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Backyard Brawl coaches downplay history

Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011

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."

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