By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The normal spin on a game like the one West Virginia University plays this Saturday at Oklahoma State is that it matches the student with his guru, and the tendency here would be to label WVU’s coach Dana Holgorsen as the student and the Cowboy coach Mike Gundy as the guru.
After all, it was Holgorsen who went to work for Gundy, by then an experienced head coach, as offensive coordinator a year before Mountaineer athletic director Oliver Luck came and whisked him away to be Bill Stewart’s replacement, a move that took place even sooner than either Luck or Holgorsen had anticipated.
There is, however, some question as to whether or not Holgorsen learned more from Gundy than Gundy learned from him.
Gundy, an old-school quarterback who actually directed Oklahoma State to a 35-33 victory over Major Harris and WVU in the 1987 Sun Bowl, had decided to remake his offense with quarterback Brandon Weeden at the controls after the 2009 season ended with a pair of embarrassing losses in which his team had scored but one touchdown.
Weeden was a big quarterback with a big arm, a pocket passer, and Holgorsen at Texas Tech and Houston had built a reputation as a man who could mold that into a powerful offensive philosophy. Gundy invited Holgorsen to town to show him how that offense worked and to install it for him.
“We had competed for many years,” Holgorsen noted when asked about how the two came to join forces. “It is what it is. I had the opportunity to go to work for him, and it was a step up from Houston.”
By this time Holgorsen had gotten the itch to become a head coach. He saw the move as a step in that direction, not necessarily as a move into a job that he would keep for any length of time.
He made that abundantly clear to Gundy when he accepted the job.
“My goal was to be a head coach,” Holgorsen admitted. “I took the job to be at a little higher level, but my conversation with him and the athletic director was that I wasn’t going to be there just one year and leave for the same job.”
Holgorsen wanted to learn some things from Gundy, but, it seemed, Gundy wanted to learn more from him, not only about the Air Raid offense he ran, but about the way his head coach at Houston, Kevin Sumlin, did his job.
“I had a tremendous amount of respect for him for what he had done with the program,” Holgorsen said. “His question to me was how (former Houston coach and current Texas A&M head coach) Kevin Sumlin did things from a CEO standpoint. I think Mike wanted to be more of a CEO-type head coach, as opposed to being in the offensive room for 18 hours a day trying to get the offense better. I think he’s done a tremendous job of that,” Holgorsen said. “Since he’s gone back and made that switch, they’ve won a tremendous amount of ball games. Good for him.”
And he won those games with the offense Holgorsen installed.
“We were just a typical spread offense. Run/pass, no-huddle offense,” Gundy said. “The impact it had was we changed our style of quarterback, so we brought in a scheme that could best fit what Brandon Weeden could have success with, which was pocket-style passing.”
Holgorsen, meanwhile, picked up a new style for his offense.
“(Gundy) was with Pat Jones there for a long time, played for Pat Jones, which is old-school football, tough, hard-nosed, physical football and incorporated it into our style of spread offense,” Holgorsen said, “keeping it as physical as it can possibly be.”
Holgorsen said the offense at Oklahoma State is pretty much as he left it a couple of seasons ago.
“Their offense hasn’t changed much at all. There’s certain things they do better than we do. The plays are called the same, the routes the same. There are tweaks here or there, but you are not going to out-scheme many people,” Holgorsen said.
The familiarity on both sides, however, leads to a number of interesting problems. To begin with, the signs for the offenses and defenses are known by both coaches, hence, Holgorsen will alter his signs, although he says he does that every week.
“I watch them on TV games sometimes, and I can call about 90 percent of the plays both offensively and defensively,” he said, admitting he’s sure their signs will change, too.
“To me, it comes down to the effort has to be there. We have to play with tremendous effort — execute, finish blocks, run good routes, throw and catch the ball, make tackles,” Holgorsen said.
He, however, doesn’t just want to put it all on the players.
“Our job is to get them in the proper mindset, get the right people out there, put them in the right situation,” he said. “I’m putting it on the players, but the coaches have to get through to the players.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.