Chicago Bears. Typically, the chain linking all of these coaching moves is much longer than this one.
“There is such movement this last year and jobs were steadily coming open,” said Seider. “You’ve got college guys coaching in the NFL and when that happens, especially late, then jobs come open. It’s all about networking.”
Seider said he had an idea that something might pop open at WVU or somewhere else.
“You know because you hear,” he said. “You are in the same state and you’ve got the same friends and whatever job comes open, someone is always calling you or texting ‘hey, this job is open and maybe they are going to call you’ or ‘you need to call them.’ And it was not just here. I was dealing with jobs down south – my name was circulating down there as well.”
Assistant football coaches are notorious for being glued to their cell phones, either talking to recruits or other coaches trying to figure out what is going on in the profession. News spreads very quickly in their business.
“As an assistant coach, you are always hoping for something to open up that’s better,” Seider admitted. “As a head coach, I’m sure they hate it because now they’ve got to deal with hiring a guy … how does that guy fit? How fast can he get caught up to speed? Is he going to be comfortable in that environment? You’ve got family involved, too – we’ve got wives and kids so that’s always the tough part of it.”
What’s not tough is for a coach to return to his roots, which is exactly what Seider is doing at WVU. A former Mountaineer quarterback who also worked for Bill Stewart as a graduate assistant coach, Seider spent the last three years on Doc Holliday’s staff at Marshall.
“As a coach in this profession that’s a dream to be back at the place where you started at,” Seider said. “I can’t ask for anything better. I just hope I can stay here for a long, long time.”
Seider admitted it was tough going into Holliday’s office to let him know that he might be leaving.
“The hardest thing to do is leave your mentor and a guy that you look up to,” Seider said. “Doc has known me since I was 15 and just to go into that office and say ‘Doc I got the call.’ I handled it the right way. I said ‘Dana is going to call you (about me)’ and he said ‘I would be more selfish as a person and as a coach if I tell you to stay here. You played there, they are going to take care of you; you’ve got to go. I can’t tell you to stay here.’ That meant a lot to me and that took a big burden off my shoulders to leave Doc on that note. He was great.”
Also making the decision to leave much easier for Seider was the fact that West Virginia and Marshall are no longer playing.
“I didn’t want to deal with that because the majority of the kids that are playing I recruited. And they are going to be pretty darn good – I’m glad we don’t play them,” Seider said.
In addition to working with the Mountaineer running backs, Seider is also expected to keep the spigot running in South Florida where West Virginia has had such a strong recruiting presence going all the way back to the early 1980s when Holliday first started recruiting down there for Nehlen.
That was one of Gillespie’s recruiting areas for the Mountaineers before he left for Tennessee.
“Doc put his (name) in that area for a long time – 30-some years,” said Seider. “Being able to watch him do it, I was already prepared to go do it. I’m from down there. I know the majority of the people there so it’s easy for me to go down there and actually talk to A, B and C because A, B and C already know me and we’ve got a prior relationship so that’s where it helps.”
Seider says recruiting Florida is all about gaining the trust of the athletes, their families and the coaches. When he was at Marshall he was responsible for recruiting quarterback Rakeem Cato to Huntington as well as top defensive back prospect A.J. Leggett, beating out many bigger schools for his services.
“We beat Alabama and Tennessee at the end and it’s all about relationships,” Seider noted. “Nobody thought he was going to make it, but they didn’t realize that he never took the (ACT). He took it the first time and got a 22 and he was eligible.
“When you get that one kid that everybody knows helps your program like at Marshall when we got Rakeem Cato … those are big names. They may not be big names on the national level, but they were big names in their area and so other guys want to play with them and they kind of continue to build your program.”
Seider plans to do the same thing here with guys like Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey as soon as he gets back down to his old stomping grounds.
“We’ve got to build on what’s going on right now with the excitement (from Pro Day) with Geno plastered all over and Tavon (Austin) and Stedman,” said Seider. “(Recruits) know about West Virginia. Everybody knows about West Virginia from years past. We’ve just got to keep it going. Everybody down there is excited about me being up here so now I can go down there and battle all those other big schools with the flying WV on my shirt.”
Seider is convinced that he can keep the Florida pipeline flowing to WVU because he says the program has such a strong reputation throughout the Sunshine State.
“There are so many guys recruiting kids who say I signed X, Y and Z and so many guys to look good for a job,” Seider explained. “The coaches down there are smart and they are not getting caught up in the Florida, Florida State Miami thing. Like I tell the kids, ‘You’ve got four years to play and you need to maximize those four years because when it’s over it’s over. So go somewhere where you know you are going to have a chance to play.’ I think that’s a big selling point.”
It certainly is. JaJuan Seider says he can’t wait to start selling West Virginia University to Florida's best high school football players later this spring.
Mountaineer football fans can’t wait either.Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History now available in bookstores. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.