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Defense doing the talking for Jeff Casteel

Jeff Casteel has got it all wrong.

The West Virginia defensive coordinator needs to hire a fast-talking agent, pronto. Perhaps he could enlist a marketing team. A website wouldn't hurt either.

Doesn't Casteel know this is the age of the superstar coordinator in college football, the guy who gets tons of face time during TV broadcasts and commands a salary of up to half a million dollars? Your name is supposed to be on every list of future head coaches, and if you can get one of those coach-in-waiting contracts, even better.

But Casteel is hiding in plain sight. He doesn't get much attention nationally despite annually overseeing one of the top defenses in the Big East and in the country.

"Jeff doesn't have an agent," head coach Bill Stewart said. "Jeff does not promote himself. I hope he stays under the radar screen so people leave him be and he can stay here forever."

If the Mountaineers' defense keeps performing like it has this season, then sooner or later people will have to start noticing Casteel.

West Virginia ranks third nationally in scoring defense, giving up just 12.3 points per game. It is No. 5 in total defense (245.8 yards per game), No. 4 in rushing defense (83.2 ypg), second in first downs allowed (just more than 12 per game) and 11th in both pass defense and sacks.

The defense had high expectations coming into this year as it returned nine starters, and that experience is paying off. Ten of the starters are either juniors or seniors, and many of them are multi-year contributors. Defensive linemen Chris Neild, Scooter Berry and Julian Miller, linebacker J.T. Thomas and defensive backs Sidney Glover, Robert Sands and Brandon Hogan have an average of 28 career starts between them.

"They haven't changed a call in three years," said South Florida offensive coordinator Todd Fitch, whose team managed only a pair of field goals against the Mountaineers in a 20-6 loss last week. "These guys have been playing three years in a row and have tremendous experience, and so they can handle adjustments, they can handle adversity and success.

"I don't know if they have any All-Americans running around, but they're all really good players. I think it's really the cohesion and the speed they play with because they're confident and know what they're doing."

Just attributing the defense's success to veteran moxie would do a disservice to Casteel's work, however. Several players have made great improvement, especially cornerback Keith Tandy, who went from a hide-your-eyes liability to a solid defender who has four interceptions and just won Big East defensive player of the week honors. West Virginia lost leading returning tackler Pat Lazear to a knee injury in preseason camp, but Casteel adjusted by moving Anthony Leonard back to the middle and inserting Najee Goode into the starting lineup.

"The way Anthony has played has been a big key," Casteel said. "And Najee is starting to make some big plays. The more confidence he gets, the better he's going to play."

Casteel has been on the WVU staff since 2001 and the sole defensive coordinator since 2003. His 3-3-5 stack defenses have had some great years in the past, including 2007 when they finished seventh in the FBS in total defense. The Mountaineers finished 11th in points allowed in '08. Yet when people talk about West Virginia, the conversation usually revolves around Pat White, Steve Slaton, Noel Devine, Jock Sanders, Geno Smith ...

"It's always been about the offensive stars," Stewart said. "[But] I've said it since I've been the head coach and I'll say it again: Jeff's defenses kept us in games way back in the early 2000s, and he has done it since I've been a head coach."

So why hasn't Casteel gotten more publicity? For one, the Paden City, W. Va., native is happy in his home state. He turned down a chance to follow Rich Rodriguez to Michigan after 2007. And he's not the type to toot his own horn.

"I really don't concern myself with those things," he said. "That's for other people to discuss. I just try to come in and do the best job I can. It doesn't matter to me whether anybody is talking about Jeff Casteel. There are a lot of great assistants here, too, who work their tails off. That stuff is not really not on my radar."

I asked Casteel whether he was interested in becoming a head coach or if he was a guy just happy to be a coordinator.

"If the right opportunity came along, no question about it," he said. "But I don't actively try to get out and seek things because I can't do that and do a good job here. If the opportunity to be a head coach came along, it's something I would look at. Everything is about being in the right situation. West Virginia is a good place and I'm happy here."

The marketing folks have a difficult case on their hands here. Jeff Casteel has a lot to learn about the superstar culture.