By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen took full responsibility for West Virginia’s stunning 31-19 loss at Kansas last Saturday that snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing streak for the Jayhawks that dated back to the 2010 season.
Holgorsen, however, did not sound like a coach worried about his job security as he discussed not only the Kansas loss but the future of the program and the improvements he believes must be made over the next couple of years.
The loss to Kansas snapped a streak of 11 consecutive winning seasons for the Mountaineers, who fell to 4-7 with only a home game against Iowa State left following this week’s bye.
“The Texas game beat us twice,” Holgorsen said. “I talked about it during the week and it did. Why? You guys can keep pointing the finger at me. That’s what my job is. Didn’t reach ’em. Didn’t get ’em back ... and that’s on me and I don’t mind saying it.”
That was the beginning of an open and frank discussion of his team and his situation as its coach.
WVU went into the season knowing it would be a rebuilding year, having lost the likes of quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey
from an underachieving team of a year ago that finished 7-6 with a dismal Pinstripe Bowl loss to Syracuse after opening the year 5-0 and ranking as high as No. 5 in the nation.
While great things weren’t expected this year, great effort was, and Holgorsen felt he had gotten that despite the lack of success until Kansas.
“First time all year that we didn’t play with the effort and the energy it takes to win the game,” Holgorsen said. “There’s been losses where I was comfortable — not with the loss — but comfortable as long as it didn’t have to do with effort.
“If we lose because of effort, that’s where I get in a bad spot, and that’s what I saw for the first time Saturday.”
Holgorsen admitted that losing like that was “frustrating.”
“Sure it’s frustrating, but you just have to keep coaching,” he said.
Holgorsen says he has been having discussions with athletic director Oliver Luck as the year has gone but says they have not yet had a sit-down, state-of-the-union talk.
“We talk a lot,” Holgorsen said. “He understands where we’re at and understands what it is going to take to get it better. We’re working hard on that.”
There have not, however, been any discussions about his future with the team and Holgorsen does not sound as if he’s worried about his job at this time. There is no buyout in his contract and it would take $11.6 million to pay off his contract at the end of this season.
“He’s a football guy. He understands what it takes to win. He understands what it takes to continue to get better and knows we’re on the right track,” Holgorsen said.
Holgorsen maintains he needs to get more Big 12-quality players through recruiting, noting if they recruit their quota of 25 players this year they will, for the first time since he replaced Bill Stewart, go beyond their scholarship limit.
“So,” he said, “the depth is building and the numbers are getting right.”
He figures he’ll lose some players this year, which will allow him to sign the full 25 and reach the maximum for the first time since he’s been at West Virginia.
Holgorsen also is pushing for facility upgrades that would include an improved facilities building and a new practice field and indoor facility.
“There’s a list, and I don’t think I’m being unreasonable with the requests that I’m asking for. We’re working hard on trying to get out there to raise the money that we need to be able to make some of this stuff a reality,” Holgorsen said.
“No. 1 was the weight room, and we got that accomplished. You have to be able to meet appropriately, which we can’t. And you need to be able to practice appropriately, which we can’t. That is where we’re headed.”
High on the list is a turn practice field.
“That would be awesome,” Holgorsen said. “Everyone says we don’t have the space because we live on a mountain. Well, that’s not true. We have the space, and we use that practice field six times per year.
“What are we doing? You shouldn’t have to practice on your game field. Nobody else does. So we have the space, and we need to be able to utilize it. And the only way with the climate and the maintenance, the only way to do it is with a turf field. So that’s in our plans. It’s all about being able to raise the appropriate funds to be able to pay for it.”
And Holgorsen doesn’t believe he needs grass practice fields or when the team travels to play someone who plays on grass.
“I think (grass fields) are very overrated. If we’re going to play on real grass, you don’t have to practice on real grass. It’s just about having a proper surface to be able to get your work done. And if it’s real grass, that’s fine. I’m comfortable with it as long it holds up. But right now that grass can’t hold up. If you’re on it when it’s wet, then you’re tearing it up and you can’t use it.”
As for the indoor facility, that has never pleased Holgorsen.
“You’d have to blow it up,” he said. “If you want to use it the way people want to be able to use your indoor facility, then safety is key. You need runoff. You need proper length, and if you want to do the kicking game in there then you need it to be a little higher. It’s dysfunctional. We use it for some offseason stuff, but it needs to be a bit more functional.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.