It's been a week of contemplation for Mountaineer fans and we here at the Musket are no different. After a robust conversation in the comments sections, we thought it might be a good bye week exercise for the staff to all lay out our respective views on the coaching staff and direction of the program. So here's what we think. What do you think? We encourage comments and debate in the comments section at the end.
Standard time for a coach to recruit "his players" and instill his values and culture into a team is five years. Holgy is only three years into this process and there is not much evidence yet that things are getting better. However, those who want for quick changes run the risk of either jumping from the frying pan and into the fire or undercutting a healthy process when it's just past the halfway point. It's not in my nature - nor is it part of American culture - to wait patiently for anything. I mean, I get pissed off waiting in fast food lines. Having endured the lean years of Don Nehlen's tenure (the mid 80's), I have hope that by the end of Holgorsen's five-year contract that things will be going the right direction. However, if at the end of next season WVU has a losing record, I don't think the fan base will allow a fifth year. I'll wait til next season to make that assessment.
In this age of instant gratification, I understand where and why people want to make a change now. Sure the big boys do it, can afford to do it and can even afford to make mistakes because of the gravitas of the name behind those programs. This isn't me having a "defeatist-Appalachian mindset" either. West Virginia University's football program just hasn't reached the sustained heights of those programs (10 years of success doesn't cut it). It just hasn't. And I'm also not saying we can't reach those heights.
We all knew this would be a rebuilding year and were prepared for a not-so-great record. I'm not happy with the way we've lost some of these games, but there are too many variables involved to say it's all because of coaching. I'm not willing to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch, which is what would happen if we canned Holgorsen. I do believe in what he's building and trying to establish as a mindset across the board, players, administrators and even fans. Looking back, that's what RR was trying to establish (though he went about it completely wrong by attempting to hold the program hostage over his employment status). This program needs the upgrades that Holgorsen outlined in his presser this week to be competitive in this league (or any other MAJOR league, for that matter).
Recruiting is going well, despite the losses. Why? Because kids want to be a part of what Holgorsen is building. I want to be a part of it too. I don't want to look back and say we missed out on our version of Frank Beamer or Art Briles, both of whom had rough starts at their current jobs. Some will point to Coach Stewart and ask why we didn't give him the same opportunity. Well, we can't go back in time and change that. We're still trying to establish a full roster of players from the end of RR's time and Coach Stew's tenure. That much is a fact. I've seen posts regarding other schools not having the same issues with injuries we're enduring. That's because they have a full roster of scholarship players.
Time will tell if Holgorsen is the right person to lead this program long term. How will we know if we don't give him that time? I think he deserves at least a full recruiting cycle which means another 2 years, as long as there is clear improvement next season, whether that be by increased competitiveness or outright wins.
Yes, this is a nadir for the program....a baffling loss to a bad team coached by a guy that might be proving once and for all that he is a great coordinator and maybe not a great head coach (our fear at this point about Holgorsen). But that might be instructive in itself. And consider the 2007 comparison. Mangino had Kansas at heights they had never approached and the Turner Gill experiment coupled with Weis' two years have pretty much made all that a faint memory.
Kansas' situation may illustrate the very path I fear....they gave Gill two years precisely because the success of Mangino's success had inflated their heads, and then they gave him the quick hook and got what they thought was a sexy hire in Weis (feels dirty to type that....). But hiring a fat man didn't make him the Fat Man. And despite their victory over us, no one here would want to switch places with Kansas would they.....? Also, there is no way I want a new staff heading into Alabama at the start of next year. I think he should get his full five-year-cycle of recruiting and let's judge him then.
We just lost to Kansas. I would expect to say those words about our basketball team time and time again, and be perfectly fine with it. But we just lost to Kansas, IN FOOTBALL. That's not OK. That's not really even in the realm of OK.
BUT, this isn't the biggest, or most embarrassing loss WVU has seen. I won't get in to all of them, but we lost to TEMPLE during Rich Rod's first year for crying out loud. A 28 point favorite lost a night game 13-9, at home, to an awful, awful team that shall not be named. This was right before the same coach that lost to Temple bolted for a Big Ten powerhouse and promptly turned it into a flaming bag on Grandpa's front porch.
Losing to Kansas sucks. There's no other way to put it. But there are a TON of extenuating circumstances surrounding this ENTIRE year. We've rehashed them over and over again. This was always going to be a rebuilding year, but I don't think we realized just how much had to be built from scratch. Not having a QB waiting in the wings to step in and at least fill Geno's old cleats to the toe hurt us more than anyone could have imagined. Our offensive line has looked worse this year than any line I've seen at WVU. Our special teams has drastically improved from the muffed punts and returns to the 2 yard line that plagued us from the beginning of the season, but are still not as special as they could/should be. Our defense, while improved, completely disappeared against the run and couldn't make the adjustments needed to stop a guy named Sims, something they should have been used to by now. We had more injuries on the defensive side of the ball, something we could ill afford. And on top of it all, the offensive play calling went back to the old "huck it and chuck it" mentality instead of the quick hitters and runs that worked so well against Texas the week before. All of that put together equals a loss to Kansas.
All that being said, we lost some close games this year that could have gone either way. We got blown out twice, once by a team that should have, and once by a team that shouldn't have. I never like see our guys lose games, let alone get blown out, but I do think that Dana Holgorsen also hates to lose. He also hates headsets on the sideline when his team isn't performing up to his standards. I think he hates not having a QB that can run his system. I think if Childress hadn't gotten injured against Maryland that we're not writing this article at this point in the season and are instead talking about which bowl game we COULD end up going to. I think our staff needs a little continuity to build the system to a level that is comfortable for everyone operating in it. I think our players need the stability to understand what is expected of them and by whom. I think our fans need to have some patience and realize that when you lose 93% of your offensive output that you don't replace it overnight.
I think Dana needs more time. I think we're going to be OK. I think I hate losing to Kansas.
When Holgorsen was hired I thought we found a Diamond in the Rough. I thought Holy Shit this was the main reason Texas Tech, Houston and OK State had their success. This guy was the true puppet master behind Leech, Sumlin, and Gundy and now we have him!
After the Orange Bowl I said, ink him. Hind sight is 20/20.
While I do think Holgorsen has the tools to be a good head coach, I can't justifiably say that he is. Being concerned about all 3 sides of the ball; the recruiting; the press conferences; the vision of where the program is going; the preparation for games; the in-game adjustments;the play calls. All of these and more is a whole other beast then worrying about your football team scoring 50+ points per game.
If you're the Offensive Coordinator for WVU and you lose to Baylor 70-63. what can you do? I did my part right? I put up 63 points or however many. If you're the head coach, it's on you. Coach Herman Boone said it best "I have never seen an assistant coaches name in the newspaper for losing a game." Well Holgorsen, it's on you. It's all on you to figure out how to win. whether that be outscoring a team or getting someone to coach up the defense. I'll give you some more time, 2 more years, but don't ever blame the fan base again for lack of attendance. They're have been too many blowout losses under your watch that a fan should have to endure. Instead recognize the fans that are gracious enough to watch your team perform. As a head coach he is learning on the job. If nothing else, he is learning humility. Unfortunately West Virginia is enduring his growing pains. I'm not ready to pull the plug, I just want him to live up to his word.
A young cocky Dana Holgorsen stood in front of the camera and said to the nation after an Orange Bowl blow out... that "I think the future's pretty bright at West Virginia." well Dana, we're going to hold you to that.
I don't know that Holgorsen is head coaching material. I'd like to think he is and hope he is able to prove me wrong. For the sake of the program, he needs to have another year with the same coaching staff. Just for the sake of stability and for the sake of the team.
For instance, what Crook expects out of his offensive linemen compared to what Bedenbaugh preached. All the seniors on the offensive line have played zone blocking schemes the whole time they were at WVU until this year. Now they are being asked to do something different. And as much as I'm sure they practice, in the heat of battle most people fall back on what they know or the habits they've formed over the years. That's one of the issues this program faces.
We've had a revolving door with so many position coaches over the last three years. Especially on the defensive side of the ball. Last year was the painful breaking of 3-3-5 habits in the switch to the 3-4. This year, you could see some polish and fine tuning. We're recruiting for one less safety position and one more linebacker now as well. Those things don't get fixed over night. We've gotten by with safeties at cornerback and linebacker. When we're filling those spots with the right personnel we'll be more competitive.
I think you can apply that logic to several positions on this team. I also believe that if we keep this staff together, we'll see big improvements. We won't see as many missed blocking assignments or defenders out of position. A clear #1 quarterback, (hopefully) not as many dropped balls, and a strong stable of running backs again. Keep the staff together and see what Dana can do.
I'm going to look at it from a personnel standpoint and let others speak to the coaching style and game management.
WVU courted Dana Holgorsen for his offensive prowess. He is a man who in his previous stops showed the ability to make offenses elite with seemingly the same effort it takes to turn on a light switch. And he accomplished that in his first two seasons ... with Bill Stewart's players.
On the defensive side of the ball, after the departures of players like Bruce Irvin, Scooter Berry, Julian Miller, Keith Tandy, Najee Goode in seasons 1 and 2 left the cupboard was bare. The Mountaineer defense was one of the worst in the nation last season until the decision was made to demote Joe Deforest and replace him with Keith Patterson. That side of the ball has showed great progress in rebuilding. Things are looking up.
But the offense -- Holgorsen's forte -- is now undergoing a full rebuild after losing Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, J.D. Woods and others. While the team is in Year 3 of the Holgorsen regime, the shiny, red sports car that is his offense is without the engine needed to make it fly: a quarterback.
While Holgorsen has shown the ability to take QB's that, at first, appear to be average and make them stars, it hasn't happened with Millard, Childress and Trickett (although the latter was a late addition to the program). If these aren't the quarterbacks needed to make this offense run, then it might be too late by the time one is in place.
I've got some pretty significant doubts about this staff and specifically the head guy. I see inconsistent teams that aren't always ready to play games and I wonder if he has the 'it' factor that it takes to not just run but lead a program. I see small mistakes made over and over and over again and wonder whether he can instill the discipline necessary to make the little things second nature so you can concentrate on the big things.
I also see what I've been saying for several weeks now - a team that's really, really, really damn close. Don't let the bed-crapping in Lawrence obscure that fact. In 3 of the 4 losses (Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Texas) you could make a good case that if a play or two goes the other way this is a 7-4 team feeling pretty good about itself. Against Oklahoma State we saw that if a couple things go right it changes a mindset and then a couple more things go right and then you're rolling. Losing is contagious, but so is winning.
I think that since mid-2012 this staff has been pretty damn unlucky (although in 2011 they were equally lucky). The injury situation has been well documented but don't discount the schedule. Holding Kansas and Iowa State until the end of the season for two straight years didn't do anyone any favors. I wonder how Texas and Texas Tech would have fared against this WVU schedule?
This team's best chance to win next year is with this staff. That is a fact. One way or another we'll know very quickly if they truly have what it takes to turn this ship around and then a decision can be made. The word on the 2015 class is very positive and if they can get a few breaks next year and make a few more, things could start trending upwards very quickly.
What makes Holgorsen's tenure so difficult to judge are the extreme highs and lows. The highs are amazing (70 points, wins over top 10 teams) but the lows are awful (giving up 73, losing to KANSAS). At some point things have to settle on a mean to give us a gauge for 'normal' - and I've got to believe that will happen next year.
I have faith, but I also have doubts. Call me a Dana agnostic who wants to believe - but he needs to give me a reason in 2014.