Last week following the loss to Kansas, a season low for the Mountaineers, I wrote that the program was regressing, not rebuilding. It’s evident from the comments on talk shows and websites that many Mountaineer fans feel the same way, and some are even calling for Coach Dana Holgorsen to be fired.
That’s rash. Holgorsen may indeed be at a low point, and he may be incapable of fulfilling the substantial expectations created when Athletic Director Oliver Luck hired him, but we don’t know yet.
He should, in fact he must, be given more time.
Holgorsen was hired under the confounding circumstance of head-coach-in-waiting, an ill-conceived concept that led to Bill Stewart’s firing and Holgorsen being thrust into the top spot a year earlier than expected.
2011 turned out to be Holgorsen’s best season so far, including the historic Orange Bowl win over Clemson, but he still did not have the time or freedom to hire his own staff or adjust to his first head coaching job.
Whether it’s coaching, recruiting or a combination of circumstances, the WVU football program has been hurt by attrition.
According to Greg Hunter of the Blue and Gold News, of the 97 players signed in the 2009-2012 recruiting classes, only 47 are still on the team. Eight players from the 2009 class—including Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey—have graduated, but the number still explains why WVU has a dearth of depth and talent.
Hunter reports that, while it’s still early, the 2013 recruiting class looks more promising; 25 of the 26 players signed are still with the program.
Holgorsen has also been hurt by coaching attrition. Five of the nine assistant coaches currently with the team are new this season (although Lonnie Galloway, Tony Gibson and Ja’Juan Seider are all on their second stint at WVU).
Only Shannon Dawson has been with Holgorsen at WVU since the beginning, and he’s at a different position. He started as wide receivers coach and now is the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. The offensive line has had three different coaches in four seasons.
Holgorsen believes, at least he hopes, that the staff has finally settled in for awhile.
These days, schools are much quicker to dump coaches. UConn fired Paul Pasqualoni after 2 1/3 seasons. Skip Holtz was let go at South Florida after three years. Jon Embree got just two seasons at Colorado. USC gave Lane Kiffin 3 1/2 seasons.
Those may have been justifiable fires, but schools that pull the trigger too quickly run the risk of starting a revolving door of coaches. Schools like Tennessee and Pitt have yet to recover from a series of hiring mistakes.
And there is the financial reason for keeping Holgorsen. It’s unfathomable that WVU would sign such a one-sided deal that requires the University to pay the entire amount remaining on the contract if he’s fired. Today, that’s $11.3 million; it’ll be $8.6 million after next year.
But that’s the deal. Let’s just call it an “investment.’’ Like most investments, you don’t want to dump the stock when it’s tanking unless you absolutely have to. Given more time, Holgorsen may end up paying dividends.