By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It may be Dana Holgorsen’s third season as head coach at West Virginia University, but considering the changes that his program has undergone from last year to this he admits he feels like he’s starting over.
“From a coaching standpoint, it feels like it’s the first day on the job, so to speak,” Holgorsen said when he addressed the media following the second non-padded spring practice.
Graduation has robbed him of his offensive experience, and the game of musical coaches that was played during the off-season has changed his staff dramatically.
“Offensively, we have so many positions open. We have some new coaches in here and have some new philosophies,” he said. “There’s a lot of open competition for positions, and some scheme discussions that are open as well.”
That sound like a simple enough statement, but it carries with it some rather heavy implications, especially the part about “new philosophies” and “scheme discussions” that are open.
A year ago, with his best offensive players being at quarterback and wide receiver, this would be a passing team. That didn’t necessarily mean throwing the ball around wildly or even throwing it down the field.
In fact, a study done to show which teams were more likely to throw deep showed that WVU’s offense threw the ball in the air four or fewer yards far more often than any other team in college football, scheme and philosophy being to get the ball into a playmaker’s hands quickly and let him do something with it.
And Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and the running backs most likely did a lot with the ball, but the receivers and quarterback Geno Smith have moved on, something Holgorsen has accepted and taken as part of the challenge he and the Mountaineers are facing.
“Everybody gets up in arms thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, how are these guys going to play football without these guys who are going to be drafted in the NFL?’ It happens every year, and in every different program across the country you lose people and you try to move forward,” Holgorsen said.
“As good as Geno, Tavon, Stedman, J.D. (Woods), Shawne (Alston), Joe (Madsen), Jeff (Braun) and Josh (Jenkins) were, they weren’t going to get a lot better. Stedman (who had a year of eligibility left) was in that boat; he wasn’t going to get a lot better if he stayed one more year. He hit that plateau, where it was time to move on to bigger opportunities.”
In college football it is as if you signed a three- or four-year contract, as they do in the NFL. You play it out and then you declare for free agency, so to speak. You go out to earn a living, having been prepared by a college, be it in football or in coaching or business or wherever life is about to take you.
Always there is a stream of new blood, which means that always there are unknowns, the college coach going about his business of preparing these players to perform well for him in the present but also to move on to the future.
“This gives younger guys the opportunity to step up and believe that they are the guy. That naturally happens. Guys get older and get more reps, but also the burden is on their shoulders to become better players. I’m looking forward to seeing which guys those are going to be,” Holgorsen said.
Adding to the unknown aspect this season, however, is a far larger than normal turnover on the coaching staff, which might actually work in Holgorsen’s favor if philosophies must be changed.
For example, the strength offensively this year at the start appears to be a deep running back corps, which is quite different than it was a year ago.
This, along with an inexperienced quarterback and receiving corps, could well make Holgorsen lean toward a team that runs the ball 60 percent of the time rather than 40 percent.
That is what this spring is for … to not only decide who will play but how they will play.
“We are taking it slow and trying to promote the best way to do some specific things,” Holgorsen said. “It feels, though, as we just got here, so to speak. Some staff is new; we have some new bodies out there, some young bodies, guys who haven’t made plays yet.”
And that is equally true on the defensive side, where the staff includes a number of new coaches and where there also has been a heavy — and healthy — turnover.
“We’ve got some guys that are new on that side of the ball. We don’t have too many guys that have gotten to play in this defense. What coach (Keith) Patterson is putting out there is going to be different than what we did last year, from a scheme standpoint, from a structural standpoint and from a philosophy standpoint. It’s like Day 1 for those guys, as well, so it’s exciting to watch those guys and what they’re doing,” Holgorsen said.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.