MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – After accepting an invitation to join the Big 12 Conference in 2012, the West Virginia Mountaineers found themselves at 7-5 going into the Pinstripe Bowl against long-time rival Syracuse. Their inaugural Big 12 season saw a slight fall from grace, coming off of a 10-3 season in which they shared the Big East championship and a 2012 start that pushed them within the AP Top 5. The 2012 season was also Dana Holgorsen’s second at the helm in Morgantown. In the Mountaineers’ bowl game against the Orange, Syracuse running backs Tyson Gulley and Jerome Smith ran all over the West Virginia defense, racking up 213 and 152 yards, respectively. WVU lost the Pinstripe Bowl, 14-38, and finished the season 7-6 overall.
Since then, Holgorsen’s team has back-tracked even further, now competing against teams in the Big 12 that get more competitive by the day. Only two of their four victories last season came against conference opponents, including an upset win over then-No. 11 Oklahoma State. Holgorsen’s time at WVU hasn’t been conventional by any means, but then again, maybe that’s what makes things more exciting.
In the early ‘90s, Holgorsen spent his playing days at Iowa Wesleyan College. At wide receiver, he played under the direction of innovators Hal Mumme and Mike Leach. His coaching career followed swiftly with the help of Mumme, who was coaching alongside Leach at Valdosta State. For the next 17 years, Holgorsen would concentrate his efforts on the offensive side of the ball. Stops at Mississippi College and Wingate saw him coaching quarterbacks and wide receivers, but his real break came at Texas Tech.
With Texas Tech, Holgorsen was brought aboard a coaching staff captained by Leach, reuniting the two once again. By 2005, Holgorsen had been promoted to offensive coordinator. The Red Raiders had developed into an offensive powerhouse, leading the country in passing yardage. Michael Crabtree, a protégé of Holgorsen’s, set numerous records as a freshman wide receiver, and eventually went on to be selected 10th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. While mediocre by Richard Sherman’s standards, Crabtree put up elite numbers along with other members of the TTU offense during Holgorsen’s tenure.
Between 2008 and 2010, Holgorsen filled offensive coordinator positions at Houston and Oklahoma State. He groomed more young talent on and off the field, including quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Case Keenum and current TTU head coach Kliff Kingsbury. At Oklahoma State, even more NFL starters like quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon benefitted from Holgorsen’s signature “Air Raid” offense. In his only season with the Cowboys, Holgorsen instituted an offense that set numerous single-season school records.
His next stop came in Morgantown, where West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck hired him on as the offensive coordinator for the 2011 season. However, it was no secret that Luck intended to unseat then-head coach Bill Stewart, because according to an Associated Press report, Luck did not believe that Stewart could lead the Mountaineers to a national championship. The temporary Stewart-Holgorsen marriage was short-lived and tense. For Holgorsen, the transition was smooth, except for a drunken episode at a casino, though for Stewart it was much more uncomfortable. Allegedly, Stewart was hellbent on seeking Holgorsen’s dirty laundry through multiple journalists. Prior to the 2011 season, he eventually resigned, relieving his duties to Holgorsen. Luck’s plan had worked sooner than expected (which apparently yielded a hefty bonus for Holgorsen) and the Mountaineers had their new head coach.
The plan for West Virginia to vie for a national championship has yet to pan out. The passing game has been a strength as expected, but the Mountaineers posted a negative point per game differential in 2013. The defense, in particular, must improve if Holgorsen wants his team to stand toe-to-toe with the class of the Big 12 in Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas. Luckily for him, it probably couldn’t be any worse than it was last season.