August 2, 2011

Holgorsen goes full speed into first season

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NEWPORT, R.I. - Dana Holgorsen was supposed to ease into the job as head coach at West Virginia, spending a year as coach-in-waiting and offensive coordinator to Bill Stewart before taking charge of the program.

"So much for that," Holgorsen said Tuesday at Big East Media Day.

Mudslinging in the media led to Stewart's resignation in June. The ugliness included the school investigating Stewart for trying to undermine Holgorsen, reports of erratic behavior on Holgorsen's part and a former Pittsburgh newspaper reporter claiming Stewart asked him to, "dig up dirt" on Holgorsen.

With that mess behind him, Holgorsen, the mastermind behind prolific offenses at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State, ascends to the top spot ahead a year ahead of schedule.

The 40-year-old from Iowa has a drawl befitting someone who spent most of his coaching career in Texas, Oklahoma and the Southeast.

As he leaned back in his chair to talk about installing his high-flying offense with the Mountaineers, it is clear Holgorsen also has the swagger of someone used to hanging 40 or so points on his opponents.

That's what got him hired at WVU in the first place. The spread offense led by Pat White and Steve Slaton ruled the Big East for three seasons, but the Mountaineers were pedestrian on offense soon after they left. After three consecutive 9-4 seasons under Stewart, the school's administration decided it was time for a change.

Asked if he had any reservations back in December about the coach-in-waiting approach, Holgorsen said he trusted his employers to make the right call.

"I had complete 100 percent faith and trust and [athletic director] Oliver Luck and president [James] Clements," Holgorsen said. "I had complete confidence in those guys."

Now, their confidence must be completely in Holgorsen, who said he has made few changes since spring practice. The only alterations, he said, have been getting to know the defensive players and meeting more with media and boosters.

"I was just coaching offense," he said. "That's what I was hired to do in January. When I got a phone call saying I needed to change what I was doing, that's when I changed what I was doing."

Holgorsen seems at ease in the big chair. Four days after he was promoted, he celebrated by skydiving with the U.S. Army Golden Knights.

"That's him all the way," quarterback Geno Smith said.

With a tumultuous offseason over, Holgorsen can start thinking about the kind of program he wants to run at WVU, picked by the media to win the Big East.

Holgorsen plans to be most involved with the offense, which is looking to improve from 25 points and 372 yards per game. Neither figure ranked in the top 60 nationally.

He inherits Smith, the league's most efficient passer, to go with three of the top four receivers from 2010. WVU added respected assistant Bill Bedenbaugh from Arizona to work with an offensive line that has been mediocre of late.

Holgorsen's hiring and other staff changes bring optimism and pressure.

"He has a great resume," Smith said. "He's been in this offense for 10 years now and it's always been No. 1. We don't want to be the team that doesn't fulfill expectations."

Holgorsen has served under offensive-minded head coaches for most of his career, and observed how they handled their program.

At Texas Tech, Mike Leach spent the bulk of his time with the offense, ceding control of the defense to the coordinator. Before Holgorsen arrived at Oklahoma State, Mike Gundy was so wrapped up in calling the offense he barely paid attention to the game when the Cowboys' defense was on the field.

Holgorsen called Houston's Kevin Sumlin an "unbelievable CEO" for the way he oversaw all aspects of the Cougars' program.

Though he's spent nearly all of his time with the Mountaineers' offense, Holgorsen said the defensive team "went from their players to our players."

At some point, Holgorsen envisions he will drift closer to the Sumlin model rather than the Leach model. That's a lesson, though, he'll learn on the job.

"I think it's inevitable [to become a CEO]," Holgorsen said. "To what degree I don't know. I'm kind of the CEO of the program right now. What I choose to do with my time is something I'ce got to figure out. I'm not going to be a guy who sits in the offensive room 100 percent of the time. I'm not that guy right now."

Holgorsen knows there's no grace period at WVU, where three consecutive nine-win seasons was enough to make Stewart expendable.

"Everybody's under the same pressures of you need to win now," Holgorsen said. "It doesn't matter if you're first year, second year, third year, 38th year."

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.




 

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