by Dave Ackermann
After a tremendous victory in the 2012 Orange Bowl over Clemson Dana Holgorsen saw his inaugural season end with a Big East Championship and 10 victories. Holgorsen then embarked on the real job he was hired to do: make WVU competitive in the Big 12 Conference.
The road was pretty bumpy, to say the least, as after opening 5-0 in 2012 with exciting conference wins over Baylor at home and Texas on the road, the momentum swung the other way with blowout losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State. Then WVU lost a heartbreaking 2 OT game to TCU, followed by another blowout loss to Oklahoma State. Oklahoma came calling and the Mountaineers gave them everything they had only to lose another heart breaker 49-50. After wins over KU and ISU, the final blow to the season occurred when old arch rival Syracuse ate the Mountaineer.s lunch in the Pinstripe Bowl (14-38).
2013 would open with new hopes but end with even worse results. Blown out by Maryland (0-37) in Baltimore was the first sign of disaster. Wins over OSU at home and TCU on the road in OT followed the annual loss to the Sooners. Losing to Texas in OT (40-47) led to the unimaginable; losses to Kansas (19-31) and Iowa State (37-45 in 3 OT’s). That had the fan base wringing their hands and shouting at the moon.
But with all the bumps in the Country Roads in 2013, some good things happened. At times, the team lived up to the West Virginia mantra that Mountaineers never give up or give in. Three Overtime contests were vivid proof along with some other very close losses when trying to rebound. Oh, and that was the year that a coach named Tony Gibson came home to roost as a defensive backs coach who was hired for the most part to bolster recruiting. Little did we know…….
Things began to balance a bit in the 2014 season as the team won a close one at Maryland (40-37) after losing to the Sooners again (23-33). Going 5-4 in conference was a positive along with the fact that all of the losses in 2014 were by and average of around 7 points including a Liberty Bowl loss to Texas A&M (37-45) to end the season at 7-6. Some in the fan base were not impressed and accused the WVU admin of having a head coach in training.
2015 started with bigger expectations after going 3-0 and blowing out Maryland at home (45-6). Then the team went to Oklahoma and got scorched (24-44) in a game that was actually much closer for the most part. The WVU lost to the other Oklahoma team in OT (26-33) and that led to losses against Baylor and TCU. Holgorsen’s team then rebounded winning 4 straight conference games before losing to KSU for the 4th straight year 23-24 in another heart breaker. But WVU was Bowl bound again and beat Arizona State in a shootout at the Cactus Bowl (43-42) as Skylar Howard gave the fan base a glimpse of how good he could be in a stellar second half performance.
Meantime, in the off-season, WVU AD Shane Lyons and Holgorsen would engage in contract negotiations that proved to be fruitless. Both promised to revisit the contract after the 2016 season. It appeared that Holgorsen was unhappy with what Lyons offered, to say the least. The media turned that into an instant “hot seat” position for Coach Holgorsen and some in the fan base became very restless again.
That brings us to the current season here in 2016 and in this writer’s opinion, Dana and his staff have re-paved the road by opening 6-0 and currently being ranked in the Top 10 in both media polls.
If you visit the facts, Dana actually was a Head Coach “in training ” during the early years that saw many staff and structural changes. The Defensive staff has been completely turned over more than once. So has most of the offensive staff over time. Just recently we saw the departure of Tom Bradley to UCLA (Defensive Coordinator), Lonnie Galloway to Louisville (Co-Offensive Coordinator), Brian Mitchell to Virginia Tech (Corner backs) and Joe DeForest contract was not renewed (now at Kansas doing Special Teams and Defense).
There is no question that Tony Gibson, as Defensive Coordinator, has made a huge difference in the last season and especially this one. Recruiting has also been pretty solid overall with many players emerging this season as expected.
Dana has quietly won 11 out of his last 12 games, including going 7-1 in Big 12 conference games and a Bowl victory over AZ State. Holgorsen is on the threshold of a solid season that could be his best since capturing the Orange Bowl. It’s obvious he has matured as a Head Coach and has improved his staff and performance.
There are many tough games left on this schedule with Oklahoma State on the road this week and a road game at Texas looming before hosting Oklahoma and Baylor (the other undefeated Big 12 teams in conference play). Then there is that “trap game” in the middle hosting Kansas.
So as an old ball coach once said, “Leave No Doubt”. there is still much work to do for Dana and his staff this season. But the team is already Bowl Eligible again this season and any reasonable fan should expect that Dana will get a good contract and continue the quest for a Big 12 Championship.
In fact, it could come this season, but even if that does not happen, many feel he has re-paved the bumpy road and deserves a good contract with continued success this season.