By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
A fish without water isn’t really a fish at all. A race car driver without gas isn’t really a race car driver at all. A singer without a song isn’t really a singer at all.
And a football coach without a team … well, he just isn’t really a football coach at all.
That is why on Thursday, as a hot summer sun beat down upon Milan Puskar Stadium and a rap song blasted on the sound system, Dana Holgorsen became a football coach again, welcoming his 2012 West Virginia University Mountaineers back to the practice field.
Ever since the team finished spring practice, still riding the high from that 70-33 pounding of Clemson in the Orange Bowl, he had been a coach without a team, his forces turned over the strength and conditioning squad, the teaching of the young players being left up to the older players.
Coaches were not to have any real contact with the players, leaving him a fish out of water, a race car driver out of gas, a singer without a song.
“We’re excited to talk football again,” he said following the initial practice of the preseason camp. “It’s my first look at the freshmen. It’s not padded, not real football.”
But it’s what coaching is all about, molding a team together, building upon what was accomplished in the first year, being the architect of what he hopes will be greatness.
The Mountaineers come into the season with high expectations in their first Big 12 season. They were picked second in the conference behind Oklahoma, 11th in the nation in the USA Today coaches’ poll.
But expectations aren’t a part of what Dana Holgorsen coaches.
“Yesterday (when the team met for the first time) we talked expectations,” he said. “We basically told them to ignore expectations like last year going into Clemson game. We did not care what you guys wrote or what they were saying on TV. Yes, expectations are high, which we like. But how you handle expectations is by doing your job.”
It really was interesting the way Holgorsen handled being the underdog against Clemson. Right or wrong, his team made dramatic improvement from the end of the season when it won its final three games by a total of only seven points.
In fact, Holgorsen recently had this to say about his team’s bowl preparation, which included 15 practices.
“In all my years for 12 straight bowl games, all my years of December practice time, I think we got better in the month of December last year more than we ever have,” he said.
And that has worked right into what is happening in the here and now. Holgorsen is now trying to make August into December.
“That’s the goal,” he said. “You have about 15 practices in December. You have 15 in the spring, and you have about 15 prior to getting ready for a game. That’s how we approach it. We made as much progress in the spring as we did in December.”
It should be easier this year. It’s the second year in the system, and it’s Holgorsen’s second year as a head coach, although Holgorsen really was prepared to set things up in his first season.
“We were happy with the structure and schedule and how we did things, so we will not change a lot,” Holgorsen said. “I had some notes of things we need to do, but it wasn’t much.”
Holgorsen said that even though he was a rookie head coach last year, he didn’t seek advice of other head coaches in setting up his camp.
“Before I was heavily involved with how we practiced and did camp,” he said. “I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do. The second year, though, there is a little more of a comfort level.”
NOTES: There were four players who did not show, linebacker Sam Lebbie, WR Dee Joiner and athlete Doontay McManus, all failing to have qualified. Also not dressed was running back Roshard Burney, but the coaching staff is holding out hope he will be cleared to play. … One who did show up was Fairmont Senior graduate Logan Moore, who left Fairmont State, where he was starting quarterback, to try his hand at major college football. … Running back Dustin Garrison, who rushed for 291 yards against Bowling Green last year, was dressed in a white shirt, meaning he was clear for all duty as he comes back from a serious knee injury. The only reminder of it was a brace. … There are practices on Friday and Saturday, the first day in pads, then an off-day Sunday.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.