Holgorsen Thinks Grier Can Handle The Hype
For the better part of a decade, from his later years at Texas Tech through his time as the offensive coordinator at Houston and then Oklahoma State to his first six seasons as the head coach at West Virginia, Dana Holgorsen’s game day responsibilities were largely focused on calling offensive plays.
Last year, though, Holgorsen stepped away from that chore and turned over the play calling duties to his new offensive coordinator, Jake Spavital.
That allowed Holgorsen time to look at the bigger picture during the games. Dana didn’t lose sight of the Mountaineer offense, but he was able to pay more attention to other areas.
“I became very interested in special teams. I had to do something,” said Holgorsen, not completely in jest. “My job is to manage people, whether it’s coaches, players, manage the game. Then special teams is kind of the glue between offense and defense. I spend as much time with the defense as I do the offense.
“I never once questioned anything that (Spavital) was calling,” he added. “We weren’t incredibly efficient last year offensively, and that’s been the sole topic of discussion from Jan. 1 until now. I think just watching the practices and how Jake and Will (Grier) interact, they’ve got as good of a relationship that exists between a play caller and a quarterback that I’ve ever seen. I’m comfortable with where they’re at, and year two is always going to become more efficient. I’m excited about watching that.”
Grier was awfully good through the first 10 games of 2017. To that point he was third nationally in passing yards (344.0 yards per game) and second in touchdown passes (34). His junior season came to a painful end in the first quarter of week 11, though, when he broke a finger diving for the end zone against Texas. West Virginia’s offense was not the same without him the rest of the way, as WVU lost its final three contests.
Now back for his senior year, the 6-foot-2, 212-pound Grier enters the 2018 season regarded as one of the top collegiate players in the country. WVU has ramped up a Heisman campaign to push Grier for that illustrious award.
“I would never approve a campaign unless I felt like a player could handle it,” explained Holgorsen. “That’s my job as far as managing players. Will is older and mature, a coach’s kid. He’s ready for this, and he’s prepared himself his whole life for this. I’ve got no worries about him not understanding expectations and how to deal with expectations. He’s a very mature kid. He can handle this. He’s prepared. He’s played a lot of football.
“You could tell in spring practice that the game has slowed down for him. He’s a cerebral kid and understands what’s out there and what he’s got to do,” WVU’s head coach added. “He knows that he’s got a lot of good players around him, and he doesn’t have to go out there and be Superman. He can manage the game himself and run the offense, which he is more comfortable doing now than he was a year ago. From his personality and who he is as a person, he will be able to handle it just fine. His dad trained him to do that when he was about two. That job was already done by the time I got him.”
Holgorsen fielded a lot of questions about his team during the Big 12 Media Days earlier this week. But there are always a few curveballs tossed in as well.
One question dealt with sports gambling, which will soon be legal in the state of West Virginia, and how schools should handle injury information that gamblers often crave.
“Obviously because it’s such a high-profile situation across the country, it’s been discussed within our office and our administration office,” noted Holgorsen. “We will talk to our players about it. We do every year. It used to be the No. 1 thing that would get you banned from being able to play football. It was a clear-cut No. 1. It’s probably a clear-cut No. 2 now based on what’s happened over the last few years, but it’s something we will address with them.
“I don’t have any fears. If there were five different spots in West Virginia (where casinos can accept legal bets), I don’t think any of our players are going to go do that. They’re the most recognizable figures in our state. If they’re dumb enough to do that, then they’re dumb and will do a whole bunch of dumb stuff. I don’t worry about that. With that said, it’s something we’re going to have to discuss.
“The injury thing, I’ve got my own opinions on injuries,” he said. “My opinion is always, if a guy is out long term, I’ll say it, and if I don’t know, I’m not going to say it, because you never know how kids will respond to injuries and when they’re going to come back. These guys are not pros; they’re amateurs. They’re still trying to figure out how to play through specific injuries. If a guy is out long term, I will say it. If he’s not, we won’t talk about it.”
Holgorsen recently turned 47 years old, and he’s about to begin his eighth season as the head coach at WVU. Only three other Big 12 head coaches have been with their respective schools longer – 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).
Snyder, who will be 79 on Oct. 7, is the dean of all FBS coaches. The fact that he’s still leading the Wildcats may shock some, but not Holgorsenn.
“Nothing he does surprises me,” Holgorsen said shaking his head when asked about Snyder. “I watched him coach growing up as a kid. I’ve talked about this at length. He’s one of my heroes and one of the guys that I’ve always looked up to.
“He’s a Hall of Fame football coach and as resilient as resilient gets. It’s not surprising he’s still doing it. Now I ain’t doing it when I’m 79. I will be lucky to be here when I’m 79.
“I admire him for everything he’s done, everything he’s accomplished, everything he’s brought to the sport of football, everything he’s brought to the coaching community,” Holgorsen continued. “He’s one of the most well respected guys in the history of our game, and I’m excited about being able to compete with him again. He’s always incredibly gracious before the game and incredibly complimentary after the game. It doesn’t matter if he wins or loses, he’s always the same guy.”
A 1962 graduate of William Jewell College in Missouri, Snyder has been coaching for 57 years. TCU’s Gary Patterson, who is 58, is the only current Big 12 head coach who was even alive when Snyder first tooted his whistle in earnest.