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Harris: Holgorsen has backing of top coach

| Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012, 12:04 a.m.
Tribune-Review
West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen walks the sideline against the Kansas State Wildcats at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, WV on October 20, 2012. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review

Some of the things West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said about his players during the team's current five-game losing streak were absolutely correct.

Holgorsen probably shouldn't have scrutinized the performance of senior quarterback Geno Smith when the Mountaineers' defense was to blame, but it's his team, his program.

Whatever the case, there's no turning back now. Holgorsen said what he meant, and that's how it's going to be.

“Dana has to build the program the way he wants it to be built,” said Miramar (Fla.) High School coach Damon Cogdell, who played linebacker for the Mountaineers from 1997-98. “His coaches have to coach. The players have to take responsibility and get this thing rolling.

“Dana will do a good job of getting those guys back together.”

Cogdell's support is good news for Holgorsen.

Cogdell has a vested interest in Holgorsen and West Virginia's football program. Considered one of the top high school football coaches in America, his opinion is valued by prospective recruits and key members of this year's team.

Two of WVU's best players — Smith and junior receiver Stedman Bailey — played for Cogdell at Miramar. When Smith was a high school sophomore, he won MVP honors at the Mountaineers' football camp when Rich Rodriguez was coach — two coaches ago.

Cogdell, who enjoyed his experience at WVU, took Smith and other potential recruits to downtown Morgantown, W.Va. He showed them some of his favorite places.

It isn't a stretch to surmise that Cogdell's recommendation went a long way toward Smith's and Bailey's decision to play for the Mountaineers. Try to imagine this year's team without them.

Cogdell also advised junior receiver Ivan McCartney to attend WVU when he could have remained closer to home and attended Florida, Florida State or Miami.

Cogdell told McCartney why not attend college with a high school teammate — Smith — who was also a high school All-American. McCartney took the bait. But now he's gone.

McCartney and another fellow receiver from Florida — true freshman Travares Copeland — left school for personal reasons during the losing streak. The timing of their departures raised red flags.

Cogdell said he understands why McCartney left and that it doesn't have anything to do with Holgorsen or the program.

“I saw it coming,” Cogdell said. “He was ready to get home — homesick. His grandmother wasn't feeling good. He wanted to get home to his family. It wasn't anything to do with West Virginia. It was him being closer to home.”

Almost all of WVU's key players the past two seasons weren't recruited by Holgorsen. It created what could have become an awkward situation if the Mountaineers had struggled on the field.

But WVU finished 10-3 with an Orange Bowl victory in Holgorsen's first season. This year, the Mountaineers are 5-5 following a 5-0 start.

As for McCartney leaving a coach who didn't recruit him, Cogdell had an interesting response that should help Holgorsen's supporters feel better about their man.

“NFL coaches leave every minute. If you plan on playing in the NFL, you have to be able to adjust to that,” Cogdell said. “West Virginia is used to having one coach, especially in my era. Now, in the past (few) years, you've had three different head coaches (Holgorsen, Bill Stewart and Rodriguez).

“When you lose, everybody starts pointing fingers. They'll be OK. I spoke with Geno. I told him you have to finish strong. It's frustrating. He's not accustomed to this. In life, you're going to have some bumps in the road. Right now, they're going through their bumps.”

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

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