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Safeties coach Tony Gibson leaves Arizona, set to return to West Virginia

Tony Gibson

Tony Gibson has coached with Rich Rodriguez for 11 of the past 12 seasons. Photo by Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez is looking to fill a second vacancy on his coaching staff.

Safeties coach Tony Gibson, who has been with Rodriguez for much of the past two decades as a player and coach, is no longer with Arizona, the school announced Wednesday morning. He is set to return to West Virginia, according to several reports, including this one from the West Virginia Metro News.

As of Wednesday morning, there has been no official announcement from West Virginia.

Rodriguez also is looking for an offensive line coach after Robert Anae returned last week to his alma mater, BYU, for his second stint as offensive coordinator.

Gibson, a native of West Virginia who still has strong family ties in the area, played for Rodriguez at Glenville State, coached defensive backs for him there in 1996, then was on Rodriguez’s first staff at West Virginia in 2001.

Gibson, 40, was with the Mountaineers through Rodriguez’s seven-year tenure and accompanied the head coach to Michigan during a tumultuous run from 2008 to 2010. Gibson spent the 2011 at Pitt while Rodriguez was out of coaching but was among RichRod’s first hires at Arizona after that season.

That Pitt connection that comes into play here. West Virginia’s defensive coordinator, Steve Patterson, worked with Gibson with the Panthers during the 2011 season.

Gibson, noted as a top recruiter, coached the “Bandit” and “Spur” safeties this season for Arizona, working with a group that didn’t have a senior. His starters were sophomores Jared Tevis and Tra’Mayne Bondurant, backed up by freshmen (Wayne Capers Jr., Patrick Onwuasor) and former walk-on sophomore Blake Brady.

Tevis, also a former walk-on, earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors.

Arizona’s defense — young, thin, small and lacking a pass rush — allowed 292.85 passing yards game per game, 117th out of 120 teams nationally. West Virginia was 118th, and coach Dana Holgorsen fired two defensive coaches.

Rodriguez split the special teams duties among his staff, with Gibson responsible for the “defensive” special teams — punt block/return, kickoffs and extra point block. Tight ends coach Spencer Leftwich handled the “offensive” special teams — the punt team, kick returns and place-kicking.

Rodriguez has to reconfigure this area of his coaching staff as Leftwich departed after the season to join the new coaching staff at UTEP, where his son will be a freshman quarterback in 2013.

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