Despite securing their first Big 12 victory of the season this past weekend the calls for WVU to replace head coach Dana Holgorsen are still prevalent. With games remaining against Texas (in which WVU is favored), Iowa State, Kansas, and Kansas State the Mountaineers have a legitimate chance to finish the season 8-4.
Eight wins has been widely reported as the threshold Holgorsen needs to meet in order to retain his position at West Virginia. And by the recent actions, or lack thereof, by WVU president Gordon Gee and athletic director Shane Lyons you have to assume there is a certain threshold they are looking for Holgorsen to reach, or not, before making a decision. Whether that is eight games or not is simply not 100% known.
Does Holgorsen deserve to be fired if he fails to win eight games? Well that question is subjective at best and dependent upon who you ask. However, the underlying issue here is not the Mountaineers record at the end of the season but what options the University may have if they decide a change is warranted.
What if the Mountaineers falter short of that eight win mark. Holgorsen has lost to every school left on the schedule during his tenure at WVU including Iowa State and Kansas. This is where outside circumstances will come into play.
Both Lyons and Gee have taken the “wait and see” approach with Holgorsen. While I feel approach is appropriate it also lends itself to problems after the season if, in fact, they decide to go a different direction.
There are currently 10 schools with open coaching vacancies this off season. Bruce Feldman of FoxSports is on record as stating there could be up to 30 vacancies come the end of the season. That is not 30 schools looking to fire head coaches, that is probably 15-20 looking to fire coaches and the remainder looking to replace the coach they just lost to another school.
Schools currently looking for new head coaches for 2016 per coachingfootballpoll.com
|Hawaii||Norm Chow (2-7)||(i) – Chris Naeole|
|Illinois||Tim Beckman (6-7)||(i) – Bill Cubit|
|#-Maryland||Randy Edsall (2-4)||(i) – Mike Locksley|
|Miami (Fla.)||Al Golden (4-3)||(i) – Larry Scott|
|Minnesota||Jerry Kill (4-3)||(i) – Tracy Claeys|
|#-North Texas||Dan McCarney (0-5)||(i) – Mike Canales|
|South Carolina||Steve Spurrier (2-4)||(i) – Shawn Elliott|
|UCF||George O’Leary (0-8)||(i) – Danny Barrett|
|#-USC||Steve Sarkisian (3-2)||(i) – Clay Helton|
|Virginia Tech||Frank Beamer||effective end of season|
So what is the problem you ask? Supply and demand. There are only a handful of mid-major coaches that have fared well enough to be considered for the next level, i.e. Power 5 schools. Justin Fuente, Tom Herman, Matt Rhule, and Matt Campbell will presumably make most short lists this off season. There is simply not enough legitimate contenders this season to fill all the voids.
Reports have speculated that Shane Lyons and Gordon Gee agree that if a change were needed it would not come from the assistant coaching ranks. This would probably be a welcome change for Mountaineer fans who have seen WVU promote assistants from around the country making Morgantown a perceived stepping stone within the coaching ranks.
While this stance is welcome among the Mountaineer faithful it also lends to the problem at hand: who is available?
Remember, all the names mentioned above will be on short lists throughout the country. And with the reported stance of no assistants names like Kirby Smart are presumably not being considered.
Also take into consideration what the “wait and see” approach could do to recruiting. The Mountaineers had visitors in this week, including players already committed to Maryland and Miami. Losing commitments is part of the process of change and many commitments from those schools are now looking elsewhere. Waiting until late December to make a decision puts a significant strain on the 2016 recruiting class, especially being as national signing day is in early February.
Dana Holgorsen is the only coach to lead the Mountaineers in the Big 12 conference. And while many feel he has underachieved the fact remains there is no litmus test to show this is truly the case.
No one wants to believe WVU is a perennial middle-of-the-pack team in the Big 12 but is it possible that is the case? The Mountaineers historically have been competitive on a national level every 4-5 years. The last year the Mountaineers were at that level was 2012, their first season in the Big 12. Is it not safe to assume that with acknowledging the trend Holgorsen should be seeing his next breakout season in 2016 or 2017? That 4-5 year trend was acceptable for Don Nehlen (at least for a while) and Rich Rodriguez. Why is it not acceptable now?
The calls for Holgorsen became loudest in the month of October, which is understandable. Four straight losses to start conference play in most years would be unacceptable. The Oklahoma State loss looked to be the most damming as many felt, including Vegas, that West Virginia matched up well against the Cowboys. Looking back now that overtime loss doesn’t look that bad after this weekend. The other games featured Heisman candidates and preseason Al-Americans. It wasn’t exactly a cakewalk.
Holgorsen has the chance to finish the season 8-4. He has the chance to finish the season on a 5 game win streak that would include wins over Texas Tech, Texas, and Kansas State. Is 8-4 and a 5th place ranking the Big 12 strong enough for West Virginia and coach Holgorsen? It is an interesting argument. Many will undoubtedly throw in the Coach Stewart argument of nine wins was not enough. My stance there is simple, I’m not taking a stance.
Take into consideration that West Virginia would be competing against regional rivals such as South Carolina, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Maryland just to name a few. You could very possibly throw in Rutgers and Virginia into that mix as well as Georgia. There will be plenty of money offered over December and January. Is West Virginia in a position to compete with budgets such as South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia Tech?
Change for the sake of change is not always the best approach. And while it may be frustrating the best approach may be to wait this out for one more season. This article should not be seen as a stance for or against Dana Holgorsen. It is simply looking at the challenges West Virginia will face and whether they are worth the risk.