Just about the same time we were setting up shop here at WBGV, Mike Casazza was doing the same with his WVU blog (which can be found at http://blogs.dailymail.com/wvu). Of course, being a Mountaineer beat writer for the Daily Mail, Mike’s thoughts get front-page treatment on the paper’s website (yes, we’re jealous). Either way, we forgave Mike for the silver-spoon birth of his blog and asked (read: begged) him to answer a few of our questions. Luckily, he agreed. What followed was one of the more honest takes on Mountaineer sports you’ll find anywhere; newspaper, blog, or otherwise.
The interview begins after the jump…
Charley West: In a column you wrote a few weeks ago, you mentioned that the WVU fan-base was changing (a column which 5th Year Senior “dissected”). If you feel the atmosphere has changed at Mountaineer Field, how would you bring back the “glory days?”
Mike Casazza: Well, I do feel the atmosphere has changed and I’m not alone in thinking what I wrote. I’m just not. There are different generations of fans in the stands and they behave differently in both attitude and in action. It’s natural and it happens everywhere. A 50-year-old doesn’t – or at least shouldn’t – act the same as a 20-year-old. But there’s more to it, I think. One generation doesn’t mind paying this much for tickets because it’s all they know, whereas an older generation can’t fathom paying the prices because it didn’t cost as much 20 years ago. One generation is going to come no matter what, but another is going to be more selective. So games are going to have more of one faction and less of another, and I think that’s where the difference shows. Just my opinion, and I could go on, but that’s not relevant to the question.
I happen to think these are your glory days and that the university is in charge and taking charge of creating its own history. There is a concern, though. Again, I’m not some pioneer in my thinking. Read his quotes and try convincing yourself Rich wasn’t pleading for a gold rush. I pulled those quotes from different press conferences, too, so it wasn’t a one-time thing. I just don’t believe it was about getting everyone to wear gold. It was about getting 60,000-some people together to affect the outcome of the game. That was my point and a lot of people missed that, even though Rich’s quotes were pretty blunt. I can’t believe Rich would tell the story about an opponent questioning his fans unless there was a motive within his words. He wants support. People could have worn polka dots and he couldn’t have cared less as long as they were loud and supportive and impacted the game and inspired others to do the same either in that game or in a future game. And I think it worked pretty well. I’m not sure what the fixes are and you could make the argument it cannot be fixed. To have everyone come to every game, I’d prefer it be more affordable. That means lowering ticket prices and donation levels, but it’s not possible. You can’t pay the bills and keep the coaches who make paying those bills easier. So what do you do? Add seats in order to charge less per ticket? Fine, but it costs money to add seats, so that doesn’t work either. It’s a trend and it’s going to continue. It never goes the other way.
We’re asking an awful lot of fans now. In a way, it’s never enough, though it’s somewhat fitting because what the team does is never enough. Karma. I don’t think it’s a reach to ask the crowd to be more involved, but I think the university can handle that by coordinating a few things that actually make the fans feel as if they are an integral part of things. Rationalize that ticket cost a little. I guess my example would be the first down cheer. Everyone knows how and when to do that. Imagine a handful of common occurrences within a game, like a sack, an interception, a third down stop, a third down conversion, so on and so forth, and the crowd had an automatic response. That would give the fans an idea they were really participating. Additionally, I wonder what it’d be like if the students were closer to the field. Might never happen, but the noisiest places I’ve been have the students right on the field.
… And that was a long reply, no?
CW: What? I feel asleep. Oh right… I agree 100% on a few things, namely the students being closer to the field. Also, I would love to have a conference to make some decisions as a fan-base, i.e what cheers we cheer, how to behave, etc. The old-timers could bring back their glory day cheers and the students could convince the old-timers to get off their asses. It will never happen, but there’d be progress. We’d also be a lot more cohesive as a unit of fans. OK, next question…
With the success WVU has been enjoying, do you feel Mountaineer fans have become unreasonable in their expectations of the football program?
MC: Eh, expectations are tricky to judge because they’re really an extension of the individual. Everyone wants to be the best. Winning is great. Losing sucks. What would you rather experience? You’re going to individualize your emotions. When you’re high, you’re high. When you’re low, you’re really low. You know, Armageddon was upon us after the South Florida loss and look at things now. Unreasonable is a strong word, but it has its place. There is a group of people who believe WVU can do no wrong. Ever. They believe WVU is slighted at every opportunity, that the national media is out to get WVU and that WVU never, ever gets enough respect. I really do think people will take occasional shots at WVU and its fans because they know they’re going to get a reaction. I’ve read a lot of stories criticizing WVU the past few years. Some reach, but many are grounded and accurate. The reaction, though, is the same. WVU fans can lash out when someone touches a nerve and the anger clouds all judgment. What WVU fans should realize is their team has a chance to win the Big East and be in the BCS every year. No one has a chance to play for the national title every year. By and large, I think they get that, but there are people who believe WVU has reached a level of success and consistency that entitles them to certain privileges. It’s not true. WVU is not there yet. Yet. I did say yet.
CW: Well, if we’re not there yet — and I agree with you that we’re not — what do you expect from the football program in the years to come?
MC: I expect they’ll do everything to keep Rodriguez in town. He’s the key. If that happens, the sky really is the limit. Hell, for all we know, they may kiss the clouds this season. But again, this is a conference with a BCS bid and if Rodriguez stays and does what he’s done, WVU can to be a favorite almost every season. What they’ll need is for the conference to continually keep up. Louisville, Rutgers and South Florida have to be consistent nine- and 10-win teams and a Cincinnati or Connecticut has to be making a run every so often. It’d really help if Pitt and Syracuse figured things out, too. (Unlikely — Ed.) Anyhow, the overall strength of the Big East is what solidifies the conference champion as a legitimate national contender. If the Big East becomes the WAC, the champion is not taken as seriously. So if WVU wins a tough league and plays for the ultimate odds, the top recruits take notice and go to WVU. Overall, the offense, the environment and the rewards can be too much to pass up.
CW: OK, keeping CRR is job #1 (after the national championship, of course), but that’s obviously easier said than done. Does CRR consider taking another job in college football in the near future? Would either Florida State or Penn State be options?
MC: Of course he considers. Who wouldn’t? You have to listen and listening turns into leverage to improve your own situation. That’s the game today and people have to open their minds to accept that. The chatter is going to start soon, too. Figure at least, I don’t know, five marquee jobs will be open soon. Michigan, Nebraska and Texas A&M are vacant and Arkansas is likely to follow. Then at least one job will open to fill the others, plus maybe a surprise we’re just not expecting. Those four, though, are teams looking to change the culture. Wouldn’t Rodriguez be on a short list for some or all of those schools? Doesn’t Michigan have to find someone who can find a way to handle the speed and win the recruiting wars against Ohio State? Maybe that’s Les Miles, but then someone has to coach LSU. It’s a cycle. As for Penn State and Florida State, I doubt those are options, but only because I think there are better and more natural replacements out there. Seems like a keep-it-in-the-family situation, but that’s just me and you can see the appeal is obvious to both employee and employer. Whomever woos Rodriguez better have the cash to handle the buyout. And I don’t think it has to be a college, either.
CW: In the same vein, do you see any current Mountaineers leaving school early (Steve Slaton being the most obvious, but also Pat White or Darius Reynaud)?
MC: It’s a lot like the coaching business. I think players have to look into it and certainly guys like Reynaud, maybe Ryan Stanchek and especially Johnny Dingle have played so well this season that they’d be silly not to explore. A couple of players will have already graduated or will by the time the draft rolls around, so what’s to lose? It’s easy for us to look at the stats and say Slaton hasn’t had as good a season this year, but numbers mean only so much. There might be a team out there that wants a running back just like him and will tell him to stay in the draft. It’s just too subjective of a process to say who will leave, but I think a lot of them will look into it. And they should. It’s not necessarily about getting drafted this year, either. Reynaud and Keilen Dykes filed their paperwork last year and neither was really going to be a high draft pick. But they got an honest opinion from the NFL about not only where they’d be drafted, but what their strengths and weaknesses were and what they would need to improve be drafted in a more favorable spot in the future.
CW: Well, it’s inevitable that, the better we get, the more players are going to leave early. It’s a double-edged sword. So, to keep up the program, we need to recruit. Rodriguez has already gotten Noel Devine and is in the mix for Terrelle Pryor and Shayne Hale. Bob Huggins, in his first year, has brought in the most heralded class to Morgantown in years. Is there much more room for a program like West Virginia to improve in that area?
MC: It can always get better, especially at West Virginia. Consistency is the key. You want to get Noel Devine every year, not just once every couple of years. The more Rich and Huggins get the upper echelon to commit to WVU, the more it helps to tear down some of those perceptions that exit on the outside. It’s like the Outer Banks. Everyone wants to vacation in the Outer Banks. Why? Because everyone wants to vacation at the Outer Banks. Maybe they can get one of those OBX stickers along the way just to tell everyone they’ve been to the Outer Banks. If it’s good for the masses, it’s good for the masses. What matters most is success and those programs are in a position to be a contender now. It’s all tied together, really. Consistent recruiting makes for consistent winning. Consistent winning makes for consistent recruiting.
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