By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
If West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen isn’t getting his sleep these days it’s because of something other than losing wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey — to say nothing of a quarterback named Geno Smith — to the National Football League.
“I haven’t lost any sleep over Tavon and Stedman moving to the NFL,” Holgorsen said Tuesday as he took his turn addressing the media at the Big 12s annual Media Day at the Omni Hotel in Dallas. “We don’t hold anybody back. That’s not the first time we’ve lost receivers to the NFL and been able to line up next year and execute our offense.”
In fact, Holgorsen believes their departure could lead to a deeper, more versatile — note he did not go so far as to hint at better or more dangerous — receiving corps this coming season.
“It gets me excited of being able to get out there and face the challenge of taking 10 strong guys and coach them and be able to develop them,” he said.
His mind went back to when he first got to West Virginia.
“When I got here a couple of years ago, there were a couple of guys that hadn’t made a tremendous amount of plays, and we coached them, and we developed them, and they turned into phenomenal football players and will play in the league for a long time,” he said.
He was referring to Austin and Bailey, which just might be taking a bit too much credit as both of them came with all the standard equipment and few a extras, their improvement perhaps attached as much to Geno Smith’s improvement and to a change to a system in which it would be hard not to put up spectacular numbers as much as to coaching.
If it was just coaching, Ivan McCartney might have been leaving WVU with them for the NFL rather than begging for his return to try and find that kind of success this year.
The truth is, however, that this college ball, and a coach can’t lament player losses to the NFL very long, for getting them there is one of the coaches’ top goals, as it is the players’.
Because of that Holgorsen is restructuring his entire offense, wide receivers and quarterbacks front and center.
“You’re going to lose good players in college football. It happens every single year,” Holgorsen said. “Geno is going to be a great pro. We don’t try to compare him to anybody on our staff or any of that, but we’re in the same situation as, I think, seven or eight other Big 12 schools right now.”
Indeed, a year ago the Big 12 was a conference dominated by quarterbacks and passing, as it normally is. It just so happened that the eligibility of seven of them expired at the same time.
“The quarterback play in the Big 12 last year was phenomenal, and it’s always going to be phenomenal,” Holgorsen said. “It’s just going to be with newer people. Who our guy is going to be, I don’t know. We’ve got Clint Trickett coming in, who has probably as much experience in the college game as anybody in the Big 12, just because he’s been a starter in some big games (at Florida State, from where he transferred this year). He’s been around it his whole life.
“He’s a very smart kid, graduated in three years, backed up two first-round draft picks at Florida State in three years. He’s been around it his whole life and is a good player.”
All that, and Holgorsen still has not anointed him the starting QB.
“He’s got to come in and beat an experienced Paul Millard out, who has taken more reps than anybody on our campus. He’s taken 50 percent of the reps for a long, long time in practice. So he knows the offense better than anybody,” Holgorsen said.
“And then you’ve got Ford Childress, who’s going to continue to get better and better. He may have more potential than any of the other guys. He’s just young, with four years remaining. I like where we’re at with it and look forward to getting there and being able to coach him.”
Holgorsen, in fact, is in no hurry to name a starter.
“I’m not going to put a timetable on it. When one of those guys steps up, we’re going to name the starter and move forward with reps,” he said.
To listen to Holgorsen, who has complete confidence in his up-tempo offense and coaching ability, you come to believe that if a quarterback proves himself capable of doing as instructed, he believes you will see little fall-off in production from a year ago despite the high-profile exits.
Part of the reason is the fact that the running game may be much improved with Dustin Garrison recovered from a knee injury that slowed him much of last season and the transfer of one Charles Sims from Houston.
Sims, already a graduate, brings one year of eligibility and an ability to both run and catch as no one else on the team, leading to his being named the Big 12’s preseason Newcomer of the Year.
“We’re extremely fortunate to have his services for one year. He’s a great kid. He’s a tremendous football player,” Holgorsen said. “I was fortunate to be able to be involved with recruiting him when I was at Houston, and I had him for the first year there in 2009. That was probably his best year statistically.
“I know he’s been nicked up a little bit here the last couple of years. I didn’t promise him anything. He knows what I’m all about. He knows how I coach. He knows what our offense is about. So we need some playmakers on offense, after losing, I think, 90 percent of our production last year or whatever that crazy number is.
“He knew he’d be able to come in and fit in and get an opportunity to play in the Big 12. That was his motive.”
He didn’t have to leave Houston, didn’t want to leave Houston.
“He loves the University of Houston. He got his degree from there. He’ll be a Cougar for life, but he wanted to be able to play in the Big 12 to be able to increase his draft stock, which we’ll put him in position to be able to get that done.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.