Holgorsen’s Practice, Playing Philosophy Reflects In NCAA Changes
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Dana Holgorsen was once purely a new school mentality when it comes to practice.
Virtually no full scale tackling, high reps, fast-paced, offense-based. It was get-in, get-out, max volume muscle memory repetition. And no need, they said, to get the players up at 5 a.m. for practices. That’s not the body’s prime functioning time, so why do it?
It was a logical, reasoning-centered approach that, truth told, caused friction within the coaching community as the Hal Mumme- and Mike Leach-based style of Holgorsen’s origin clashed with the old school mentality of grueling, physical sessions that lasted three hours instead of a crisp 90 minutes.
“For me growing up, we would run a play and get in the huddle and the coach would yell at us for about 45 seconds or three minutes,” Holgorsen said. “Then we would call another play and you would run it and get in the huddle and sit there and talk about it for two, three minutes. We probably get more reps in a 10-minute inside period now than we did 20 years ago in a 30-minute inside period.”
Mumme was among the originators of the new style, which fit nicely with the Air Raid offense he was building at a series of west Texas high schools. The success segued into coordinator jobs at West Texas A&M and UTEP before Mumme got the call to become head coach at Iowa Wesleyan. There, he was joined by Leach and a young receiver in Holgorsen, and together they forged a new identity on both the playing and practice field.
No long sessions, minimal contact. Having receivers run in sand to better hone muscles and lessen the lactic acid build-up sure to come with running five consecutive vertical routes in a series. Players scattered all over the field at practice, with three, four, maybe even five quarterbacks spread out and taking snaps, then all firing to five receivers heading out into various pre-assigned patterns.
The philosophy would reach into the upper echelon of the collegiate game at Kentucky, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and beyond before it fully kicked in the door when Leach took over the Red Raider program in 2000. He brought Holgorsen along as the receivers coach, and five years later he had the coordinator’s job and was a rising name in the business.
Holgorsen still does the majority of this at WVU, minus the sand. It’s designed to gain the maximum number of snaps and reps, and it’s an idea valued to this day. Because the sessions limited contact, there were fewer hits taken – and thus less injury risk – and the style’s influence fully came to bear when the NCAA finally cut out two-a-days and reduced the on-field practice load for student-athletes.
Suddenly, what was formerly viewed as an outside mentality was appreciated for what it brought to the game – namely increased player safety and additional rest and recovery time.
“The biggest difference is how you practice now compared to how you used to practice,” Holgorsen said. “The days of being out there for three hours are long gone, that’s for sure. How did we used to practice with not being able to drink water and sit there and do inside drill for 45 minutes? It’s a lot different for sure.”
Holgorsen has since become more balanced, his hunch that a better run game could aid the Air Raid causing a split with Leach after the 2007 season. Holgorsen went to Houston for two seasons under current Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, then spent a year at Oklahoma State. Those three years put him in contact with the majority of his offensive staff at West Virginia, including coordinator Jake Spavital, line coach Joe Wickline and receivers coach Tyron Carrier.
He has also struck an equilibrium across offense, defense and special teams, though those early influences remain a major part of Holgorsen’s ideology.
“I wonder how they did it with the leather helmets,” he joked about the yesteryear style. “It has changed. There has been a lot of talk about it.”