On Saturday, February 20, 2016, Mike Casazza reported that negotiations between WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen and Athletic Director Shane Lyons has ended. The news shocked many fans because it signaled a possible rift between Lyons and Holgorsen. As I received the news and reflected on the past events, I have come to some conclusions. Let me take you down the wormhole and give you my take on the latest at WVU.
NOVEMBER 27, 2014
- Tony Gibson signed a three-year extension as the defensive coordinator at WVU. This extension made him the highest paid assistant coach in WVU history. Coming off the heels of a very successful first year stint as a defensive coordinator, Gibson parlayed the season's success into the contract extension. A clause in Gibson's contract stated that he would be terminated should Dana Holgorsen be fired.
DECEMBER 9, 2015
- Following a poor showing in Manhattan, Kansas, one in which the Mountaineer defense allowed wide receiver turned quarterback Cody Burns to engineer back to back touchdown drives and special teams allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown resulting in a 24-23 defeat that stopped a four-game losing streak, Athletic Director Shane Lyons issued the following statement.
Dana Holgorsen will return as our head football coach in 2016. After evaluating our football program after the close of the regular season, I believe that continuity is best for our program. I know that Dana, his staff and everyone who supports Mountaineer football was disappointed with how our regular season ended, following a four-game winning streak. Dana and I will continue to work together to strengthen our football program. No one wants to win more than Dana and I, and we will work together to ensure success. - West Virginia Athletic Director Shane Lyons
DECEMBER 21, 2015
- Twelve days after issuing the statement on Dana returning the program, Shane Lyons curiously reconfigures defensive coordinator Tony Gibson's contract to specifically remove the Dana Holgorsen clause. Prior to signing this amendment, Gibson's salary was tied to Dana coaching the team. That is no longer the case. If Dana is removed from the program either by choice or by force, Tony Gibson's salary remains guaranteed.
FEBRUARY 20, 2016
- After two months of negotiations, Dana and Shane have ended their attempt at extending Dana past 2017. Shane curiously let the cat out of the bag late one Saturday night, sending the West Virginia universe into a frenzy.
As I stir the pot and read the tea leaves, I can only come to one conclusion. Shane Lyons is setting up Tony Gibson to be the next head coach at WVU. By removing the stipulation in Gibson's contract language, Tony Gibson is ensured of remaining at West Virginia through 2017, no matter who stays. Gibson was approached by teams about possibly becoming their defensive coordinator but the news on the rumor mill was that Gibson did not want to consider a lateral move. That leaves only a step up. Removing the clause with Dana Holgorsen, now Tony is able to remain with WVU and could even replace Dana if Shane decides that 2016 will be his last.
I also find it extremely curious that Shane's endorsement of Dana included the statement "Dana will return as our head football coach in 2016". As soon as I read that qualifying statement about 2016, I immediately thought it was an odd statement to make. In one aspect it meant Dana was at least going to coach the team through the bowl game and should remain with the team in the following season. This allowed the coaches to reel in Brendan Ferns and others in the 2016 recruiting class. Another aspect was that it put a specific number on Dana. He has this year but what about the next year? Dana still has two years left on his contract but Shane is only talking about 2016. I think what you take from that is that WVU is not ready to spend 6 million dollars to buy Dana out but 3 million is a much easier pill to swallow.
As rumors followed that Dana and Shane were discussing a contract extension, the position of the two sides began to trickle out. Shane was rumored to be looking for a much more University friendly deal, one that would allow the team to release the coach under less burdensome financial aspects if the decision came to that. Dana Holgorsen was considered to be looking for additional years. I don't believe that a decision to end the negotiations at this time specifically mean that something can't be done in the future, but this decision is curious in its announcement. I do not know what is gained by stating anything in the middle of February. Issuing a vote of confidence for a coach as they close on potential recruits makes sense. Firing a coach before the end of the year so that a new coach has the opportunity to begin to build the program makes sense. I don't know that it makes a lot of sense to make this announcement at this juncture. No one was really asking about the status of the coach.
I'm just one man stirring the muddy waters of coaches and athletic directors, but I believe I am beginning to see something in my crystal ball. And it just might be the end of the Dana Holgorsen era in 2016 and the beginning of the Tony Gibson era in 2017.