The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

December 23, 2010

Holgorsen introduced at WVU

MORGANTOWN — The problem with putting together an offense so prolific that it earns its own nickname, as has Dana Holgorsen’s “Air Raid” that led the nation in total offensive this year at Oklahoma State, giving him a stepping stone to be named offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting at West Virginia University, is that great defensive minds in America often quickly find ways to adapt.

There have been any number of gimmick offenses over the years that have captured the nation’s imagination, for the offense always seems to be a step ahead of the defense until they can figure out the inevitable weaknesses and flaws.

And we all know what happens to those kind of offenses once the defense catch up. Out Oklahoma way, where Holgorsen comes from. they have cemeteries named “Boot Hill” for all the quickest guns in the west who found someone quicker on the draw than they were.

They also say that “Boot Hill” is located not a mile from “Bootleg Hill”, where all these gimmicky offenses eventually go to die.

Doesn’t usually matter what it is, be it Army’s “Lonesome End”, the run and shoot, the wishbone, Vince Lombardi’s “Run to Daylight” or Woody Hayes’ “Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust.”

In the end, someone catches up with them.

Which brings us to Holgorsen’s “Air Raid” offense that he will install next year as WVU offensive coordinator, then run as head coach when he replaces Bill Stewart in 2012, hiring an offensive coordinator to run the offense under his direction.

How does he know his offense is not just a flash in the pan?

“Just ask —I don’t think I ought to say his name,” Holgorsen said, referring to another Big 12 coach. “When he put on the Oklahoma State tape and started watching it, he said that didn’t look anything like what Houston was doing. And when you turned on the Houston tape you’d be saying, ‘Dang, that doesn’t look anything like what Texas Tech was doing.’

“You gotta be smart about it. That’s why they pay you, to be the best thing out there you can be.”

In other words, his offense is a living, breathing thing that evolves much the same way the game does.

  Normally, when you talk to the next offensive “genius” in college football, he is totally condescending, virtually telling you that no one with an IQ short of 170 could possibly understand the theory behind it, which always seemed a bit strange since it often had someone with an IQ of about 90 running it.

Holgorsen is not of that mold. He simplifies matters to the point that even a sports writer can understand it.

“If it works, do it again,” he said. “If you hand it off and it sucks, then you probably shouldn’t do it again.”

He pointed out that he bases what he does on his personality, although in the end it is a pass-first offense.

“We were 33, 34 or 35 percent run at Houston, which I thought was a good fit,” he said, referring to two years as offensive coordinator at Houston after leaving Mike Leach, his protégé, at Texas Tech. “We didn’t have fullbacks; we didn’t have tight ends. It’s hard to be four wide and run the ball time after time after time after time.”

When he moved to Oklahoma State, where his team averaged 537.38 yards to lead the nation by less than a yard a game, he altered the offense markedly.

“Going to OSU, you took a team that was used to getting their hand in the dirt, coming off the ball, good pad level that was well coached with a running back that was an All-American a couple of years ago and a fullback that was an all-conference performer the year before,” he said.

“That was a different deal. The more we handed it off, the better it looked, so the more we handed it off. I think we got it to 45 or 46 percent running.”

And that is probably how it will be, at least at first, nest year and maybe the following year at West Virginia.

Holgorsen has to go out and recruit talent that fits the system he wants to run. His recruiting theory is a lot like his offensive theory.

“Year 1 will be do what we have, what we are good at and do what we have to do to win,” he said. “The way I recruit is if a guy can score, you take him. It doesn’t matter if he’s a big guy or a little guy. It doesn’t matter about the position, either. It depends on what the best available guy is. You better take what you got and get good at it, then recruit the best personnel.”

So what is this offense that he runs?

First off it’s a spread, one that is capable of running or throwing, one that operates with or without tight ends and fullbacks, depending upon how good the runners are.

Do not, however, expect Rich Rodriguez’s spread with the read option.

“There’s some similarities,” he said when asked to compare it to Rodriguez’s offense. “The biggest difference is what you do with the quarterback. We’re not going to run the quarterback very much. You can adapt the quarterback to run a little bit depending on who the guy is.

“The guy I had last year, Brandon Weedon, couldn’t run. It would be comical to watch him run, so why should we do some of the zone read stuff? The zone read stuff takes a lot of practice. The majority of our practice is going to be devoted to timing and group work and understanding the base things of the offense.”

What Holgorsen is looking for is an exciting offense that puts up points.

“Excitement always has been my goal in this profession. I’ve been at it 18 years or so. I’ve coached under some good guys and think I have a good idea of how to do it. Coach Stew can teach me the lay of the land here and get comfortable and then be 100 percent ready to take over,” he said.

In the final analysis the offense comes to the quarterback, and it doesn’t matter what type of quarterback he is.

“There are about 10 types of them. It’s about getting the job done. It doesn’t matter how you do it. I’ve coached guys that run good; I’ve coached guys that have big arms; I’ve coached guys who are really smart. Pocket awareness is big, footwork is big. There are a lot of things that tie together.”

But the one thing that can’t vary is his passing ability.

“You know, you’ve got to be able to throw. Accuracy is real important. If the guy can run the ball good, that gives you an extra feature. You see a guy like Andrew Luck who can throw really good and run, but it’s hard to find those guys.”

E-mail Bob Hertzel at

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