Every Mountaineer fan wants to know more about Dana Holgorsen right now, so with that in mind, I thought it might be enlightening to contact some people who have had the opportunity to watch him up close the last few years.
So, last night, I reached out to a couple bloggers who have witnessed Holgorsen work. First to respond is Dustin Rensink, who blogs for SB Nation Houston and saw Holgorsen cooridinate the University of Houston's offense for two years before Holgorsen moved on to Oklahoma State. Here are Dustin's excellent and in-depth answers to 10 questions posed by the the staff of the Smoking Musket.
Smoking Musket: We have had quite a few issues with regard to our offensive line play this season. What kind of OL is best suited for Holgorsen's offense - big road-graders, or small mobile types?
Dustin Rensink: Based on his time at Houston, at least, I would say small, mobile types. Holgorsen runs a lot of screen plays, requiring his offensive linemen to make plays down field. Also, his offense is predicated on getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly, so you don't necessarily need guys who can hold a pocket all day. He's actually had a ton of success running the ball the last three years at Houston and Oklahoma State (seriously, check the numbers) but that's more a function of the defense having to respect the four spread out receivers on the run play than it ever really was having offensive linemen who could just bowl you over.
DR: Get the ball to playmakers in space. We heard that phrase getting thrown around a lot when he was here. Like I said, lots of screen passes, the occasional wide receiver reverse, anything to get the ball in the hands of the offensive playmakers with room to do something with it. We didn't really throw the ball down field a ton, other than to break the occasional big play, and keep the safeties honest. It is an offense that demands more intellectually of the quarterback than physically, because it's much more about making the right pass than an amazing pass. Also, under Holgorsen, we implemented (and still run) the so-called "fast break" offense, not huddling, getting up to the line and running another play as quickly as possible. Be prepared to deal with a lot of faked injuries from opponents trying to keep up.
SM: You mentioned previously that Holgorsen doesn't fit the taste of every fanbase. How would you describe his personality with regard to dealing with the press and with the fans?
DR: Most of the fans will probably love him. The press might not. The few times I got to interact with him, he was very friendly. I've talked to people who saw him in a bar, struck up a conversation, spent the next couple hours discussing football over beers, and walked away lifelong fans. He's got a good sense of humor. But he might upset some traditionalists. He doesn't always give the right coachspeak answers, and seems to give off the vibe that he'd rather not have to deal with the media at all. Not to say he's a jerk to members of the media, it's just clearly not his favorite thing to do.
DR: Holgorsen wasn't the most active recruiter on the staff at Houston, by any stretch. My guess would be that he'll leave the recruiting to the coordinators and positional coaches, even on the offensive side. Especially given that he's not picking his own defensive staff, I expect he won't be very involved on that side of the ball. I wouldn't go so far as to say that he'll specifically de-emphasize it, but will allow Casteel and company to run their own ship. And by the way y'all play defense, that seems to me to be a good thing.
DR: Obviously, it could be difficult, because he has no ties to the area. But as previously mentioned, y'all aren't hiring him for his recruiting prowess. You're hiring him because he could probably score 30 points a game with a pee-wee team at the college level. Unfortunately, I've never been to Morgantown, so I can't compare, but Lubbock and Stillwater are both smallish college towns that can get pretty cold, so I don't think it'll be a huge culture shock.
DR: Holgorsen chose to leave Texas Tech for the same position at Houston, which is admittedly a step back in terms of national prestige. The reason he did that was that he was promised by Sumlin that it would be his offense. He could call the plays (unlike at Tech), and really put his own stamp on the offense. He left for Oklahoma State only after Gundy assured him he would call plays. In a nutshell, while I think Sumlin's a great offensive mind, and I like our current coordinators a lot, you'll find few around here who will argue with giving Holgorsen the lion's share of the credit, on the coaching side of things, for the way the offense played while he was here. This year, Oklahoma State had both its least-experienced offense, and highest-scoring offense of Mike Gundy's tenure. What does that tell you?
SM: Holgorsen has mentioned that the most important thing in his offensive system is really "the way the team practices" and having "offensive continuity." Can you expand on those thoughts?
DR: He runs probably a faster-tempo offense than anybody in the country (with the possible exception of Houston, and we probably owe at least some of the way we do things to him), and orchestrates an offense that is hugely dependent on everybody being in the right spot at the right time - to an even greater extent than that is true of every offense. It's a precision offense, and that takes practice, and players understanding the system. The end result is usually the other team's fans pulling their hair out and complaining about how easy you're making it look.
DR: That is an intriguing question to me about this situation. Moving from Texas Tech to Houston to Oklahoma State, obviously each school has its own spin, and its own wrinkles, but he was moving among three different schools that run a spread, passing offense. My impression of West Virginia is that it has traditionally run more of a spread option, and allows the quarterback to make a lot of plays with his feet. Case Keenum mentioned in interviews that Holgorsen specifically told him to look to keep a play alive, and make a pass whenever possible, instead of running the ball himself. So I could see that being a challenge. In Holgorsen's first year at Houston, even when the offense had early success, you'd hear players saying that the team hadn't really quite grasped the offense yet. It was a team that scored better than 40 points per game, and all anybody could talk about at the end of the year was how much better it would get when everyone finally got on the same page next year. And sure enough, against a much tougher schedule that included Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Mississippi State (all Houston wins), the offense was even better. So to finish the roundabout answer, I'd expect a two- or three-year learning curve to really "get" the offense. But I don't think anybody will be shutting you out in the meantime.
DR: I really think that the sky is the limit. West Virginia defense plus Dana Holgorsen offense is a scary proposition. Things don't always work out as well in real life as it seems they should on paper. But I mentioned to some friends as soon as this happened that I thought West Virginia will be competing for a national title in the next five to ten years, and nobody disagreed. As far as retention goes, that's a legitimate question. He'll be at his fourth school in five years this fall. But if you stand back, you can see how every step he took got him one step closer to a big-time head coaching job, and now he's in line to have one. One thing in your favor is that he is so non-traditional. He may not be the best glad-hander of boosters, or the most media-savvy coach, but I truly believe he'll get the job done. Now, in the SEC or Big Ten, glad-handing boosters and looking good in the media is half of the job. So that may scare off some of the college football elite. I'm not sure I can think of another school that would be a notable upgrade from West Virginia, that would also be a good fit for his quirkiness. On the other hand, four schools in five years. So who knows?
SM: Does he really drink in the stands with fans during blowouts? Can you amplify what you referenced earlier?
DR: As soon as I posted that, I kind of regretted it. It got mentioned during a radio interview during Holgorsen's first year here that he had done that on occasion at Tech. I can't recall all the specifics of the interview, and I don't have a solid reference to point to, but I'd swear on a stack of Bibles he said that during a radio interview. A couple of WVU boards linked my article and really ran with that little quote, so I should have probably left it out, or explained it more fully. Let me put it this way. I know for a fact that while at Houston, on more than one occasion, he was in the parking lot immediately after games, drinking beers with family and friends in jeans and flip-flops. He's a laid-back guy, and he likes his beer, that's the point I was trying to make.