MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Shannon Dawson was all Cajun charm and dashing dimples until yet another reporter referenced WVU’s springtime chore of replacing a certain record-setting quarterback and two 100-catch receivers.
“Everybody talks about change, change, change,” said Dawson, glaringly more interested in the players who remain at West Virginia as opposed to the ones who departed. “This isn’t the first time we’ve lost players and it isn’t the first time West Virginia has graduated players, because they’re a university and that’s what universities do.
“You can only be here four years, all right? And then you’ve got to move on and go to work or move on and go to the NFL. That’s why you recruit. This isn’t the first time that we’ve had a great group of guys that we lost. I don’t know what else to say. We’re beating a dead horse with that deal. We need to move on.”
Moving on involves preparing new players, but an offseason rife with staff turnover also meant preparing new coaches. This highlighted the need for Dawson and head coach Dana Holgorsen to simplify and reorganize the offensive package in ways that weren’t necessarily personnel-related.
“We needed to clean it up a bit, trim off the fat,” said Dawson, pointing out that having a talented, third-year starting quarterback like Geno Smith also tempted coaches to stretch the system. “You get to thinking you can do more than you actually can.”
WVU’s offensive coordinator said the tunnel vision of week-to-week game prep led to frequent tweaks, and over the course of several seasons, the overall system became so sprawling even Dawson couldn’t recall why certain changes were enacted.
“Adding new coaches makes you re-evaluate your terminology,” Dawson said. “When you grew up in it, it made sense because it’s what you always did. But to have new people come in and look at it, it didn’t make sense. You’d look at something and think, ‘Why the hell did we do it that way?’”
Though the changes figure to be mostly unrecognizable to fans, they could drastically impact how Paul Millard or Ford Childress makes checks and how an inexperienced receiving corp processes playcalls in the precious seconds between snaps of WVU’s brisk attack.
“We’ve changed the inner workings of communication, from the sideline to quarterback and quarterback to the line and quarterback to receiver,” Dawson said. “We just made it so it will roll a lot better, so kids can play with a clear mind.”
Simplified terminology and streamlined options don’t mean WVU will be dialing back its basketball-on-turf philosophy. Though only two full-time offensive starters return — left tackle Quinton Spain and running back Andrew Buie — Dawson insisted next season’s unit will be as aggressive as the 2012 group that scored 39.4 points per game and the 2011 unit that averaged 37.6.
“I’ve met with coordinators across the nation and some offenses have the mindset that a punt’s a great play,” Dawson said. “Their philosophy is that it’s a field-position game, so let’s get to the end and win the game. And for some of them it works.
“But we try to score on every possession. No matter whether we’re backed up on the 1, our mindset is always the same — we want to attack. And with that mindset, if you get somebody on their heels, then you’re going to have a good day.”
Asked whether he could ever adjust to overseeing a conservative, Big Ten-style offense, Dawson quipped, “Nah, I’d have to go do something else.”