October 18, 2011

Q-and-A: WVU coach Dana Holgorsen

In his first season as West Virginia's coach, Dana Holgorsen has the Mountaineers poised to win the Big East.

West Virginia is off to a 5-1 start and is No. 16 in the coaches' poll. WVU's loss is to No. 1 LSU. And, as expected, West Virginia is doing it with a prolific offense.

That's a big reason Holgorsen, 40, was hired. He's an offensive guru who learned under some of the best minds in coaching in Mike Leach and Hal Mumme. In fact, Mumme, who was the head coach, and Leach, who was an assistant, recruited Holgorsen to play at Iowa Wesleyan, an NAIA school in his hometown of Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Holgorsen was a wide receiver in college, graduating in 1993.

[Huguenin: Projecting the BCS bowls]

Holgorsen later coached with both at Valdosta State (1993-95). After stops at Mississippi College (1996-98) and Wingate (1999), Holgorsen joined Leach's staff at Texas Tech (2000-07), serving as offensive coordinator in his final three seasons in Lubbock. Holgorsen then ran record-setting offenses at Houston (2008-09) under Kevin Sumlin and Oklahoma State (2010) under Mike Gundy before landing the West Virginia job.

Holgorsen was supposed to be coach-in-waiting in 2011 under Bill Stewart. But when it was alleged that Stewart tried to have negative stories dug up about Holgorsen, West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck pulled the plug on Stewart in June and elevated Holgorsen to coach.

Rivals.com spoke to Holgorsen about a number of topics.

Are you about where you thought you'd be as far as the development of your program?

"I don't know. Every year is different. Each team is different. Whether it's first year, second year, 20th year, you go into each season and you kind of have an idea of where you are, but you don't truly get those questions answered until you start playing. Now, it's more than just offense. It's all three sides of the ball. But you address where you are at on all three sides of the ball and figure out what you have to do to make it a little better each week."

You are known as an offensive coach, but are you spending time with all three phases of the team?

"Yes. I sit in every special team meeting. I pay attention to every snap in practice. Defensively, I don't sit in meetings, I don't make suggestions on what you should do on third downs. I interact with the players. That's my job defensively, encourage them, get on them for stupid penalties. It takes away from my time offensively, but that's why I hired [assistants] Robert Gillespie and Bill Bedenbaugh, Shannon Dawson, Jake Spavital and all those guys to do things they way they know I want them done.

[More on West Virginia: Go to WVSports.com]

What areas of the team still need work?

"Shoot, you never are going to have it figured out. If you make improvement Game 1 to Game 13, there still will be areas you need to address. There are all kinds of things. Offensively, finishing blocks is a big thing; consistency is a big thing. We have big-play potential and first-down potential; it's a matter of keeping your finger on these guys each week and getting maximum effort. Defensively, we still are meshing after losing several good players off of last year's defense. A lot of new bodies that are learning to play together. ... Coverage units and return units, that's a constant work in progress."

Do you have all of your offense installed?

"Yes, we do, from Day One. We have everything in and you work the heck out of it to find what you're good at. I'm still trying to figure out what we are good at. If you look back at how we were at Houston, for two years we played fast, were spread, we were a really good screen team because we had athletic linemen. [Quarterback] Case [Keenum] was really good at keeping plays alive. At Oklahoma State, we shifted a little more to fit our personnel, with bigger backs and tight ends, a great running back, and schematically we changed a little bit. When we came here, we had a different set of deals. We still had some of the fast receivers like we had at Houston, but we also had a bunch of fullbacks and tight ends and backs. We are kind of trying to mesh the two. We are constantly trying to figure out what we are good at and address the areas we are not."

Is there one area of being a head coach that has surprised you?

"Just the time. I have to print up a schedule for what I have going on each day. I have to make sure the offense and defense are on the same page with practice, so the scheduling takes time. The press takes time. I knew it was going to be like that; I just hadn't experienced it like that. Juggling time is the biggest thing. I'm just thankful I have good coaches who can sit in meetings and me not have to be in there 100 percent of the time."

[BCS standings: LSU tops initial list]

Has the chemistry between the offensive and defensive staffs been good?

"Staffs across the country are filled with people with big egos and different personalities. The trick is to find ways to mix the guys who aren't hanging out at night. I have been incredibly pleased with how that has gone. You talk about two staffs, offensively and defensively, that are quite honestly complete opposites. The one thing everyone shares is the common goal of success. We are used to being successful on offense and they are on defense. It's my job to make sure it meshes. We are getting to know each other and we are practicing together, and morale among the coaching staff and players is probably as high as any I have been around."

Have you stayed in touch with Mike Leach and Kevin Sumlin to use them as sounding boards?

"I talk to them periodically. They remain close friends. I call 'Summy' and tell him I have a question and I will ask, and he'll just start busting out laughing because he knew these phone calls were coming. He has been great and Leach has been great. And I contact Hal Mumme every now and then, too. He also has been great. They all remain close friends."

How bizarre was the departure of Bill Stewart?

"We are past it. I took the job back in December because of the confidence I have in Oliver Luck. He is as good as there is in the profession, and he understands how things are not just here at West Virginia but across the nation. He has been in a lot of different places and accomplished a lot of different things. I put all my confidence in him and knew the situation wasn't a traditional one. But I was hired to be the OC and sat in a room for six months and coached offense. And when I got the call that the switch was going to be made, I knew it was going to happen sooner or later and had been preparing for it, so when it happened, I immediately flipped the switch and changed the hat. Every since, it has been a work in progress but it has been good."

Are you glad it happened sooner rather than later?

"Yeah, but everyone kind of wants to do it the way they want to. There are a whole bunch of ways to do things. Whether you think it's the right way or wrong way, you are going to do it the way you want to. I feel like we have a pretty good plan on all sides of the ball to be successful, but also try to keep the morale as high as possible for the players to where the players and coaches want to come to work and you all are working toward one goal."

Did you talk to Stewart after he left?

"Just the day after. He came in and talked to the team. He's a good person and we appreciate everything he's done. He came in and talked to the staff and team. I visited with him for a little bit. You just have to move on."

What did he say to you?

" 'Good luck.' It wasn't a long, drawn-out thing. He deserved the right to come say goodbye to everybody."

[Y! Sports Shop: Show your school colors with college football team gear]

Are you worried about the future of the Big East?

"I haven't had many conversations with anybody about it. Whoever you talk to, you probably are going to get a different answer. Jim Clements, who is our president, is on top of it. Oliver Luck is on top of it. If I wanted to get in the middle of it, there wouldn't be a whole lot I could do, so I've just worried about winning football games. I will say this, and I've been a lot of places and seen a lot of things -- I think West Virginia brings as much to the table as anybody. The brand of ball we play, the excitement level, the attendance, the support, men's and women's basketball are ranked every year and have an exciting brand of ball. From an atmosphere and geography standpoint, I would think we could be a team that could compete anywhere."

Has there been any backlash from your comments after the Bowling Green game that were critical of fans for low attendance?

"From people who don't know what the situation is. From people who understand exactly what the situation is, I got a ton of support on it. And five days later, when we played UConn, we had 59,000 screaming people in there. That was a great environment. We had a dozen recruits up, we had a noon game, great weather, and we had a fantastic atmosphere. I think the majority of the people understood what was said. And probably a handful that didn't. And you aren't getting a whole lot out of them anyway."

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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