With Holgorsen aboard, Mountaineers offense could fly high

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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NEWPORT, R.I. -- In the past six seasons, there hasn't been a better offensive coordinator in college football than Dana Holgorsen.

Will Holgorsen continue that success in his first season as a head coach at West Virginia? Absolutely, according to a person that probably knows him as well as anyone.

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"The biggest transition for him will be delegation," said former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who first met Holgorsen in 1990. "He's used to doing so much himself. He's very organized and doesn't panic when pressured. He does a good job focusing and he's real good with details. He's very even tempered under fire."

Holgorsen played for Leach at Iowa Wesleyan from 1990-92 and then coached 11 seasons with Leach -- three at Valdosta State and eight at Texas Tech.

Holgorsen said Leach has been a "big influence" on his career, but laughs about their first meeting. In 1990, Leach was an assistant at Iowa Wesleyan when Holgorsen visited coach Hal Mumme about playing at Iowa Wesleyan.

When Holgorsen walked into Mumme's office, he noticed Leach in the corner.

"There's this guy sitting in the corner, who looked like a bum, talking on the phone," Holgorsen said. "He [Leach] had sweat pants on that didn't match, his hair was going everywhere."

And this is coming from a guy who looks like a young Jimmy Buffett and sounds eerily similar to Leach.

"I've probably coached with Dana longer than anyone in my career," Leach said. "He's one of the most focused individuals I know."

Last fall, Holgorsen completed his 18th season as an assistant coach before coming to West Virginia as the Mountaineers' offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting. Holgorsen originally was to replace WVU coach Bill Stewart in 2012, but that timetable imploded when Stewart was fired and Holgorsen was elevated to head coach on June 10.

"It's not like I wasn't preparing for [being a head coach], it was already set in stone that it would happen," Holgorsen said Tuesday at the Big East's media days. "It wasn't something that was shocking. It was just something that got sped up."

Dana Holgorsen was Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator last season, when the Cowboys were No. 3 nationally in total offense. (US Presswire)  
Dana Holgorsen was Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator last season, when the Cowboys were No. 3 nationally in total offense. (US Presswire)  
Whether it's becoming a head coach, directing an offense or even jumping out of planes, Holgorsen always seems to be operating at a faster speed than others.

In the past six seasons as offensive coordinator at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State, his teams have ranked no lower than sixth nationally in total offense. In the past four years, Holgorsen's offenses were second at Texas Tech (in 2007) and Houston (2008), led the nation at Houston in 2009 and were third at Oklahoma State in 2010.

In Holgorsen's first seasons at Houston and Oklahoma State, the Cougars and Cowboys' offenses improved an average of 105.3 yards per game compared to the year before his arrival.

Holgorsen's arrival in Morgantown -- like his offenses -- also created plenty of fireworks. Stewart never fully was on board with the coach-in-waiting situation and then Holgorsen reportedly was involved in an incident in May at a West Virginia casino. Holgorsen was not arrested, but the situation prompted him and West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck to issue separate statements.

"I believe inappropriate behavior did occur," Luck said.

A month later, after what Leach described as "a little bit of a Civil War going on," Stewart was fired. Holgorsen's wait was over.

"It got to the point where it was a relief," Holgorsen said. "Up until that point [June 10], I was just coaching the offense. Obviously there were some things that happened that forced my boss and my boss's boss to make decisions. Change is hard no matter how it happens."

With Holgorsen, 40, as head coach, expect some significant changes.

Under Stewart, the Mountaineers had grown stagnant offensively, scoring more than 40 points only twice in the past three years. By comparison, Holgorsen's offenses scored 40 points <i>per game</i> his past six seasons as offensive coordinator.

"Coach Stewart was old school, Holgorsen is new school," West Virginia senior cornerback Keith Tandy said.

There was no better example than when Holgorsen went skydiving for the first time in his life a few hours before his first team meeting at WVU.

"It was crazy," Tandy said. "It fit him perfectly. He has the high-flying offense so he's up in the sky flying like his offense."

West Virginia senior defensive end Bruce Irvin said Holgorsen doesn't waste time getting to the point, either.

"He's a young coach and he relates to players like us," Irvin said. "He's an outgoing guy. He's very blunt. He's not going to bite his tongue about nothing. He's going to let you know. That's the best type of coach to have. He's not going to sugarcoat it."

In his first team meeting, Holgorsen compared his skydiving experience to what the Mountaineers needed to do to pull together during the coaching transition.

"What I talked to them about was 'trust,'" Holgorsen said. "I told them none of the assistant coaches were going to change, none of the schemes would change. Those guys need to trust us in the direction of the program and trust each other.

"It was a lot like me jumping out of that airplane. There wasn't a whole lot I could do once we took off. It was all about trust. Let's work together as a team. Look at all the guys going up in an airplane. They're all double-checking each other, trusting each other, making sure it's a team deal. They all work together."

South Florida coach Skip Holtz has faced Holgorsen's offense before. In the 2009 Conference USA title game, Holtz was East Carolina's head coach and Holgorsen was offensive coordinator at Houston.

East Carolina survived 38-32 after Houston attempted 75 passes and rolled up 557 yards of offense.

"It's different to defend that offense because you have to play in space, you have to be able to tackle in space," Holtz said. "Dana does a great job of developing his quarterbacks and getting them to understand his system.

"You have one of two options: you can try to control the ball and keep their offense off the field or you can try to outscore them."

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is expected to be the biggest beneficiary of Holgorsen's arrival in Morgantown. Because of the ridiculous numbers Holgorsen's past quarterbacks -- Brandon Weeden, Case Keenum and Graham Harrell -- Smith could emerge as a dark horse Heisman candidate for the Mountaineers, who were picked as the overwhelming favorites to win the Big East.

"I don't look at the individual numbers, I'm all about winning and so is Coach Holgorsen," Smith said. "Everyone talks about me putting up big numbers and this and that, but that all means nothing if we don't win.

"He has a great résumé. His offense has always been ranked among the best. We don't want to be the team that doesn't fulfill expectations. We're going to work hard to exceed those expectations."

With Holgorsen at the controls, West Virginia will do that. And Mountaineers fans better buckle up for the ride. It's going to be a fast one.

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