MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – There are a multitude of options available for West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen as he seeks a replacement for outgoing offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, who was hired to be the next head coach at Texas State.
When looking at Holgorsen’s past coordinator hires as a blueprint for what he might do next, there’s no question that familiarity is a trait he values.
Spavital was a graduate assistant for Holgorsen at Houston and Oklahoma State, then came along as the quarterbacks coach on Holgorsen’s first West Virginia staff before returning after stints as offensive coordinator at Texas A&M and California.
The Mountaineers’ previous tenant at OC, Shannon Dawson, played for Holgorsen at Division II Wingate and was initially hired as a receivers coach on Holgorsen’s first WVU staff.
Joe DeForest, his first defensive coordinator hire, coached with him at Oklahoma State. 2013 defensive coordinator Keith Patterson never worked with Holgorsen, but he was on the Tulsa staff for which Spavital served as a GA in 2008, so there was a mutual connection.
Tony Gibson earned Holgorsen’s trust as West Virginia’s safeties coach in 2013 before Holgorsen promoted him to defensive coordinator when Patterson departed for Arizona State.
Based on those patterns, the following names fit the profile of a typical Holgorsen hire.
The C-USA guys
Current job: Southern Miss offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Why it makes sense: It would be his second go-round as WVU’s coordinator, so he knows the lay of the land better than any other candidate.
Why it doesn’t make sense: Holgorsen called the plays in Dawson’s original stint at West Virginia from 2012-14. That probably wouldn’t fly for Dawson in the reboot. Also, Southern Miss’ offense is brutal this year. The S&P+ advanced metrics system puts the Golden Eagles at 119th in the country on offense – essentially squandering a defense that rated 17th.
Current job: North Texas offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Why it makes sense: Harrell was a record-breaking quarterback under Holgorsen and Mike Leach at Texas Tech. He’s the same age as Spavital (33). He helped mold one of the nation’s best mid-major quarterbacks, Mason Fine, who threw for 27 touchdowns and 3,734 passing yards this season. The Mean Green are first in Conference USA in passing offense and second in total offense and scoring offense.
Why it doesn’t make sense: Let’s be honest – Harrell is an ideal candidate. The only knock against him is that he’s only been coaching for four years due to a four-year career in the CFL and NFL.
The unemployed guys
Current job: Unemployed former Kansas offensive coordinator
Why it makes sense: Meacham worked with Holgorsen at Oklahoma State in 2010, serving as the Cowboys inside receivers/tight ends coach. Also worked with WVU offensive line coach Joe Wickline at Oklahoma State. The importance of a philosophical mesh between OC and O-line coach can’t be overstated.
Meacham was quite successful as co-offensive coordinator at TCU, where he was named a Broyles Award finalist in 2014 as the Horned Frogs increased their offensive output by 21 points per game.
Why it doesn’t make sense: Meacham’s decision to leave TCU for Kansas in 2017 has been a bit of a mystery since it happened, and he was the first coach on the Jayhawks staff to get the axe in the middle of this season.
Perhaps more pertinently, Meacham’s primary background is in working with the offensive line and wide receivers. Outside of Kansas, his only stint coaching quarterbacks was at Houston in 2013. If Meacham is the guy, Holgorsen likely has to spend more time in the quarterback room as the Mountaineers try to develop Will Grier’s replacement.
Current job: Unemployed former North Carolina head coach
Why it makes sense: Holgorsen has never worked with Fedora. But Holgorsen strongly trusts Wickline, and Wickline has worked with Fedora plenty.
Wickline was the O-line coach and running game coordinator when Fedora was calling plays at Middle Tennessee State from 1999-2001. He went with Fedora to Florida, where both stayed for three years before moving together to Oklahoma State in 2005. They stuck together another three seasons until Fedora took the head coaching gig at Southern Miss.
Fedora had tremendous success at Southern Miss before taking the North Carolina job, where he initially did well enough to be considered for the head coaching gigs at Tennessee and LSU. At UNC, he groomed relatively unknown quarterback Mitchell Trubisky into the No. 3 pick in the NFL Draft.
Why it doesn’t make sense: Fedora may be holding out for a mid-major head coaching position if he prefers to stay in charge. A more deep-pocketed program than West Virginia might also try to make a run at hiring Fedora as offensive coordinator.
Also, Fedora’s offenses were abysmal the last two seasons, ranking 103rd and 109th nationally in passer rating since Trubisky was drafted by the Chicago Bears. That’s disturbingly low when the ACC isn’t exactly murderer’s row.
The under-the-radar guy
Current job: Samford head coach
Why it makes sense: Hatcher won the Harlon Hill Award as the top player in Division II in 1994 at Valdosta State, where Holgorsen was his quarterback coach.
This year Hatcher presided over one of the most explosive offenses in the FCS. Samford led the FCS in passing with an average of 392.7 yards per game, ranked fourth in total offense (515 yards), and ranked ninth in scoring (38.5). The Bulldogs were 11th in the FCS on third-down conversions and 12th in red-zone scoring percentage.
Why it doesn’t make sense: Hatcher seems to prefer life as a head coach at the lower levels of football. He hasn’t coached in the FBS since 1999, when he was Kentucky’s quarterbacks coach the year after Tim Couch left for the NFL.
Since then, Hatcher has had varying levels of success at Valdosta State, Georgia Southern, Murray State and now Samford. But the fact remains that he’s never been a coordinator at the FBS level. From the level of recruiting to no longer being the guy calling the shots, it would be a big adjustment.