By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck put an end to the speculation about the future of head football coach Dana Holgorsen on Tuesday, announcing that he and his staff would be retained for 2014 despite a second consecutive disappointing season.
“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.”
Luck, however, threw down the gauntlet, saying, “We simply must get better.”
Holgorsen’s contract runs through 2017, but Luck did not address the future beyond next season while admitting he was disappointed with the results this past year that ended with WVU blowing a 31-7 lead over Iowa State.
It would have been difficult to fire Holgorsen at the current time, as WVU President Jim Clements has announced he’s leaving for Clemson at the first of the year and the school is just beginning a search for his replacement. An interim president is expected to be named this week.
Firing Holgorsen also would have cost Luck $11.3 million paid in yearly salary to fire Holgorsen, as there is no buyout in the contract.
Since winning the first five games in 2012 and climbing as high as No. 5 in the national rankings while Geno Smith emerged as the early frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy, Holgorsen’s Mountaineers have won but six of 20 games.
This season, a rebuilding year, had some early hope when West Virginia lost by just 16-7 to Oklahoma and upset Oklahoma State, but the season deteriorated rapidly as no one took charge at quarterback and the defense was savaged by injury. The team finished 4-8,
failing to reach a bowl for the first time since 2001, and closed out the year with consecutive losses to Kansas and Iowa State.
“We have high expectations at West Virginia University for success on and off the field, and as Coach Holgorsen has acknowledged to me, we are not meeting those expectations on the field,” Luck said in a prepared statement released through the athletic department. “Coach Holgorsen and I met at length and reviewed this past season. We discussed the coaching staff, recruiting, player development, strength and conditioning, academic support, facilities, in short, all the components that make up a successful program. We are working diligently to improve our capabilities in all of these areas.”
Holgorsen was said to be out on the road recruiting and unavailable for comment.
West Virginia fans and donors expressed strong, but split, opinions over whether Holgorsen should be given time to see the program through. He inherited the head coaching job from Bill Stewart in a badly handled transition that saw Holgorsen brought in as a coach-in-waiting for a year but given the job when Stewart was accused of trying to undermine Holgorsen.
Not long after losing the job, Stewart died of a heart attack while golfing with former athletic director Ed Pastilong.
Luck made it clear he expects improvement next season and that excuses would not be acceptable: “We had plenty of challenges this season; nonetheless, we should not and will not use those as excuses for our performance. We simply must get better.”
Luck said all the support necessary will be offered to Holgorsen, including in the area of facilities. Holgorsen has called for an upgrade in facilities, including enlarging and modernizing the team meeting room in the Puskar Center, changing the grass practice field to turf and building a new indoor facility to replace an undersized one Holgorsen seldom used.
“Coach Holgorsen and his staff are on the road recruiting this week, securing the future for a successful Mountaineer football program. We need to do our part as well by continuing to move forward with the facility improvements needed to compete at the highest level in our conference,” Luck said.
“We have high expectations for the 2014 football team, and I have shared those with Coach Holgorsen. He and his staff are eager to get started to prepare for our opening game against Alabama. We are well aware that we have a lot of work to do.”
It appears from that the entire coaching staff, including special teams coach Joe DeForest and coordinators Keith Patterson on defense and Shannon Dawson on offense, are safe.
DeForest was cited earlier this year for potential rules violations while coaching at Oklahoma State and the play of his special teams was spotty throughout the season. Patterson’s defense has been the worst in WVU history over the past two seasons, while Dawson failed to develop a quarterback this year as offensive production fell dramatically from the Geno Smith-Austin-Bailey years.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.