Harris: Holgorsen's a keeper for West Virginia football, for now

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen discuss a call with officials during their NCAA college football game against Baylor in Morgantown, W.Va., Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012. West Virginia defeated Baylor 70-63.  AP
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen discuss a call with officials during their NCAA college football game against Baylor in Morgantown, W.Va., Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012. West Virginia defeated Baylor 70-63. AP
Photo by AP
John Harris
| Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, 12:12 a.m.

Begin at the end: Is West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen in trouble?

Why should he be? He's a good coach who signed a six-year contract extension worth $2.3 million per year before the season. It's the highest salary ever paid to a West Virginia football coach.

Has Holgorsen lost his team? No. He was 5-0 with these same players. It's his team, so he takes the hit because the Mountaineers have been outscored, 198-90, during their four-game losing streak — the longest winless streak at the school since 2001.

Check out Holgorsen's résumé. He's 15-7 as a head coach.

But having worked under some of the top offensive minds in college football, he's been described as an offensive guru more than he's viewed as a head coach after only 22 games.

That's what Holgorsen needs to work on, changing his image into a more well-rounded CEO.

For example, Holgorsen has tutored talented quarterbacks such as Geno Smith, Brandon Weeden, Case Keenum and Graham Harrell to great success. Smith should be thankful he was fortunate to play his final two college seasons under Holgorsen before entering the NFL.

We'll find out starting next year if Holgorsen can recruit and develop talented quarterbacks as a head coach when Paul Millard likely takes over as Smith's replacement. Millard is a sophomore from Flower Mound, Texas, who was the first quarterback recruited by Holgorsen at West Virginia.

We also don't know if Holgorsen can build a defense. WVU has allowed 49.5 points per game during the losing streak.

Clearly, West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck hired Holgorsen for his creative offensive mind. Despite their defensive struggles, the Mountaineers are averaging 40 points per game.

Initially hired to replace Bill Stewart following a year's apprenticeship, Holgorsen was promoted a year early.

How did Holgorsen's players feel about the sudden change? Were they angry? Confused? Happy? Did they resent a new coach being forced upon them? Did they welcome the move?

There were some early bumps in the road while implementing his offense, but Holgorsen eventually won over the players. Most of them, anyway. Two receivers — both from Florida — have left the school within the last week.

How do we know players accepted Holgorsen? WVU ended the 2011 season — Holgorsen's first — with four consecutive wins to finish 10-3, highlighted by a 70-33 trouncing of Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

The Mountaineers' 5-0 start this season seemed to cement the bond between Holgorsen and his players. Any negative feelings they may have harbored about their new coach were replaced by feelings of euphoria.

But when some of those same players not recruited by Holgorsen came up short — first at Texas Tech, followed by disheartening losses against Kansas State, TCU and Oklahoma State — instead of pulling together, the Mountaineers fell apart.

From Holgorsen focusing on Smith's inability to navigate swirling winds at Texas Tech to the coach blaming his players for making “junior high mistakes” against Oklahoma State, it seems like the end of the season can't arrive fast enough at WVU.

It could be a long road back for the Mountaineers.

Smith, the school's all-time passing leader, is scheduled to depart. So is Tavon Austin, the career leader in receptions and receiving yards. Junior receiver Stedman Bailey, No. 2 all-time in receiving yards, could depart early to enter the NFL Draft. With Smith and Austin leaving and defenses potentially doubling-teaming Bailey next year, his pro value may never be higher than right now. The loss of underrated senior Shawne Alston, slowed most of the season with a thigh bruise, will hurt the running game.

The Mountaineers also will lose three starters from their offensive line, along with defensive tackle Jorge Wright and linebackers Josh Francis and Terence Garvin from a wobbling unit that can ill afford too many key departures.

End at the beginning: Is Holgorsen in trouble?

No way.

Not at these prices.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com.

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