The Times West Virginian

April 12, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: Holgorsen has history of leaving top quarterbacks

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Our always vigilant correspondent Richard Kesling noted in the wake of Bobby Petrino’s firing in Arkansas a reader’s comment on CBSSports.com under one of the website’s many stories on the matter:

JAMAD81 April 11, 2012 7:06 am “Get Bill Stewart the former WVU Head Coach”

The suggestion may or may not have been in jest, but surely if Arkansas were to go out looking for the anti-Petrino, a squeaky clean image who is highly unlikely to wreck while riding a motorcycle with his 25-year-old mistress aboard, one with a record that shows three consecutive nine-victory seasons and a major bowl victory over Oklahoma, Stewart would certainly be the person.

Certainly, it was surprising that Stewart’s name would come up as a potential replacement for a high-level SEC coach before Dana Holgorsen’s name found its way into the speculation.

Rest assured, with the success Holgorsen has had both as an assistant and now as a head coach at West Virgina, including an eye-popping 70-33 Orange Bowl triumph over Clemson, his name will surely find its way to the top of most speculative lists for whatever BCS school is conducting a coaching search.

In an era of $3- to $4- to $5-million coaches, he would appear to be a bargain at WVU, especially since he brings with him a signature offense that is sure to make fans forget any scandal and/or firing.

He also has a history of being willing to pack his bag and move forward.

Just the other day, at his Sunday press briefing, before the boom had been lowered on Petrino and not in any way driven by thoughts he might be a candidate to move on before we come to know what his middle name is, I asked him a question that had been floating around in the back of a muddled mind for some time.

The gist of the question that Holgorsen has a reputation for developing quarterbacks into star players, yet we have not had the opportunity to see what Holgorsen might do with a collegiate quarterback under his guidance for the full four- or five-year term.

In recent seasons he has been a vagabond among college coaches, spending one year at Oklahoma State directly prior to coming to WVU and two years at Houston.

His quarterback at Oklahoma State, Brandon Weeden, became the first OSU passer to earn first team All-Big 12 honors while becoming a finalist for the Manning Award.

At Houston, Case Keenum led the nation in total offense in his sophomore and junior seasons under Holgorsen, but did not get to play his senior season under him.

Now, at WVU, he has worked the same miracle, taking Geno Smith from a solid, workable quarterback into a Heisman Trophy contender in one year. Smith, of course, shattered all of WVU’s passing records, most of them held by the longtime NFL quarterback Marc Bulger, in just his first season under Holgorsen.

It was, therefore, reasonable to wonder what WVU might have on its hands should Holgorsen be around to coach his two young QBs, sophomore Paul Millard and freshman Ford Childress, to maturation.

Holgorsen immediately turned the clock back to four teams, to his long-term stay where he got to actually develop a quarterback.

“At Texas Tech we did. I was there for a long time, and we had a bunch of guys coming back that understood, and I think we started four senior quarterbacks in a row, which made things easier and better,” he said.

And then he went to Houston and met up with Keenum.

“Year two at Houston with Case was a lot easier but again, the thing that got better wasn’t like the production aspect of things but it was the success of the situations and stuff. We are just trying to become a better, more explosive offense. A ‘get more yards’ offense, a smarter offense that is good in situations and understands first downs, and I feel like that is where we are going.”

Smith is in his second year and the expectations are that he will follow the pattern Holgorsen says should be followed, getting smarter in situations.

“The second year is normally the year we’re most comfortable,” quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said recently. “The first year is all installation, and the more reps you get in certain situations, they won’t duplicate that mistake. The second year, we’re going to go out there and work more situations of the game.”

Quarterbacks — great quarterbacks — do not pass simply for yards. They pass for first downs, make those 3rd and 7 situations that are crucial to keeping drives alive, that keep the ball out of the other offense’s hands and wear down the opponent’s defense.

If Smith simply was installing the entire system into his game last year, this year should be even more successful.

And after four years? We’ll never know with Smith, who leaves after this year, but if Holgorsen isn’t lured elsewhere, it will be fun to find out what happens when he has a quarterback for four or five years.

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