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New defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel embraces the change and challenge at Arizona

Coach Rich Rodriguez and new defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel meet with the media Friday.

Stability is nice. Change is good.

Jeff Casteel chose the latter when deciding to leave West Virginia after 11 years as a football assistant — the last nine as defensive coordinator — and reuniting with head coach Rich Rodriguez.

“I thought it was time for another challenge,” Casteel said Friday at his introductory press conference with the Arizona Wildcats.

“It was tough, no doubt, because of my family and it’s where I have been the majority of my life. Again, it’s about change. And you need to branch out a little bit. I thought this was the right opportunity to do it.”

Casteel, a West Virginia native, saw Tucson for the first time on Thursday. With the sunny late-morning weather in the low 60s, Casteel, wearing a new blue Arizona golf shirt, joked that, “People here think this is cold.”

But the move wasn’t about the weather. It wasn’t about the money, either.

He was paid $400,000 by West Virginia last season. He would have earned $450,000 in 2012 and $575,000 in 2013, including a retention bonus.

Casteel is actually taking a pay cut. He will make $425,000 with Arizona next season, athletic director Greg Byrne said.

“I thought the opportunity to leave West Virginia, this was the right time to do it and embark on another challenge,” he said. “I see working at the University of Arizona and in this league as another challenge.”

Casteel, who was part of Rodriguez’s first staff at West Virginia in 2001, didn’t leave with the bulk of the Mountaineers staff when it went to Michigan in 2008.

Casteel stayed for head coach Bill Stewart and received a multi-year deal. Stewart was then let go in a tumultuous last offseason, and Dana Holgorsen took over as head coach.

“Things had changed a little bit,” Casteel said.

Rodriguez said he had a Plan B and a Plan C, but Casteel was always his first choice as defensive coordinator at Arizona.

The hiring process dragged, though, as Casteel wanted to focus on West Virginia’s appearance against Clemson in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3. He said he talked with his family last weekend — his wife and her family are from the Morgantown area as well — and decided to take the Arizona job.

Casteel, 49, said he talked with his players early this week about his move.

“I think anytime you leave a program … it’s tough with the kids, the players. You get close to them,” Casteel said. “It’s always about change. Those things happen in life.”

Perhaps this change will help Casteel become a head coach — something he would like to pursue. He can help himself by using his unusual 3-3-5 defense to conquer a new conference, a new part of the country.

Casteel, who will coach linebackers, brought with him two assistants from West Virginia — defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich and secondary coach David Lockwood. Tony Gibson, who also will help coach the secondary, was with Casteel at West Virginia years earlier.

Basically, it’s a defensive staff that offensively-minded Rodriguez can trust completely.

“I don’t mess too much with the defense,” he said.

“Sometimes I will act like I know what I’m doing over there, but it’s important that I have guys that I can completely turn everything over to. Jeff, I can do that with.”

Related story: Rodriguez and Casteel go way back

Casteel was the defensive coordinator at West Virginia for nine years. Here is a chart of how his defenses ranked nationally, with yards per game and points per game:

Year Total def. Rank. Scoring def. Rank
2003 391.3 74 22.8 44
2004 339.3 37 20.5 28
2005 310.8 15 17.8 13
2006 336.6 62 21.7 49
2007 301.7 7 18.1 8
2008 328.9 36 17.0 11
2009 336.5 36 21.7 31
2010 261.1 3 13.5 3
2011 348.2 33 26.8 61
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