By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Like it or not, it appears that Dana Holgorsen and his staff will be back to coach the West Virginia football team next year, looking down the throat of an angry Alabama football team to open the season.
Athletic director Oliver Luck, after a long meeting with Holgorsen during which he voiced his displeasure with the results this season produced, decided to retain the coach and his staff.
The stated reason to go in this direction was “consistency.”
“I strongly believe in our coaching staff, including the work that our strength and conditioning staff is doing,” Luck said in a prepared statement. “In my opinion, continuity is the key ingredient that will bring our football program back to the high level that Mountaineer fans expect.”
One could claim that it is odd Luck is placing so much emphasis on continuity for a program that has gone from 10-3 to 7-6 to 4-8 when he fired in Bill Stewart a man who had both continuity and consistency in three consecutive 9-4 seasons.
Stewart not only survived the loss of Patrick White and Noel Devine while Holgorsen could not maintain the level of the WVU program after Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey left, but Stewart also was consistent with his coaching staff.
Holgorsen has had tremendous turnover in his assistant coaches over the three years, currently featuring only one coach — Joe DeForest — from his original staff just three years ago.
In truth, consistency is not really the reason Luck has gone in the direction he went.
Two other factors left him little or no choice in the matter.
The first is the contract that Holgorsen signed, a contract that offers no buyout terms.
The contract runs through 2017 and is worth a minimum of $11.3 million. If Holgorsen were to be fired he would be paid his yearly salary, this year totaling $2.7 million at a minimum.
Add in the cost of a new coach’s salary and what would have to be paid Holgorsen’s assistants plus any new assistants a new coach brings in, and you are talking about a major cost factor involved in firing Holgorsen.
To make the matter even more messy is the fact that WVU President Jim Clements announced a month ago that he was leaving to take the Clemson job.
An interim president for the school is expected to be named this week, but can you really place a football coaching search on the shoulders of an interim president?
All of these are rational and reasonable reasons for retaining Holgorsen.
However, in analyzing the situation, I keep coming back to a couple things.
First, I ask myself if I had a son about to enter college who was capable of playing Division I football, would Dana Holgorsen be the man I wanted to entrust him to?
The answer keeps coming back no.
The visions of him smashing headsets on the sidelines, the casino incident that became public, the secrecy with which he
runs his program that seems to scream out that he has something more to hide than his signals ... I just have to believe there are coaches out there with a better image, as much knowledge and better record as head coach.
That he won’t wear the school colors is irritating, that he wants all these facility changes given to him without having done anything yet to earn the right to them is downright infuriating, especially at a state university that probably has equally as great a need for students and professors that go unfulfilled.
Then, it is not a stretch to believe that when football goes bad at this university, it casts a pall over the entire athletic department.
It is not coincidence that football drawing its smallest crowd in a couple of decades for Iowa State was followed by basketball drawing its smallest crowds, even though the basketball team is almost as entertaining as was last season’s high-scoring football team.
There is a relationship, one that comes out of an attitude of discontent with the direction sports are taking; with ticket prices rising as competitiveness drops and with a schedule dominated, quite frankly, by teams that have no history with West Virginia and that West Virginians just don’t care about.
That, of course, is not Holgorsen’s fault, but his inability to beat them, as his 6-12 Big 12 record indicates, does nothing to create an atmosphere where sports and football are fun.
In truth, if WVU were to ban tailgating tomorrow, I suspect season tickets would hit bottom.
Luck, though, has made his decision and for the sake of the school and the state, I hope in this case that he is right in retaining Holgorsen and I am wrong, an event that is highly likely considering that Luck was once a candidate to become a Rhodes Scholar and I ... well, let’s just say I once got a B in French ... repeating it after an F in the subject the previous semester.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.