The Times West Virginian

August 14, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN- Leadership: In the end, it’s up to coaches

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — I have a question today.

First, though, let me offer you a comment that West Virginia University running back Dustin Garrison made to a freelance writer working for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

“Last year we didn’t have, you know, a lot of leadership.”

Now, is there anyone in West Virgi … No, wait a second. Let me add another comment in that story, this one from offensive tackle Quinton Spain, before asking the question.

“What’s different this year is we’re more a team. There ain’t no I’s; we don’t depend on nobody. We just depend on all of us at once as a team. So I think this year will be better than last year. There wasn’t no team. I could say there was a team early, but once we started losing we saw the I’s come up, so it just hurt the team worse.”

OK, we’ll try again. Is there anyone in West Virgi … hold on. Let me add this from running back Andrew Buie.

“I feel like last year, we fell apart. At certain moments where we needed to be a team, we weren’t a team. So that was a big thing that (coach Dana Holgorsen) preached all off-season: Team. Team. Team. I honestly feel like as a whole team offensively, defensively and with special teams, we’re more of a unit as a team. More together.”

Fine, now I think it’s time to ask the question.

After reading all three comments, can anyone understand how New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan came up with this:

“It tells me I’m glad my kid never went there, I can tell you that much.”

Honest to goodness, that’s the conclusion he drew from some of the most illogical logic that I have ever come across, and I worked with the late Philadelphia Phillies manager Danny Ozark, who said at various times:

• “Even Napoleon had his Watergate.”

• “Half this game is 90 percent mental.”

• “It really sent a twinkle up my spine.”

All of that makes more sense than Ryan, who saw some West Virginia players criticizing the team’s leadership in a difficult season and assumed they were criticizing Geno Smith, the quarterback from last year whom he had drafted in the second round.

Now you may want to reread the three quotes and note that none of them mention Geno Smith or quarterback.

But even if they had, even if it was true that Smith deserted his team – which he had not – what does that have to do with whether or not WVU is a good enough academic an institution to education a son of Rex Ryan?

This was the way Ryan analyzed those quotes from WVU players via

“I don’t get that. Geno was a tremendous player for West Virginia. I don’t know; you have to ask them. I certainly don’t get that. When somebody leaves your (school) ... I guess that’s up to them. You have to ask them.”

Here’s the deal. WVU probably did lack proper leadership last season as the team came apart, but if you are looking for that leadership to come from players, you are looking in the wrong place.

True, we all talk about the leadership skills of players … in high school as seniors, in college as seniors, always as quarterbacks, but that holds water only with minor problems or to keep a team going in the right direction.

At a time where a season or a career is on the line, do you look to a 21-year-old amateur athlete who probably has never faced such a situation in his life as your leader and savior or does a team’s true leadership in times of trouble have to come from the coaching staff … and mainly the head coach?

This is not meant to cast aspersions on Dana Holgorsen over what happened to his football team over the second half of last season, for not being privy to the locker room or to meetings or to the sidelines during games, it is impossible to really judge if he did the right things or not.

But he is the man with the title, the man earning seven figures while his quarterback and seniors are earning scholarship money, the man who has faced losing streaks and adversity before, experienced in working with a number of coaches from whom he could learn.

If college players really could be leaders, would not coaches name season-long captains to perform such duties rather than game captains, as almost all coaches now use?

In college football, there are reasons pretty much the same coaches are at or near the top most of the time, and it isn’t just recruiting ability and strategic wizardry.

In the end, they are the leaders, which is why the wins and losses are charged against their record and not the quarterback’s.

Email Bob Hertzel at or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.