By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Dana Holgorsen’s approach to recovering from Saturday’s embarrassing 37-0 whipping at the hands of the Maryland Terrapins, sending his West Virginia Mountaineers back into Big 12 play against probably the top team in the league, No. 11 Oklahoma State, is almost comical on the surface.
The message he is delivering to his team is to relax and have fun, as if anything could seem like fun after such a public humiliation and with the landmines that lie ahead.
Yet, that may just be the perfect approach, for it really isn’t going to do any good to lose sleep over a game already played and to get taut, tense and uptight when the goal no longer can be to be winning football games against ranked teams but, instead, simply to improve to the point where you become competitive.
“Guys need to relax,” Holgorsen said after viewing the film of his first shutout as a head coach or offensive coordinator. “I saw a few times on Saturday where a few things happened, some guys got all wide-eyed and thought, ‘Oh, crap,’ and that can’t happen. That’s 100 percent coaching, though; we can’t have guys who are afraid to make a mistake. That does not exist on defense, but it is happening a little bit on offense.”
Holgorsen believes the change in approach must begin with him and his staff and be passed on to players, who right now honestly don’t know what has hit them.
“I have to change my mentality, if they are going to change their mentality,” he said. “I’m going to expect good things to happen, I’m going to be excited about going to practice. I’m going to go out and not be worried about calling the perfect play.
“If you sit there and worry about calling a different play, they you are going to call a bad one.”
It is the same if you are trying to run the perfect play as a player.
Perfect plays happen. As much as a coach likes to believe they come from the Xs and the Os, they usually come from a player not drawn rigidly into a play; a player able to adapt and improvise once he is put in position to do so.
“We need to relax, and we need to expect good things to happen, because right now offensively that is not going to happen,” Holgorsen said. “We practice staying motivated, but we were not the most excited team to play Saturday. Were we prepared to play? Not as well as Maryland. All that stuff falls on me.”
And so it was this week that the directive went out to his staff to make it more fun, more relaxed.
No, they didn’t come out to coach with red rubber clown noses and floppy feet, but the message was there.
“He’s talking to me about being relaxed and having fun, too,” offensive line coach Ron Crook admitted.
But how, really does an offensive line coach make something like offensive line play fun?
“You stress why they started playing football when they were young. It’s fun. Go out and enjoy the process,” Crook said. “That doesn’t mean every aspect of practice is fun. Going out there and working a drive block drill for 10 minutes isn’t fun, but understand that’s part of the process to get you ready to have a successful game … and that’s what’s fun.”
The players understand where the coaches are coming from.
“To go out and execute you have to relax,” senior center Pat Eger said. “At the end of the day, we all play football because we love the game.”
You may forget it with the pressures of big-time football, but that 10- or 11-year-old kid who went out to play did so because it was fun to block and tackle and put on a helmet and get to play in the rain and the mud.
“You have to go out and enjoy the process. You have to enjoy playing ball Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before you get on the field and go out there and play the game on Saturday,” Eger said. “If we enjoy the process, enjoy getting better every day, enjoy seeing new looks that are coming that week, everything will come together.”
Mostly, it is the offense that must find a way to bring things together. Being shut out is never a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
“It starts with us, the coaches,” said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, who has enough of a problem getting a freshman quarterback coming off the most dismal performance of his life ready to face Oklahoma State.
“You have to have a contagious personality. If I am uptight and all the coaches are uptight, then the players are going to probably be uptight. We just need to go out there and play ball.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.