Scenarios Abound In Holgorsen/Houston Storyline
The breaking story of the University of Houston’s reported interest in West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen goes far beyond that simple, one-sentence description. There are numerous angles to survey and rabbit holes to descend while trying to figure out what’s real and what’s smoke.
Following are a few of the topics and takes to consider in what is becoming a bit of a routine ritual for the coach who just completed his eighth season at the WVU helm.
The Source: FootballScoop was the first to report Houston’s interest in Holgorsen, and there’s no reason to doubt that it did so in good faith. But what was the source of that report? Was it, as many suspect, a “leak” by the Holgorsen camp to keep his name in the public eye, or to attempt to put pressure on West Virginia to up the ante on his current contract or extend it past its current expiration date following the 2021 season? Or did it come from someone at Houston?
Of course, no agent, representative, nor Holgorsen himself would confirm any such tactic, so there’s not going to be a quote from anyone that answers that question definitively. However, history shows that Holgorsen’s camp hasn’t been averse to doing so in the past.
From the Houston side, there doesn’t appear to be any upside to leaking the name of intended coaching targets, unless its to send a signal that the school isn’t averse to going after a coach from a Power Five school and is willing to pay whatever it takes in order to get him. Even if it’s not Holgorsen, this episode appears to demonstrate that the Cougars are serious about pushing their program higher, and positioning it for inclusion in a Power Five conference when the next round of realignments get underway. That’s assumed to start around 2024-25, when the broadcast rights contracts of multiple P5 leagues expire.
Bowl Smokescreen: The timing of this latest story comes curiously close on the heels of West Virginia’s bowl loss to Syracuse, the fifth such setback in Holgorsen’s seven bowl appearances as WVU’s head coach. If it wasn’t expressly designed to halt discussion of another Mountaineer faceplant in the postseason, it certainly had that side effect, which works well for Holgorsen in the short term.
Contract Provisions: As our Greg Hunter reported earlier today, Holgorsen has made the formal request, as required by his current contract, to talk to another school about a coaching position. That eliminates the only formal roadblock to a move, and it wasn’t much of one to begin with.
Top Target?: Initial reports had Holgorsen pegged as Houston’s top target, but a tweet last night from Brett McMurphy indicates that former Texas Tech head coach and current USC offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury declined an offer from the Cougars.
USC OC/former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury has declined “a lucrative offer” to become coach at Houston, source told @WatchStadium. WVU’s Dana Holgorsen is UH’s next target, source said
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) December 31, 2018
If that is true, then was Holgorsen really UH’s number one choice? Will that make him think twice about his status in the eyes of the Houston administration, which is widely believed to be controlled by mega-donor Tillman Fertitta? And just how much is ” lucrative offer”?
Holgorsen is scheduled to make $3.8 million, $3.9 million and $4 million over the final three years of his present contract with WVU. Sources have indicated to BlueGoldNews.com that Houston’s offer could be in the six-year, $24 million range. That would be right in line with his current pay, but double his current contract length. Houston would also pay the $1 million buyout on Holgorsen’s current WVU contract. That buyout, which is called “liquidated damages” in the contract, drops from $2.5 million to $1 million on Jan. 1, 2019.
WVU Reaction: Officially, there has been none. Unofficially, indications are that the Mountaineer administration is unhappy with the program’s performance on the field. That, in addition to growing dissatisfaction among several staffers with this latest story, won’t help Holgorsen at all in his attempts to extend his contract.
WVU, from its side, believes that it has provided the football program with most of what Holgorsen has asked for, including a new team room and massive renovations to the football complex, as well as a new fundraising initiative that has $55 million earmarked for the program. Part of the “Climbing Higher” fundraising effort, which has a goal of $100 million, the entire cost will be bankrolled by private donations. That wouldn’t seem to leave room at this point for a big pay raise or a long-term extension for Holgorsen, unless he were willing to drop the current buyout figure of 60 percent of his remaining contract by a significant amount. That seems quite unlikely from his side, even if West Virginia was willing to talk an extension at this point, which it is not.
Recruiting: Holgorsen successfully argued, at the time of his last extension negotiation in December of 2016, that the lack of a longer term deal was hindering recruiting efforts, noting that opponents were pointing to his shorter term as evidence he would not be at West Virginia for long. While he got the extension, successful recruiting of high schoolers and four-year players hasn’t increased dramatically. WVU continues to put emphasis on transfers, many of which have only one or two years of eligibility remaining, and those aren’t likely to be affected by the thought that the head coach only has three years remaining on his contract.
What could have an effect, though, is the repeated mentioning of Holgorsen’s name in connection with other jobs, some of which are nothing more than leverage plays. While its desirable to have a coach that is so successful that others want him, it might be counterproductive to continually float that coach’s name as a candidate, especially if there’s no real interest. Again, it’s uncertain as to the true situation in the current Houston affair, but no matter how it plays out, it likely isn’t helping WVU as it tries to attract transfers and as it works on the Class of 2020.
Fundraising: Assuming Holgorsen stays at West Virginia, how can he effectively face the public when fundraising season rolls around in the spring? While donors at these events typically aren’t those who are going to show outrage or launch verbal grenades, would the cumulative results of these putative job searches make for an uncomfortable situation?
Public Perception: It is dicey to judge what the public thinks based on social media reaction, but in this case Holgorsen in losing the battle by a wide margin. Negotiating ploys don’t play well when a team has fallen short of expectations, even if those were somewhat overblown.
Interesting Side Note: Holgorsen’s agent, Trace Armstrong, is also, or has been, the agent for a number of coaches, including former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones, Kansas Jayhawks head coach Les Miles and Texas Longhorn head coachTom Herman. He’s obviously negotiated a number of contracts for those and others, and he also represents several sports journalists. As such, he understands how to play the game and use contacts to get his message out in ways he desires.