“I’m happy with the career I had,” Justice said recently as he reflected on his five years in the gold and blue. “I grew up loving this program when I was a kid. I got the chance to contribute as a player, and now I will have the chance to contribute as a coach.”
The Gilbert, W. Va. native began doing just that in the spring, joining WVU’s graduate assistant ranks after a brief fling at pro football. He’s already been through West Virginia’s spring practices, and recently assisted at Rich Rodriguez’ summer football camps. Those sessions provided a valuable learning experience for Justice, who is still making the transition from playing to coaching.
“As far as technique and things like that, it’s all the same,” said Justice as he analyzed the differences between the two. “I’ve had a five-year course in all of that. It’s just from a different point of view – now I am looking at it through a coach’s eyes. It’s a little weird, but I think I will get used to it and adjust to it just fine.”
Another thing that Justice is still developing is his coaching style and overall approach. While playing his career under fiery coach Rick Trickett, he hasn’t adopted any of the personality traits of his animated mentor.
“That’s not my job,” he said with a laugh when asked if he has tossed a hat yet on the field. “That’s not who I am, and you have to be who you are when you coach. Coach Trickett wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t throw his hat around now and then, and I wouldn’t be me if I did. By staying true to yourself and being who you are, you will be more effective.
“I am definitely more laid back than Coach Trickett, but I haven’t coached long enough to develop a style yet. I’m sure that will come in the future.”
Such an outlook shows the maturity that Justice has developed at WVU. He’s not rushing to do things he’s not ready for yet, but at the same time is taking advantage of the natural factors that are helping him move into the coaching ranks. One of those is the age factor – he’s obviously much closer to current players in that regard.
“I think the age closeness helps because I’ve been there and I’ve been in the game,” he analyzed. “With an older coach, although he knows what he’s talking about, a player might say ‘How do you know – you haven’t been there.’ But I can say I’ve been in a game, and I know this is right – this is what you need to do to be successful.
Justice certainly has more tools than just his playing career to help him in his start in coaching. His major included a number of classes in that area, and he can also point to his Whitey Gwynne Award, presented to an unsung hero on the Mountaineer team, as evidence of the right way to excel in the WVU program. However, he admits that it has been a bit strange coaching people that he played alongside a year ago.
“It’s a little weird telling them what to do,” he admitted. “But we all have mutual respect for each other, and hopefully they will see through the work and effort I put in over the past five years that they can listen to me and respect that. And with the new guys, we won’t have that history of playing together, so I can treat them more like a coach.”