Dana Holgorsen Excited To Start Season No. 8 With The Mountaineers
West Virginia head football coach Dana Holgorsen is now a grizzled veteran when it comes to media days.
Holgorsen and other Big 12 coaches, along with their players and league officials, are front and center at the Big 12 Media Days, which are being conducted at The Star in Frisco, Texas, on Monday and Tuesday.
Now the third longest-tenured head coach in the Big 12, behind only Bill Snyder of Kansas State (who is heading into his 27th season), Gary Patterson of TCU (19 seasons), Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State (14 seasons), Holgorsen took the podium in front of the gathered media on Tuesday.
“Day two, year eight for me,” smiled Holgorsen. “It’s good to be here, good to be back. It’s an amazing place every time I come back here. We’ve been (to The Star, which is also the practice home of the Dallas Cowboys) about four times. What an unbelievable place. They were gracious enough to let us practice in here when we were getting ready for the bowl game (last December). It’s a great practice situation obviously, but they do a great job of hosting this event as well. I can see why (former Mountaineer receiver) Tavon Austin is excited right now. He’s a Cowboy now. He’s excited he got traded over here (from Oakland). It took him two minutes to figure out this was a pretty awesome place. He’s excited to be here.
“Our guys are excited to be here. It’s getting close. We’ve still got a little bit of vacation left, so we’re not going to start practicing here tomorrow. They let us practice Aug. 2. So that’s when we will get started.”
With veteran like quarterback Will Grier, receivers David Sills and Gary Jennings, offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste, and linebacker David Long again leading the way, West Virginia enters the 2018 season with high expectations. It was voted No. 2 in the Big 12’s preseason media poll, which equals the highest WVU has been listed in that poll since it joined the league in 2012.
“We welcome expectations. Heck, you want ‘em to talk about you,” stated Holgorsen. “We want you guys to talk about us. I think we have got a good group coming back. We had a decent year last year, and we did some good things offensively. But there are a whole lot of things that I feel like we can do better and our guys think they can do better. We want improvement.
“Handling the expectations aspect of it, that’s what you want. I know I’m going to get a lot of how you handle the pressure of being picked second or whatever is it is. I don’t care where you’re picked, doesn’t matter, there’s pressure everywhere. There’s pressure to live up to the expectations or pressure to create expectations. I think our coaching staff has tremendous continuity, been around, working together for a long time. That helps manage things.”
With such high expectations, people want to look down the road. WVU’s November slate is especially daunting, closing with a regular season finale against Oklahoma, which was No. 1 in the Big 12 preseason poll. If the 2018 campaign goes as the pollsters predict, the Sooners not only would meet the Mountaineers on Nov. 23 in Morgantown but again eight days later in the Big 12 championship game in Dallas.
“Don’t know, never done it, and not going to think about it,” stated Holgorsen about playing an opponent in back-to-back games. “We’ve got to play Tennessee. That’s our first game. That’s our focus. Obviously we’ve been in this league for six, seven years now, so there’s familiarity with every opponent in the league. The back-to-back thing, I don’t know. I’m sure it’s happened before. If we get to a point to where that’s something we will have to deal with, we will research it and deal with it the best way possible.”
Certainly one thing that has gotten WVU to the point where it may be able to contend for a Big 12 title is its talent pool. The Mountaineers are relying more and more on transfers, be they the junior college variety or grad transfers or traditional transfers from four-year colleges.
“We changed our recruiting strategy probably four years ago,” noted Holgorsen. “Coming from the Big East to the Big 12, we felt like we needed a change, and I didn’t like our talent level across the board. We had high-end talent early, but across the board depth-wise, it was not where it needed to be in order to compete in the Big 12. This is an unbelievable conference. It’s extremely deep. You’ve got to play nine (conference) games in a row. You’re going to have guys go down, and you’re going to play a lot of people. If you’re weak at any spot, then these great teams in the Big 12, especially offensively, they’re going to capitalize on that.
“Getting good, local northeast high school kids has been very successful for us,” he added. “Then we go out there and fill holes with transfers. There are a lot of different transfers out there, and this is a hot topic across the country, as we all know. What we’ve been successful with is finding junior college kids, finding four-year guys that need to sit a year, and then finding grad students as well who can come in and play right way. We’ve had success with all three and will continue to do so.”
Juco transfers like Kevin White and Rasul Douglas, grad transfers like Charles Sims and Clint Trickett and traditional transfers like Will Grier and Kyle Bosch have all played big roles for the Mountaineers in recent year. WVU tries to get as much information as possible on potential transfer in an attempt to make an informed decision when offering them a scholarship.
“We research it, definitely, with not only four-year guys but grad transfers and junior college transfers as well,” Holgorsen explained. “It’s a little trickier than with high school guys. You don’t have as much information on those guys. The thing with transfers is you got to figure out why they’re transferring.
“There are some new proposals out there, and I don’t know how I feel about them yet. Guys at some point are always going to want to transfer, but why are you transferring? I don’t want to hear, ‘because they’re not giving me a chance.’ I don’t want to hear that. That’s garbage. Every coach out there gives every player a chance. They recruit ‘em. They’re going to give them a chance.
“I got to figure out why they’re transferring, and coaching changes affect that, which it did with Will. He needed a fresh start. I got to know his family and got to know Will and knew it was going to be a fantastic fit for us. He’s from Charlotte, five hours down the road. He’s got a supportive family. They’re able to come see him play a whole bunch. We had a need at that position. He came in and paid his time. This whole transfer and be eligible right away thing, the only way I think that should be a reality ever in life is if you graduate. If you graduate at a specific school, then I think you should be able to have (transfer) options. If you don’t, then I think you need to pay a price, which is sit a year. We’ve got three more guys coming eligible this year that all transferred from specific Power 5 schools – T.J. Simmons, Jovani Haskins and Jack Allison. They came in, sat a year and paid the price and now they’re going to play for us this year.”
Adding the transfers has helped West Virginia improve its depth since joining the Big 12 in 2012.
“The depth has gotten better and better every year, I think,” said Holgorsen. “It’s year-to-year, but I think we have a recruiting strategy to be able to fill holes. We’ve recruited better. We worked with our freshmen and junior college kids all summer. In June we worked with them, and those guys look different than the ones we’ve brought in. So depth from a younger player point of view is going to be good, but then we fill in with as many older guys through transfers as we can. I do think depth-wise is the only way you can win this league. You’re going to have guys go down, and you’ve got to fill those spots with guys who can play at a very high level and that’s what needs to happen in order to be successful in this league.”
The Mountaineers open the season against Tennessee in Charlotte on Sept. 1, and will face a total of 11 Power 5 opponents in their 12-game regular season. WVU will meet 11 Power 5 foes every year through 2024. It is the only program in the country taking on such a challenging schedule annually for the next seven seasons.
“We’re going to play Power 5 schools,” said Holgorsen. “We are very proud of that. At WVU, we play 11 Power 5 schools – N.C. State and Tennessee, along with the nine Big 12 opponents. I wish everybody would do that. It’s not quite fair that we have to play that schedule and then you have schools in other conferences that play nine (P5 opponents). It’s uneven, but we’re going to keep doing it. It’s fair to our fan base to be able to play local schools that they remember great games in the past. Tennessee, never played them, but they’re our neighbor, and we’re going to play that game in Charlotte, which is our No. 1 alumni base in the United States.
“So it’s going to be exciting for everybody. Our players are excited,” he added. “Our fan base is excited about it. We got Pitt and the old Backyard Brawl coming on the schedule. Penn State is going to be coming on the schedule, as well as Maryland. We’re going to play 10 or 11 Power 5 schools every year. I wish the other teams would do that as well. It’s good for the fan base, good for TV. It’s good for everything.”