Holgorsen and staff will return to WVU

West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen prepares to take the field for the game against Iowa State on Saturday, Nov 30, 2013, at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va.
West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen prepares to take the field for the game against Iowa State on Saturday, Nov 30, 2013, at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va.
Photo by Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
| Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, 1:51 p.m.

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck ended speculation about the future of football coach Dana Holgorsen on Tuesday by announcing the entire coaching staff would be retained for 2014.

The Mountaineers posted a 4-8 record this season.

“I strongly believe in our coaching staff, including the work that our strength and conditioning staff is doing,” Luck said in a prepared statement. “In my opinion, continuity is the key ingredient that will bring our football program back to the high level that Mountaineer fans expect.”

Luck, however, threw down the gauntlet, saying “We simply must get better.”

Holgorsen's contract runs through 2017, but Luck did not address the future beyond next season. Luck admitted he is disappointed with the results this season, including blowing a 31-7 lead against Iowa State in the season finale.

It would have been difficult to fire Holgorsen amid the current climate at the university.

WVU president Jim Clements has announced he's leaving for Clemson at the first of the year and the search for his replacement has just begun. An interim president is expected to be named this week.

Firing Holgorsen also would have cost $11.3 million in yearly salary because Holgorsen's contract does not contain a buyout clause.

Since winning the first five games in 2012 and climbing as high as No. 5 in the national rankings while quarterback Geno Smith emerged as the early frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy, Holgorsen's Mountaineers have won but six of 20 games.

This season, a rebuilding year, retained some early hope when West Virginia lost by just 16-7 to Oklahoma and upset Oklahoma State.

But the season rapidly deteriorated thereafter. No one took charge at quarterback and the defense was ravaged by injuries.

The Mountaineers failed to reach a bowl for the first time since 2001.

“We have high expectations at West Virginia University for success on and off the field and as Coach Holgorsen has acknowledged to me, we are not meeting those expectations on the field,” Luck said.

“Coach Holgorsen and I met at length and reviewed this past season. We discussed the coaching staff, recruiting, player development, strength and conditioning, academic support and facilities. In short, all the components that make up a successful program. We are working diligently to improve our capabilities in all of these areas.”

Holgorsen was unavailable for comment.

West Virginia fans and donors expressed strong — but split — opinions on whether Holgorsen should be given time to see program through. He inherited the head coaching job from Bill Stewart in a unusual transition.

Holgorsen was brought in as a coach-in-waiting for a year, but was given the job when Stewart was accused of trying to undermine him.

Not long after losing the job, Stewart died of a heart attack while golfing with former athletic director Ed Pastilong.

Luck made it clear he expects improvement next season and that excuses would not be acceptable.

“We had plenty of challenges this season. Nonetheless, we should not and will not use those as excuses for our performance. We simply must get better.”

Luck said all the support necessary will be offered to Holgorsen, including in the area of facilities. Holgorsen has called for an upgrade in that area, including enlarging and modernizing the team meeting room in the Puskar Center changing the grass practice field to turf and building a new indoor facility to replace an undersized one that Holgorsen seldom used.

“Coach Holgorsen and his staff are on the road recruiting this week, securing the future for a successful Mountaineer football program. We need to do our part as well by continuing to move forward with the facility improvements needed to compete at the highest level in our conference,” Luck said.

“We have high expectations for the 2014 football team, and I have shared those with Coach Holgorsen. He and his staff are eager to get started to prepare for our opening game against Alabama. We are well aware that we have a lot of work to do. “

Bob Hertzel is a freelance writer.

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