Now that the Dana Holgorsen Experience with the West Virginia Mountaineers if officially, finally over, and Athletic Director Shane Lyons is tasked with finding the person who can take WVU from just another Big 12 also-ran to a Big 12 title contender, I have a few things I want in this hire.
Energize the Fan Base And Donors
It is no secret that the Mountaineer fanbase was divided over the hire and employment of Dana Holgorsen. Some fans were put off on the way former athletic director Oliver Luck ushered him into the family, devising an ill-equipped “head-coach-in-waiting” scenario that led to blackmail attempts and the ultimate firing of Bill Stewart. Some fans were upset with the downfall of the program once it moved from Big East contenders to Big 12 wannabes. Many more were upset with the lack of performance in bowl games, lack of wins in night games, against ranked teams and/or lack of title game appearances. Whatever the reason, the fanbase was not fully behind Dana in the end and the next head coach needs to reinvigorate the fans. Season ticket buyers need a reason to believe in this team again and feel good about spending their money on the costly season tickets.
More importantly, it seems that the money donors were not fully invested with Dana. Whether Dana made time for the donors or gave them enough reason to give money for projects and improvements. This is important if West Virginia wants to lure higher level recruits to Morgantown.
For the Mountaineers to be competitive, they have to be out front of the latest trends. This isn’t Ohio State, Alabama or Oklahoma, who can take whatever trend has found its way to college football and apply it with elite talent.
West Virginia needs a schematic advantage to beat teams with better talent. The Mountaineers had that advantage with Major Harris, a player who could run and throw when most teams were still in the ground-and-pound, “three yards and a cloud of dust” era. West Virginia had it again in the mid-2000s when Pat White, Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt ushered in the zone-read, spread, up-tempo offense. The Mountaineers weren’t out front with Air Raid when they joined the Big 12. By the time the Mountaineers changed conferences, nearly every team in the conference was running the offense.
What the next head coach can’t do is continue to try and beat teams like Oklahoma and Texas doing the same thing everything else is doing. I keep going back to the 2016 team. There is a reason that team won 10 games and its not all because the Big 12 was bad that year. Having a quarterback capable of speeding the game up and throwing the ball or slowing it down and running the ball allowed the offense to control the tempo of the game and protect the defense.
Part of the problem with Holgorsen was that he needed to learn to be a head coach his first several years in Morgantown. He got better the last few years, paying more attention to the small details like when to call timeouts and force an opponent to punt into the wind for favorable field position or when to know you were going for the win and not taking a tie. Still, there were multiple head-scratching moments, and the Mountaineers shouldn’t have to pay for another on-the-job training.
More than just having been a head coach, that coach needs to be a proven winner. Whoever is the head coach will be taking over a team that has shown it can compete with 9 of the ten teams in the conference. It can’t afford a backslide here and needs someone who continue to win games.
This might be down the list, but ultimately it may be the most important. Some of y’all don’t like to hear it, but Dana was beginning to improve the overall recruitment of the Mountaineers. West Virginia is a tough place to recruit to. It does not have a natural influx of elite talent and the places it must pull talent from all have blue-blood schools that show up and flash a business card and a smile to secure the best talent.
The Mountaineers recently made headway into Alliquippa, pulling players like Rushel Shell, Dravon Askew-Henry and Kwantel Raines from the football powerhouse in Pennsylvania. The Mountaineers have also made in-roads into the DC/VA area pulling Gary Jennings and Dillon Spalding from Virginia. Doug Belk has made a successful pipeline into the Peach State.
That is great and those areas need to continue to be mined but instead of grabbing high three-star talent, we need to begin to pull in four-star talent. If you include this year’s class, Dana was able to secure 15 four-star recruits. Most of those did play for the Mountaineers, though Ford Childress, Brendan Ferns, and Jovon Durante didn’t play much due to circumstances. Others like Tyrek Cole, Donte Thomas-Williams and Steven Smothers essentially didn’t contribute to the team.
The next head coach needs to be able to secure more than two four-star players per class if the Mountaineers are going to take the next step. He also needs to make sure those players see the field and contribute.
A place that Dana Holgorsen excelled, in my opinion, was player development. Dana placed 26 players into the NFL during his tenure with the Mountaineers and that doesn’t happen because these kids went to school at West Virginia. It happened because they came and developed into players who could contribute.
While the head coach will need to bring in more talent, he is still not going to be swimming in blue-chip players. He is going to have to take three-star players and make them four-star athletes. Some coaches can convince all of the players to come to their school, but they can’t get those players to contribute and have them better than the day they stepped foot on campus. The next coach will need to make sure that the strength and development of players continues and that these players are able to pick up on schemes and systems, to provide the necessary explosive plays that win games in this league. Players need to be better when they leave than when they came. Unlock that untapped potential.