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West Virginia assistant fondly recalls his time in KC

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, at 10:52 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, at 8:41 a.m.

Kansas at West Virginia

When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, W.Va.

Records: KU 1-10, 0-8 Big 12; WVU 6-5, 4-5

Radio: KFH, 1240-AM, 98.7-FM

TV: FSKC, Ch. 34

Three things about West Virginia

1. West Virginia senior Tavon Austin is a force, leading the Big 12 with 106 catches for 1,149 yards. Austin also rushed 21 times for 344 yards against Oklahoma on Nov. 17.

2. In the Mountaineers’ first five games, Geno Smith had thrown 24 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. Since: He’s thrown for 13 TDs and five interceptions while his completion percentage has dropped to a more reasonable 70.2 percent.

3. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen served as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State in 2010. That year, the Cowboys rolled over KU in a 48-14 victory in Lawrence.

Key matchup

Geno Smith vs. the KU defense. The Kansas defense has recorded nine sacks in 11 games. If the Jayhawks can’t put any pressure on Geno Smith, they have little chance of slowing down the Mountaineers’ high-powered offense.

Rustin Dodd’s pick: West Virginia 41-20

For Kansas, it’s another bad matchup. West Virginia has too many offensive weapons, and the Jayhawks just don’t have an offense that can keep pace for 60 minutes.

He remembers the trips to Oklahoma Joes, the quick meals that served as a bridge from one job to another. Daron Roberts would begin his journey at the Chiefs’ facility in the morning, breaking down special-teams film and doing the work of a lowly assistant who barely had a job. In the afternoon, he’d head for his 2002 Tahoe and make the drive to Bishop Miege High, where then Chiefs coach Herm Edwards had made an agreement with former Chiefs lineman and then Miege coach Tim Grunhard.

Edwards had called up Grunhard with a small request. He had a young coach, gifted and smart, but the coach needed some on-field experience.

“I got a guy that needs to learn how to coach in the dirt,” Grunhard remembers Edwards saying.

So one day, in the summer of 2007, Roberts showed up at Miege for the first practice. The players at Miege, of course, didn’t know Roberts’ story. They didn’t know that he was a Harvard law school grad who had given up a career in law to try his hand at coaching; that he’d gone to a camp one summer and found his true calling; that he’d practically begged Edwards to give him a chance. They just knew that he kept showing up every day.

“They just saw how passionate he was about football,” says Jon Holmes, who served as an assistant on that Miege staff and succeeded Grunhard as coach before this season.

Five years later, Roberts is now an assistant at West Virginia, coaching cornerbacks for a program that is adjusting to life in the Big 12. On Saturday in Morgantown, W.Va., Roberts will be reunited with his old boss when Kansas finishes its season against West Virginia.

Five years ago, Grunhard was the high school coach at Bishop Miege, building a program in his first head coaching job. Roberts, meanwhile, was just trying to learn the craft.

Now both are college assistants — Roberts in his second year at West Virginia, Grunhard in his first year at Kansas. Five years later, Roberts still has fond memories of his time in Kansas City. An unlikely coaching career born in an unlikely place.

He can remember those drives from Arrowhead to Miege, and the night Miege beat arch-rival St. Thomas Aquinas. He can remember how Grunhard meticulously planned out the schedule, how practices appeared to run like clockwork. Even better, he met his wife during those days in KC. Her name was Hilary. She was a KU graduate.

“That experience was the most enjoyable for me of all the coaching experiences that I’ve had,” Roberts said. “Just because Coach Grunhard had assembled an incredible staff of coaches.”

It could have been different, of course. Roberts, a former high school football player in Texas, has an undergraduate degree from Texas and two graduate degrees from Harvard. In another life, maybe he would have gone into law or politics, his resume landing a six-figure job at some top law firm.

Instead, Roberts was content to spend his afternoons at Miege. One year later, when Edwards was fired, Roberts followed former Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham to the Detroit Lions. In 2011, he landed a job on Dana Holgorsen’s staff at West Virginia.

It’s been a trying year in Morgantown. Maybe not quite like Kansas, where the Jayhawks enter their final game at 1-10. But the Mountaineers are just 6-5, with a five-game losing streak that came after a 5-0 start. Still, Roberts has no regrets about his path. He learned something that year at Miege, something about coaching football and reaching kids.

“It was the warmest reception that I’ve ever had on a staff,” Roberts said. “Those days were some of the best days I’ve spent in Kansas City.”

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