Share This Page

Backyard Brawl coaches downplay history

The game is called the Backyard Brawl, but the former sparring partners who coach Pitt and West Virginia have little interest in verbal pugilism.

At least not the public kind, and certainly not this week.

Pitt's Todd Graham and West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen resume their rivalry Friday at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va., where their teams meet in a game that will go a long way toward deciding the Big East championship.

The coaches have a slightly jagged history, dating to their rivalry when Graham was head coach at Tulsa and Holgorsen a rising-star offensive coordinator at Houston and Oklahoma State.

During a 2009 game between Tulsa and Houston, Holgorsen accused Graham of teaching his defensive players to fake injuries to slow down the offense.

"Yeah, they were cheating," Holgorsen told radio station KGOW-AM in Houston. "We've got some inside information on how they did it."

Graham's response to the Tulsa World newspaper: "I wouldn't have any comment on that. We do things the right way. This place is about excellence in everything that we do.".

At the end of the game — a 46-45 Houston victory in which the decisive nine points were scored in the final 21 seconds — Houston play-by-play announcer Tom Franklin said, "Todd Graham, stick it in your pipe and smoke it, baby." Franklin later apologized.

The feud has cooled and, apparently did not travel east when Graham and Holgorsen were hired by their current schools in January. During their respective news conferences with reporters Monday, both pledged respect for the other.

"It goes back to the coaching thing," Holgorsen said. "There is always a tremendous amount of respect when it comes to coaching against each other. Bad blood may exist with guys that work with each other, but I can't say I had any negative situations with Coach Graham to the point where I wouldn't consider him a friend."

Graham and Holgorsen each said they spoke cordially this summer at the Big East meetings in Newport, R.I., setting aside past disagreements.

"This game is not about stuff like that," Graham said. "This is about West Virginia and Pitt, 2011 Backyard Brawl. One of the things I believe in is sportsmanship. We have been competitors against each other and have been intense competitors. There is nothing wrong with that."

Asked if Holgorsen ever made him mad, Graham smiled and said, "Yeah, when they beat us."

Indeed, in their most recent three meetings, Holgorsen's teams have averaged 60.3 points and 686 yards of total offense against Tulsa in 70-30, 46-45 and 65-28 victories.

"He is one of the best offensive guys I know that I've gone up against," Graham said.

Holgorsen said his rivalry with Graham is nothing more than "competitive spirit."

"It's called doing anything you can to put your kids in successful situations to win," Holgorsen said. The media is making a big deal out of the fact that we had competitive games. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and what he has been able to accomplish, and I assume the respect is mutual on his part based on the success we've had."

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.