The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

August 30, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN - Holgorsen is playing a whole different game

MORGANTOWN — As someone who still has trouble grasping the concept of snapshots without film, telephone calls without wires, mail without stamps and real proof that the moon is not made out of cheese, this Dana Holgorsen football thing he’s installing as West Virginia’s new coach leaves the head spinning.

See, he possibly could throw the football more in Sunday’s opener against Marshall than Woody Hayes threw when he coached Ohio State in each of the full years of 1955 (50 passes) and 1956 (51 passes), those being formative years in a sportswriter-to-be’s development.

As shocking as that is to the system, even more shocking is that Holgorsen runs an offense that consistently averages better than 500 yards a game and consistently scores 40 or more points a game and does so without even having a playbook.

Now the playbook has a part of football lore as far back as Paul Brown, the father of modern football, had hair, that being back in the 1930s when Brown was putting Massillon High on the map as having reinvented the game from facemask to, yes, playbook.

Yet here Holgorsen sits in West Virginia, a product of a different age, and working with kids who were brought up in a paperless world. I certainly have to admit, when quarterback Geno Smith last week said the transition to Holgorsen’s offense did not take long because the coach did not have a playbook, I thought he was joshing.

Honest. A coach without a playbook is as unthinkable as a sportswriter without a typewriter, if you can catch my drift.

But he wasn’t kidding at all, and it isn’t even new and not even a Holgorsen innovation.

Remember now, we’re in an era where NFL teams have playbooks with 800 plays in them, while Holgorsen has an offense he teaches to the entire team in three days.

“It all stems back to Hal and Mike,” he said Monday on the Big East call, referring to coaches Hal Mumme and Mike Leach, who created the offense he runs. “Those guys had a good idea of what they were doing. At Texas Tech, Mike hired a bunch of guys who knew the system.”

But why not write the plays down? I can’t tell you how many times as a high school player and into my sportswriting days I would catch myself doodling during class or free time by creating football plays on a piece of paper.

Paper, however, today is a dirty word — and our trees will thank us for that.

“I guess the thought system is we don’t want people staring at a piece of paper,” Holgorsen explained. “We want them watching film, seeing what is right and what is wrong.”

This is a visual era. They put together clips of the plays being run the right way so a player can see how it is done, then go out and visualize it on the field.

“We put together a mini-playbook,” Holgorsen said, “but it’s all video related.”

So, how did Geno Smith learn the plays?

“Watched a lot of film,” he said. “Coach Holgorsen has

been doing this for 10 years. He’s broken it down to a science. Every offense and every coach has a different way of doing things, and this is his way of doing things.”

Certainly, it seems to work.

And, what’s more, it means our football heroes don’t have to be entrusted with the playbook, something that over the years has led to some quite interesting football scandals.

Football coaches, you see, are quite competitive and are always looking for an edge. That is why, back when Rich Rodriguez was at West Virginia, there was quite a scare when one of his playbooks was circulated on the Internet.

Rodriguez downplayed the importance of it, as it was an older book that would not be of much use as it had changed greatly with the invention of Patrick White, Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt, but the book was there.

Then there was “The Case of Purloined Playbook,” as one newspaper dubbed it, back in July 1972 when J.D. Roberts, coach of the New Orleans Saints, reported to the NFL office that former NFL quarterback Karl Sweetan had tried to sell him a Los Angeles Rams playbook.

This became a big enough scandal that the FBI was called it, but it was determined the playbook’s value was less than the necessary $5,000 to make it a federal crime.

And back in 2002 the NCAA champion Miami Hurricanes’ playbook was stolen and sections posted on the Internet but quickly pulled down, much of it to do with the modern 4-3 defense.

It would be a shame to take all this chicanery out of football, which has thrived on such incidents, the latest in these parts being in 2006 when a WVU graduate assistant was found writing down plays — yes, on a piece of paper — at a Marshall practice, having driven to Huntington in what was said to be the Mercedes-Benz on loan to Rita Rodriguez, the Mountaineer coach’s wife.

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

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