Where Does West Virginia Football Go From Here?
MORGANTOWN, W.Va – Where does West Virginia football go from here and should Dana Holgorsen be included in its future?
That is the central issue that must be confronted right now.
When Shane Lyons, the athletic director, sits down and analyzes the situation, there is one focal point and that is Holgorsen.
Has he taken the West Virginia football program as high as he can take it?
He was hired by Oliver Luck, not Lyons, so there isn’t any real tie there that would bind the two men together. He was hired to handle the transition of a Big East program into the Big 12, with which he was familiar.
He did that.
He changed the football philosophy. He made the Mountaineers fit in with the teams in the Big 12, made them a factor in the race.
But as he ends his eighth season as WVU head coach there are quite a few voids, many of them which many believed would be filled this year with Will Grier back as quarterback for a second year and a deep receiving corps.
Yet, in the end, there are three losses on the resume, the annual loss to Oklahoma, another embarrassing loss to an average Oklahoma State team with a big lead blown in the process and a loss at Iowa State.
And, even as ESPN was trumpeting him as an offensive innovator — which he most certainly has proven to be in every sense of the word — and others are talking about how he may be in demand for other coaching jobs around the country, one wonders if there is more there than he has shown at WVU.
You have to remember, no matter how much they tried to sell you otherwise, that he did not take over a program in trouble. It had won nine games three straight years under Bill Stewart and before that was a contender for the national championship under Rich Rodriguez.
He had to alter things, but his best team may well have been the one he inherited with Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Keith Tandy, Bruce Irvin, Jared Barber, Najee Goode, Donnie Barclay, Jeff Braun, Quinton Spain and Darwin Cook.
It was a good enough team that first year to beat Clemson in the Orange Bowl, 70-33, and the next year even more was expected of it, especially after it started the season 5-0 while averaging 51 points a game and with two of the victories over Top 25 teams.
That season, however, came unraveled with five straight losses in which the Mountaineers gave up 49 or more in four of them.
That season set the stage, really, for what has been repeated this year, including a game where WVU won the now famous 70-63 victory over Baylor, scored 69 points on Marshall and 59 on Kansas.
To Holgorsen’s eternal credit he matured as a coach as the years went by, morphing from an Air Raid philosophy to an offense that included a run game and tight ends and H-backs. He even gave up his play calling duties to concentrate more on being a CEO.
But mostly under Holgorsen it has been more show biz than football biz, beating up the teams they should beat up and losing to teams that would take a little something extra to beat.
And as for Oklahoma, it’s as if they are in some other league … like the NFL.
If you are going to win the Big 12, you are going to have to beat Oklahoma and the Mountaineers just haven’t been able to do that. In fact, they have given up 56, 59 and 59 points in the last three outings and have given up an average of 54 points a game to OU in the seven conference meetings.
Holgorsen understands his situation and his team’s.
“We didn’t make our goal,” Holgorsen said after the Oklahoma loss. “Not going to the Big 12 championship is a damn shame. I think everybody would understand we were close. We beat one of them, and we almost beat the other.”
Almost doesn’t get it in football. Going for it on fourth-and-one and gaining two feet and 11 inches almost gets you a first down but the next play is run by the other team.
A lot of decisions must be made. With a defense that this year gave up 41 to Texas, 45 to Oklahoma State and 59 to Oklahoma, Holgorsen has to decide if he wants Tony Gibson back to run his 3-3-5 stack defense.
And life begins anew on offense next season without Grier, Sills and Gary Jennings.
Knowing that, does Holgorsen want to make a fresh start elsewhere or does Lyons want to start over with someone of his own choice.? The intrigue is just beginning to heat up.