The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

January 12, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Big East goes West

MORGANTOWN — The idea is hardly new, but Big East Commissioner John Marinatto is not too proud to take the advice of one of the great reformers of all time, even if he did have to reach back into the 1860s or so. It was then that the newspaper editor, Horace Greeley, put forth in a New York Tribune editorial the idea that changed America, writing “Go west, young man!”

From that editorial grew the great westward migration of Americans, across the Great Plains and into such outposts as Fort Worth, Texas, and Tulsa, Okla., and beyond, a migration that Marinatto revived as he stretched his Big East Conference, threatened with BCS extinction if it did improve its football standing, in the West and adopted Texas Christian University as a member.

Who would know, however, that by stretching his conference westward he would begin a reverse migration, one which would reach into those very same outposts that Greeley urged Americans to explore and have them migrate eastward.

It was West Virginia University’s deep-thinking athletic director Oliver Luck who first grasped the significance of the addition of TCU, which would complete a 13-0 season with a Rose Bowl championship and No. 2 ranking in America.

“Eventually, the road to the Big East Championship will go through Fort Worth,” Luck said at the time the expansion was announced. “We need to be prepared to go ahead and beat a team like TCU on the road to claim a Big East championship and get to national championship consideration.

“The addition of TCU is going to raise the bar for all of us in the Big East.”

It wasn’t long after that Luck, no longer a young man, went west and hired Dana Holgorsen away from Oklahoma State, bringing east with him his wide-open offense that had led the nation in yardage this season and that is not very dissimilar from the offense Gary Patterson used at TCU to run roughshod over his opponents.

It was almost like the days of the Old West when a town would be overrun by a band of outlaws until the town council would go out and bring in a hired gun of their own as sheriff, leading to another well-known comment, “There’s a new sheriff in town.”

With this western offensive culture blowing into the Big East like a strong west wind, it did not take long for Pitt to go out and get a gunslinger of its own. Unhappy with Dave Wannstedt’s pro-style offense and driven into public humiliation when his replacement was arrested for domestic violence, the Pittsburgh administration turned to the west and brought in a coach reminiscent of the singing cowboys of yesteryear.

In some ways that is just what Todd Graham is, a mix of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. He rides not a golden palomino and does not strum a guitar, but he is made of the same moral fiber as those cowboys and runs an offense as dangerous as wearing a six-gun on each hip.

A former defensive coordinator here at West Virginia University under Rich Rodriguez, Graham has hired a number of Rodriguez assistants such as Tony Gibson and Calvin McGee, two key members of Rodriguez’s staff who opted to go to Michigan with him. He also hired Paul Randolph, who coached at WVU for a year.

That in and of itself is certain to spice up the Backyard Brawl.

Graham runs a unique high-powered offense that comes right out of the OK Corral.

“What you can expect is a no-huddle team, not just offense. We will operate extremely fast and with high octane. We will be the most explosive team in the country,” he said.

It is not the kind of spread offense that West Virginia will run.

“There is a lot of misconception about our offense. It is not a spread. We will run and we will throw. We are a two-back offense 70 percent of the time. We will be physical, and you can’t be physical without a fullback and tight end,” Graham said.

What they will be mostly, however, is fast.

“We want speed, then explosive power, but I’d list speed three times before explosive power,” he said.

Like Holgorsen, Graham is hired to compete with TCU, to bring in his own brand of western football and, perhaps, Texas recruiting.

He is also being hired to beat West Virginia. Matching wits with Holgorsen is something he has done before in two memorable games, Graham losing to Holgorsen’s Houston team in 2009 by a 46-45 score and then being buried in 2008, 70-30.

“We had some great battles,” Graham said at his introductory press conference. “He’s a great coach and a great offensive mind. I’m looking forward to it.”

You do not get more western than Graham, who was born in Mesquite, Texas, and who has among six children a daughter named Dakota.

In four years at Tulsa, Graham had three seasons of 10 or more victories and the two years before Holgorsen led the country in total yardage at Oklahoma State, Graham did so at Tulsa. In 2008, his Golden Hurricane scored an unimaginable 661 points, second-highest in modern college football history.

So, right now, what we have is our own range war here on the I-79 corridor and, with Texas Christian added to the mix, it is only a matter of time before the whole Big East decides to import the wide-open offensive philosophies that has had western scoreboards ringing up points like pinball machines.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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