The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

December 21, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Coach deflects juicy question

MORGANTOWN — Dana Holgorsen wouldn’t bite.

The bait was out there, cast just a foot or so in front of him, where he could see it, taste it and maybe even smell it, but he wasn’t about to get hooked on this one.

It was his first press conference after his team had ridden Tyler Bitancurt’s right foot to the Big East championship and a spot in the Orange Bowl, a rather lofty perch for any first-year head coach.

After all, Bear Bryant wasn’t in a bowl in his first coaching season. Neither had Joe Paterno, who was no better than 5-5 in his first year, or Bobby Bowden, whose first year at a major college saw him go 8-3 at West Virginia but without a bowl bid.

So to be in the Orange Bowl in your first year is a big thing and it also gives you a big podium behind which Dana Holgorsen could stand and pontificate on such matters, but he was just happy to swim off into the night.

The question was as loaded a burger with cheese, mushrooms, lettuce and tomato, ketchup, mustard and an onion ring.

Here was his team, snubbed by the ACC in favor of Syracuse and, of all teams, Pitt, now being given a chance at gaining some semblance of revenge by beating the ACC standard-bearer, Clemson, in as prestigious a bowl game as there is on this side of the BCS Championship game.

Would it offer revenge, satisfaction, proof that the ACC made a mistake in letting West Virginia get away, he was asked.

A hush sort of fell over the room, as the media wondered if he would let loose, talk about the inequities of the entire college football structure, talk about how absurd it is to believe that the Mountaineers do not have what it takes to compete in the ACC.

Holgorsen, instead, simply passed.

“I don’t care what conference the team is from. I don’t think it has anything to do with it. We are going to line up and try to win,” he said.

A tactful answer? Maybe.

A satisfying answer? Hardly.

The sense you got around town when this happened and when students were still in the vicinity was that the ACC’s snub of West Virginia, a snub said to have been led by the elitist Duke and North Carolina programs, was taken as an affront by many.

See, if there had been a vote taken, no doubt the ACC would have been the overwhelming favorite to become WVU’s new conference address, not only among the fans but the administration. While there may be more money in the move to the Big 12, it is a larger step up in competition, it lacks the familiarity that WVU has with the ACC teams and as a matter of convenience it is a complete no-brainer.

If that somehow could have been worked out, WVU would have been able to renew its Virginia Tech rivalry, maintain its Pitt rivalry and have road games that required less than a month’s salary to attend.

But somehow they had this superiority complex in the ACC, perhaps growing out of Andy of Mayberry being the sheriff while West Virginia’s own Don Knotts as Barney Fife was his bumbling deputy.

Certainly, this adds something to what probably really should be a rivalry with Clemson. In many ways the two schools are terribly similar, especially in their undying affection for their football programs.

If Don Knotts could be in Mayberry, another Morgantown product and West Virginia graduate wound up at Clemson, that being Tommy Bowden, who ran the program for almost a decade while winning 72 and losing 45 while qualifying for eight bowls.

And was not Rich Rodriguez gifted to West Virginia by Clemson and Bowden, which turned out to be reason enough for this game to take on the air of a rivalry, the joy Rodriguez brought to WVU turning to disdain when he left.

Even now, in this game that is starting to close in on us, there is an intriguing inbreeding, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd having originally committed to WVU, only to back out of the commitment because he did not like the offense that then head coach Bill Stewart and offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen had devised.

When he backed out of the commitment, WVU jumped on another recruit by the name Geno Smith. Neither school is complaining, but the head-to-head showdown adds to the intrigue.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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