MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Their not-so-long ago stint as coaching roommates at the University of Houston built upon their previous coach-player relationship at Texas Tech, yet Dana Holgorsen and Kliff Kingsbury aren’t engaging in yesteryear buddy chronicles as their programs prepare to face off this week.
Both have pressure-loaded public missions that override nostalgia and subjugate friendship. Holgorsen is attempting to keep West Virginia (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) out of a tailspin, while Kingsbury is aiming to keep No. 16 Texas Tech (6-0, 3-0) on its unbeaten course to the league title.
Besides, with Holgorsen having coached a combined nine seasons in Lubbock, Texas, and Stillwater, Okla., seemingly every week in the Big 12 brings an opportunity for some sort of reunion.
“We worry about our own teams … so the sentimental side, the personal side, typically doesn’t exist,” Holgorsen said. “Every time you play against guys that you like, you wish them a lot of luck in every game other than one.”
Holgorsen typically is reluctant to delve too deeply into personal relationships, sticking primarily to his football talking points. Kingsbury has shown a similar knack for being respectful and not very revealing, though he described his ties to Holgorsen as “very close” based on their overlapping careers.
“He’s the one who got me a job at the University of Houston,” Kingsbury said. “Obviously, we don’t talk as much now that we’re in the same conference. But I have a ton of respect for him and I wouldn’t be here right now if it weren’t for him.”
GAMBLING ON KINGSBURY
Last December, Tommy Tuberville curiously left Lubbock for Cincinnati—a sub-lateral move that stung even the Red Raiders fans who never fully embraced Tuberville. To fill the void, Texas Tech athletics director Kirby Hocutt needed less than 72 hours to find the anti-Tuberville, making the 33-year-old Kingsbury the second-youngest coach in the FBS.
Despite the reverence Kingsbury built as a record-setting Red Raiders quarterback, he returned to campus with only four years of on-the-field coaching experience. It didn’t hurt that the most recent of those years involved coaching Heisman winner Johnny Manziel during a one-and-done stint at Texas A&M, yet his rapid promotion to head coach was in many ways a gamble.
Through six games, Klingsbury’s hiring looks unquestionably astute.
“There’s a tremendous amount of energy, a tremendous amount of excitement that’s surrounding the program,” Holgorsen said. “I’m not surprised he was able to get it going there in a short amount of time.”
While Texas Tech’s fast start has come at the expense of a rather puny schedule—its opponents sport a combined record of 12-21—give Kingsbury and his staff credit for stringing together wins despite the kind of quarterback injuries that would cripple many teams. Yet, Texas Tech has produced three high-performers, and it seems almost inconsequential as to whether it will be Baker Mayfield, Davis Webb or Michael Brewer taking snaps this weekend against West Virginia.
While Kingsbury has quickly become the toast of Tech, Holgorsen’s program languishes in a 5-9 streak that includes six blowout losses—a disappointing stretch that inevitably fuels disgruntled fans. WVU’s coach said he understands the chirping, especially when the Mountaineers are good enough one week to upset then-No. 11 Oklahoma State yet suffer losses like 37-0 at Maryland and 73-42 at Baylor.
“You try to get your guys ready to win, and when that doesn’t happen it’s a huge letdown,” he said. “We’ve been as high and low as it can possibly get. So we need to get it a level of consistency.”
Given a bye week to recover from the obliteration at Baylor, WVU now prepares to face its fourth ranked opponent of the season.
“That’s what’s great about the Big 12,” Holgorsen said. “If you weren’t successful the previous time when you played a quality opponent, well good news—you get to line up and play another good one the next week.”