It seems as though the hiring of Coach Holgorsen was controversial from the start. One must admit that hiring the new head coach and putting him on staff for a year in order to ease existing head coach Bill Stewart out the door was highly unusual. But it happened and Dana became the head football coach at our beloved West Virginia University. The purpose of this article is not to discuss the merits of Dana but to discuss the actual hiring of a head coach.
In getting started lets reaffirm who we are as a state. The state of West Virginia is the smallest state in the union with a major college football program. We have approximately 1.75 million people with no major media outlets. The state produces 1 to 4 major college athletes per year. We have one of the lowest populations of African Americans in the country. And last but not least we are one of the poorest and most rural states in the union. In terms of big time football we are an anomaly; we are not supposed to exist.
I have written in other articles about our culture which does not need to be reprinted, but West Virginia has always had its own distinct culture.
Also of significance is the place that WVU holds within the overall structure of the state, which includes economic as well as educational. WVU is a big deal in our state henceforth the head football coach is inherently a big deal as well.
What’s amazing about our football program is our win/loss record through the years. WVU has the most wins of any major college football program to have not won a national championship. We have won approximately 60% of our games placing us in the Top 25 in terms of total wins in the history of college football. These wins have been against major programs, we beat Texas in the 1950’s to open the Texas state fair. We have beaten teams from ever major conference including the Big 10, ACC, SEC, PAC 12, and Big 12.
How have we done it? Through the years 90% of our recruits have come from West Virginia, Pa, Ohio, and New Jersey. In recent years, we have opened a pipeline into Florida. Only on rare occasions have we out-recruited the home state school for a recruit (OSU, PSU, Florida etc). We survive by taking what the home state favorite passes over and then beating mid-level schools in the major conferences such as the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12. We are not regularly going to get the 4-star recruit. We survive by carefully choosing the right player and coaching them up. This is the way it will always be.
Having said that, when Don Nehlen retired we had 27 players in the NFL. Over time we are well within top 25 of schools producing NFL players.
I give you this background because it has everything to do with who we should select as our coach. You have to have someone who accepts us for who we are and what we are. The football coach not is going to change our culture or the parameters for which they have to succeed if you follow this time proven process you will be successful at WVU. Don Nehlen proved you can compete for great players and compete for the national championship. Failing to recognize these fundamentals can, and probably will, determine success or failure of any head coach at WVU
The next issue concerning hiring a new coach is the risk factor. Let’s reflect back over the past 20 years and revisit those new hires who were going to change the won-lose dynamic at their school. Does anybody remember Charlie Weiss or the Willingham guy at Notre Dame? How about Southern Cal, Syracuse, Boston College? The landscape is littered with bad decisions in hiring new head coaches.
Do not read this as a vindication of Dana. All I’m saying is there is a lot of risk in hiring a new coach and history is on my side. On to Dana, to my knowledge the biggest mistake in terms of expectation for him was the fact that no recognition was given to the fact that our job was the first time Dana had ever been a head coach at any level. There was no consideration ever given for on the job training for Dana.
What I found interesting, and pointed this out to several of my Mountaineer friends, was the fact that Bill Stewart was a known entity and Dana had never proven himself on the big stage. Furthermore, he lived in hotels in Houston, Stillwater, and until recently, in Morgantown. No one thought anything about it.
Don Nehlen hit the ground running because he had been a successful high school head coach, successful college coach, and coached at Michigan under a great head coach. Rich Rodriguez has been a successful college head coach but still struggled his first 4 years at WVU.
In hiring a new coach, the more experience you acquire the more expensive the purchase becomes. How much can we afford ?
If we change coaches you have to give time to perform. They are going to require a guarantee which is cemented with a buyout clause. We pay them period. In most cases its four to six years. This means we are married to them for that period of time. Nothing can be more clearly demonstrated than by the contract with the current coach. He is going to get paid for seven years of service, whether he is producing or not. He can leave on his own free will but we cannot get rid of him. Sad to say this is a normal and customary practice in the world of big time sports today.
Normally I do not care to give opinions but will provide an observation concerning the hiring of the present head coach. In doing so I will not address the issue of turning “Stew” out to pasture. In the eyes of Jim Clements and Oliver Luck, WVU had a vacancy at the head coach position. Only as an observation, it would appear the issues as laid out in the above were not taken into consideration, at least as primary issues, for selecting Dana. It has been told to me the overarching theme was to get a coach with an exciting dynamic offense and the rest would take care of its self. I was in the company of Oliver Luck and others when he stated that professionally today, one only stays in a position four to five years.
Taking what I have been told from informed sources and personal contacts, Dana was going to come here, light the skies up, and leave. Evidence of this is the fact that both the then president and athletic director have left WVU.
With this thought it would appear the expectations for both Dana and ourselves were not well defined at the front end of this relationship. Winning, yes winning is a big factor, but with the head coaching job at West Virginia comes an integration with the culture and an educational institution, one in which the status within the state cannot be ignored. This should not be a mistake we make in the future.
Does the next coach have to stay a long time or does he have to be a West Virginian or WVU grad? The answer is of course not. But neither can the coach pretend he lives in a hole in Punxsutawney, Pa, bury himself in his office, and only come out on game day. WVU is first and foremost an excellent educational institution and our players need to be educated. Second as the land grant University for the state it plays a prominent role in economic and community development. The head football coach is an extension of the institution. He should share in the responsibilities that position requires as it relates to the entire state.
Should Dana stay or should he go? From a financial point of view we owe him for two years work plus a buyout of the coaches which right now totals to approximately $15 million. Presently we have to decide whether to renew his contract two years in advance of the expiration of the present contract. If we do not renew, he has the privilege to sit and twiddle his thumbs for two years. So to me we either buy him and his assistants out now or renew the entire staff for essentially another seven years.
I can say the risk factor and cost with keeping him could be much lower than going out and finding another coach. He has gone through the OJT, has settled down with a staff which appears will stay with the program, and he has re-established the recruiting ties in our traditional recruiting territory.
He even bought a house. Remember Rich Rodriguez was only .500 after four seasons with us and it took a little luck to get him over the hump the next three years. This year, Dana is only a quarterback away from having a very competitive team. Now there are down sides to giving him another seven year commitment. This league requires a big time prospect at the quarterback position and we don t have one in site of the state much less Mountaineer Field. So we are still several years away from being much better than 6-6 or 7-5. It’s a tough call.