The Times West Virginian

September 26, 2012

Holgorsen, Briles take similar paths

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — The geneticist Gregor Mendel may not exactly label West Virginia University coach Dana Holgorsen and Art Briles, his opposite number at Baylor for the Mountaineers’ first venture into Big 12 play on Saturday, as two peas in a pod.

But you can rest assured their roots come out of the same garden.

The offenses they run are grounded in the same philosophies.

And why shouldn’t they be?

Each coach, in his formative stage, was influenced by the Mao-like teachings of coaches Hal Mumme and Mike Leach. They, in fact, shared the same coaching cubicle for a couple of seasons at Texas Tech before they became major college head coaches known for the up-tempo, high-flying offenses that had been perfected by Mumme and Leach.

“There are some similarities,” Holgorsen admitted this week as he began preparing his No. 7/9 team for its historic first step into the Big 12. “I’ve known Coach Briles for a long time, going back to when we started together at Texas Tech back in 2000.

“I’ve obviously followed his career over the past 12 years. Any time you spread the ball around and try to throw it around and play with some tempo, there’s going to be some similarities, but there are some differences as well.”

Indeed, differences will always come about in the evolution of an offense, each coach having his own beliefs in which part of the offense is to be featured and in how to use the personnel he has so that the offense can succeed.

“That was 10 years ago,” Holgorsen said of when he and Briles went separate ways. “I have a hard time figuring out what I did 10 days ago. He’s been at two different stops since then. I’ve been at three, and we haven’t sat and talked football.”

Briles noted that he and Holgorsen were together at Texas Tech from 2000 to 2002 and that also present was Holgorsen’s current offensive line coach, Bill Bedenbaugh, and his defensive line coach, Erik Slaugher.

In a way this works as an advantage for both coaches, knowing what each wants to accomplish and having a general idea of how he will think in devising a way to get there.

Make no doubt that what developed is a mutual admiration society.

“He has always done a great job wherever he’s been, and it’s no exception now,” Briles said during the weekly Big 12 conference call on Monday.

Briles was asked if he could explain why Holgorsen has been able to succeed as he has.

“He is very … l I don’t know how to say it,” Briles began, talking slowly in his Texas deep drawl. “His attention to detail is very strong. He has a good grasp of defenses and his own personnel. He’s always been around winning programs that he’s helped elevate wherever he’s been.”

And Holgorsen pulls out the platitudes when discussing the way Briles has turned around the Baylor program in his four years there, going from a pair of 4-8 seasons in the beginning to the team that went 10-3 last season and produced the Heisman Trophy winner in Robert Griffin III.

“He’s had success everywhere he’s been. I was fortunate enough to work with him at Texas Tech, but prior to that he won a whole bunch of state championships as a high school coach in West Texas, which is a high level of football,” said Holgorsen, delving into Briles’ football background.

Briles’ entire background is in Texas, something he does not apologize for.

“It’s just been the way it worked out. I didn’t have a plan. I kind of tried to work hard where I was at and be thankful for the job I had,” he said, added a surprising postscript to that considering his standing in the game today.

“I feel like I’m still in the learning part of my career,” he said.

Texas football, of course, is well known … not only for the Dallas Cowboys or Texas, Texas A&M and all those other football-playing colleges, but also for its high school program, celebrated in the movie “Friday Night Lights” and proven as America’s best every week.

“We think it’s pretty good down here,” Briles said. “It’s really kind of all I’ve known, so it’s hard to compare with anything else. This is the way it’s turned out. I always ended up being in the state.”

He was a wide receiver at Houston from 1974 to 1977, being a member of the ’76 team that won the Southwest Conference championship in the Cougars’ first year in the league, then played in the 1977 Cotton Bowl victory over fifth-ranked Maryland, 30-21.

He then became a high school coach, first as an assistant before reaching head-coaching status at Hamlin in 1984. He eventually landed at Stephenville, where he molded four state championship teams, going back-to-back in 1993-94 and 1998-99.

In the process, he showed an ability to handle the passing game and young quarterbacks, sending six to Division I ball and tutoring five who threw for more than 3,000 yards in a season.

That caught Leach’s eye. and he brought him to Texas Tech in 2000, along with Holgorsen out of Iowa Wesleyan, where he was a talented wide receiver under Mumme.

Holgorsen coached the inside receivers there, Briles the running backs at Texas Tech.

In 2003, Briles found himself hired as head coach at Houston, the school at which he had played. The Cougars had won only eight games in the three previous seasons and had gone 0-11 just two years before he arrived.

Briles guided Houston to a 34-28 record during his tenure there, including four bowls, and made history when he became the first college coach to have a 300-yard passer and 200-yard rusher in the same game, something that seems rather trite now as he brings a Baylor team to Morgantown that is averaging more than 300 passing yards and more than 200 rushing yards per game.

The success at Houston, including a Conference USA championship, earned him the Baylor job.

He had earned the step up in class.

“It’s not a surprise that when he went to Houston he got that program going,” Holgorsen said. “I was lucky enough to follow him up there and inherit a bunch of guys including (quarterback) Case Keenum and be able to win some games there at Houston.”

Holgorsen was offensive coordinator at Houston for two years.

“Briles is doing the same thing at Baylor that he did at Stephenville, which is the same thing he did at Houston, which is build the program. It’s not a couple of guys here and there. They have a lot of good players,” Holgorsen said.

“It’s not surprising that they lose the Heisman Trophy winner from last year but don’t miss a beat because they have a solid program and instill confidence in his players.”

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.