Dana Holgorsen provided some insight on his decision to leave West Virginia during his introductory press conference as Houston’s new head football coach.
Holgorsen may have left Houston nine years ago to become Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator for one season, but he made it clear that his heart never took off from the Space City.
“I left here with a frown,” Holgorsen said. “For one, I was going to Oklahoma. But I loved this university and city so much.”
The same could be said for Holgorsen’s family. His son, University High quarterback Logan Holgorsen, graduated in December and will enroll at Houston in two weeks.
“My children are excited to be back in the state of Texas and the city of Houston,” Holgorsen said.
Holgorsen is taking over the Cougars after spending the last eight seasons leading the Mountaineers. Much has been made of the fact that he is the first coach to leave a Power Five program for the Group of Five since that line was initially drawn at the dawn of the College Football Playoff in 2014. But Holgorsen is more focused on the natural advantages at Houston that don’t exist at West Virginia.
“This state means a lot to me,” Holgorsen said. “Being on the east coast, I recruited other states and nobody does it better than the state of Texas with the resources and coaching. It’s the best city and state to be able to recruit and I’m excited about that. Louisiana is a good neighbor, too. That’s going to be important to us.”
Texas produced 229 four- and five-star recruits from 2012-17, and Louisiana produced 74 in that span. West Virginia had none, though the state has turned out four such players in the past two years.
WVU’s disappointing finish to the season also played a role in Holgorsen’s exit. He lamented the comedown from falling out of CFP contention and the widespread fan apathy for WVU’s appearance in the Camping World Bowl.
“We were in that discussion pretty much all year long at my previous stop, and when it didn’t work out there was quite a bit of disappointment,” Holgorsen said. “I worry about the future of bowl games with just so-so interest in it… I worry about the bowl system because I experienced it this year.”
Playoff pressure will not be a factor at Houston with Group of Five teams figuring to remain shut out of the process barring expansion. Holgorsen is taking the attitude that the Cougars can habitually contend for the American Athletic Conference title, though.
“This job has the opportunity to win big and win championships,” Holgorsen said. “And quality of life is very important. It affects the coaches, coaches’ families and student-athletes. You have something you can recruit to. You have an opportunity to be great here.”
Holgorsen did reflect positively on his time at West Virginia.
“I’ve enjoyed my eight years at WVU. That was a special eight years for me,” Holgorsen said. “We built that thing up from what was the Big East seven years ago into the Big 12 and have had a lot of success over the last seven years winning games and running a clean program.”
Holgorsen appeared to fight with his emotions with a brief pause while he thanked West Virginia for his first head coaching opportunity.
“I want to thank West Virginia University, the state of West Virginia, and all of our student-athletes that did such an outstanding job as young men and becoming great citizens,” Holgorsen said. “Our vision for the University of Houston is to do the same thing.”
According to the Houston Chronicle, Holgorsen will be paid $3.7 million in 2019, $3.8 million in 2020, $4 million in 2021, $4.2 million in 2022 and $4.3 million in 2023.
If Houston is invited to a Power Five conference while Holgorsen is the coach, he receives a $1 million incentive payment that is due within two years, plus an unspecified pay raise.
For Holgorsen, the first three years of his contract are fully guaranteed. Houston would have to pay 60 percent of his remaining contract if he is fired in the final two years of his contract.
If Holgorsen leaves Houston on or before Dec. 31, 2019, he owes the school $12.9 million. The buyout drops to $9.1 million in 2020, $7.1 million in 2021, $2.5 million in 2022 and $1 million on Jan. 1, 2023.
Holgorsen also has a pool of $4.5 million to assemble his coaching staff. That’s nearly $1.1 million more than what he had to pay his assistants at West Virginia — a pot made even sweeter by the lack of a state income tax in Texas.
Houston’s salary pool for assistant coaches would rank third in the Big 12 behind Texas and Oklahoma.