By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
For the first time this season, West Virginia has lost two consecutive games and now, also for the first time, is a sub-.500 football team at 3-4.
Going back into last season the Mountaineers are 5-10 over their last 15 games.
It’s been a long time since wins have been that scarce in Morgantown.
In fact, you have to go back 26 years to find a worse stretch. At that time, West Virginia lost 10 of 13 games — beating only Rutgers, Louisville and Ohio U.
Surely, you say, they fired the coach.
His name, you see, was Don Nehlen and today he resides in the College Football Hall of Fame.
In fact, after his Mountaineers lost 6-3 to Pitt, of all teams, in 1987 for its 10th loss in 13 games, they went on to win 16 of the next 19 games, including stringing together an unbeaten 11-0 regular season the next year, 1988.
And if you want to find the previous worst streak you have to go back to 1978 and 1979 when WVU dropped 12 of 13 games. That coach was fired and replaced by Nehlen. His name is Frank Cignetti ... and he was honored in Morgantown on Saturday for his upcoming induction into the College Football Hall of Fame for the job he did at Indiana, Pa., after beating the cancer that he’d been battling while losing those football games at West Virginia.
So we offer a bit of advice right now, and that is to be careful before pulling the trigger.
That said, do not consider this an endorsement of Dana Holgorsen.
In fact, there is little he’s done to make any segment of WVU’s family support him, be it in building a program, building media backing, building fan backing and even building backing from many of the big-time donors who are becoming disenchanted.
Winning, of course, can change all that, and the time has come where Holgorsen has to begin winning or face the consequences.
He came into this season knowing it was a rebuilding year, although one might argue that the star players he lost had done no more than win 7 and lose 6 the previous year, the worst WVU record since 2001.
What’s more, he faced a killer schedule up front ... his first four Big 12 games being against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas Tech, considered the four best teams in the conference.
There now remain five league games and he needs to win three of them to be bowl eligible, which would only give him a 6-6 regular season, probably not enough to recommend him keeping his job, especially if he were to drop a decision in a minor bowl as he did last year in losing to Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Facing Kansas State, TCU, Texas, Kansas and Iowa State is hardly Murderer’s Row, and one would say he really should need four victories in those five games plus a bowl game to assure himself job security.
The truth is, you would have a hard time finding too many people who would risk very much money that WVU will win three of those games.
Certainly, Kansas State is not a gimme, even though the Wildcats are tied for last in the Big 12 at 0-3 and 2-4 overall.
See, the game is at Manhattan and WVU has lost six of its last seven games away from its home stadium, being outscored in the losses by 268-111. They face the wily veteran coach Bill Snyder, who is coming off a bye week, meaning the man many believe to be the best coach in the conference year in and year out has 14 days to prepare for WVU.
Should WVU lose at K-State, will Holgorsen be able to hold this team together and move it forward as it goes on the road again the following week to play at TCU before hosting a Texas team that is in the fight for a Big 12 title, looking for revenge for last year’s loss to WVU at home in Austin and playing for Coach Mack Brown’s job?
Remembering that last year’s team came apart down the stretch, losing its team concept as the NFL seemed to be beckoning most of its star players, this year could present even a more difficult coaching challenge should the losing streak stretch to three games at Kansas State.
As Nehlen proved, things can turn around and do so in a hurry, but he was a veteran coach at the time who had a strong fundamental foundation built under a pair of Hall of Fame coaches in Doyt Perry and Bo Schembechler.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.