By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
There was an unspoken message being delivered on Thursday when the NFL came to town for West Virginia University’s Pro Day, not exactly one Dana Holgorsen wanted to hear.
Last season he had produced a record-shattering passing game with the Mountaineers, good enough so that the NFL scouts were drawn not only to watch quarterback Geno Smith display his ample skills, but also to see a wide receiver talent unlike they could see anywhere else.
Not only were treated to Tavon Austin’s one-of-a-kind skills and Stedman Bailey’s fluid and graceful moves, but they saw in K.D. Woods a solid No. 3 receiver and raw, unpolished gem of an athlete in Ryan Nehlen, who out-tested everyone else on the day and showed an ability to run routes and catch the football.
While Holgorsen could take pride in this, there was a matter of having to send people out on the field next year to replace those talents.
It is not an easy task, the quarterback aspect of it having been debated in barrooms all across the state already, a debate that will go on right up until Holgorsen names a starter for his opener.
But equally unknown is who will move forward as wide receivers and this brings us to a gentleman who watched longingly as Austin, Bailey, Woods and Nehlen performed for the professionals.
His name is Lonnie Galloway and it is a familiar name for he is the new wide receiver coach, a job he previously held under Bill Stewart and into the first few days of the Holgorsen era before leaving for Wake Forest.
The opening had occurred when Holgorsen moved Shannon Dawson from the receivers to offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.
“It happened like four days after the coaching convention this winter,” Galloway explained. “Coach Holgorsen called and asked if I wanted to come back.”
Galloway had no reason not to take the job, especially when it was sweetened with the title of assistant head coach with the responsibility over the receivers. He and his family had enjoyed their time in West Virginia.
“My wife and I discussed it,” Galloway said. “My kids, they think they are from here. We have a lot of good friends here. Once everything got worked out it was great to come back.”
It wasn’t only the university and the city that was drawing Galloway, at native of Eden, N.C., and a graduate of Western Carolina.
There was Holgorsen and his offense, which has to be intriguing to any coach aspiring to become a head coach.
“I wanted to learn this offense and see what was going on. It was an easy choice,” Galloway said.
Actually, Galloway was here long enough with Holgorsen to have his interest raised, something that grew as he saw what Smith and Co. did the past two seasons.
“When I was here I got a taste of it as far as meetings, then to be able to watch it by following it. I wanted to come back and learn it, to watch Coach Holgorsen and see how he calls it, why he calls this and that,” Galloway said.
The only problem is he is starting over really, with a receiving corps that caught only 24 passes combined last season. Jordan Thompson, Connor Arlia, K.J. Myers and Dante Campbell are the top returning receivers while there are a host of newcomers with potential but no proof that they can produce.
It’s up to Galloway to get that out of all of them.
“My philosophy is to go out and work hard, put the extra work in. I’m a practice hard kind of coach. You can’t just practice when we practice and watch tape when we watch tape to be a great football player,” Galloway said. “If you practice hard and make plays, then you will play.”
And that is what he is instilling this spring, while also beginning to make judgments.
The question is can they repeat the production that came from Austin, Bailey and Myers?
“What Tavon and Stedman did over their two years was tremendous,” Galloway admitted. “Can we do it as a group? Yeah. Can one person do it? That’s yet to be known because they haven’t played. So you really don’t know who the guy is going to be.”
Galloway, however, believes it’s safe to assume that receivers will step forward in the offense.
“Over the last 10 years in this offense you had your Blackmons and Crabtrees, but at Houston there were four 1,000-yard receivers, so if you put the work in, there can be four, five or six guys with 60 or 70 catches,” he said.
To get to that point Galloway must reach certain goals in the spring.
“Be fundamentally sound in the offense, running the right routes, playing hard and competing — those are the type things that you look for in spring ball. You put in the right technique. You find out who will compete. Those things are what’s important.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.