Dana Holgorsen’s life, career ladder and offense provide as much speculation as they do fascination. It’s no coincidence then, that as the West Virginia Mountaineers occupy a top five ranking and sport a 5-0 record, the head coach draws more praise. There are plenty of columns on that topic in other places.
I’m more intrigued by a pattern of events and decisions that led him to Morgantown. He’s perfect for the place, the fan base and the timing of perhaps the best set of skill players the Mountaineers have ever had.
So why isn’t he in Gainesville, Austin or somewhere else far, far from the hills of Appalachia?
“I don`t want to be known as a sex symbol. There`s a great stigma that goes with that tag. I want to be a Sam Elliott”
If a college football coach was to find kindred spirits with one of my favorite actors, it’s Dana Holgorsen. And he didn’t need the expectations or the fame of the Florida Gators or Texas Longhorns; he found a home in Morgantown.
Following the conclusion of the 2010 season, when the Oklahoma State Cowboys produced an electric – even in the Big 12 — offense and an 11-2 mark, Mike Gundy’s offensive coordinator was a desired commodity. He earned $360,000 in Stillwater and presumably, more if he stuck around.
But after toiling at campuses like Valdosta State and Wingate before a second apprenticeship under Mike Leach for the Texas Tech Red Raiders and his name-making stint with the Houston Cougars, Holgorsen decided to strike on his stock price.
Finding a believer in West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck (he was President of MLS Houston Dynamo while Holgorsen served as Houston’s offensive coordinator), the Oklahoma State OC headed east to coordinate the Mountaineer offense for a season, then succeed Bill Stewart. It didn’t happen that smooth. Stewart resented an offensive staff that wasn’t his, worked to undermine them and was fired for it. Holgorsen grabbed the head coaching reins a year early and rewarded West Virginia with a 9-3 regular season and an Orange Bowl victory.
Where else could he have gone?
He interviewed for the Pittsburgh Panthers job left vacant by Dave Wannstedt. Pitt’s Backyard Brawl rival appreciates the administration passing. There were rumors and gossip that his lifestyle (he drinks, he stays in a hotel and he’s not married) scared the ACC-bound program. I happen to think Paul Chryst will be a solid head coach but think they’d like a mulligan in the Steel City?
Holgorsen was mentioned heavily as a candidate to replace Steve Addazio as offensive coordinator at Florida if Urban Meyer remained. But Urban didn’t and Will Muschamp chose poorly – one of his few errors since taking over the Gators – and hired Charlie Weis for his pro-style offense. Imagine Holgorsen calling plays with the luxury of Florida’s defense. Yes, at that point Alabama, you’ve got company.
The departure of Greg Davis opened a position at Texas that offered a near-lock for a head coaching gig if he replicated his Cougars or Cowboys success. Like Pitt though, Holgorsen’s vetting process probably eliminated him on the 40 Acres. After a 5-7 season, Mack Brown couldn’t afford risks and had Holgorsen’s incident at the Mardi Gras Casino happened while he was a Longhorns employee, the push back on Brown would have been immense. Bryan Harsin was a safer selection with a comparable resume. How’d that work for Texas when it settled twice for field goal attempts against West Virginia?
None of this is to say Holgorsen was assured success at any of these other stops. He might have coordinated in 2011 and then immediately accepted a job leading a lower-tier program. He might have run his car off the road with two coeds in the backseat. He might have been named Coach-In-Waiting.
Now almost guaranteed though, Oliver Luck won’t let his head coach leave for less than a destination gig. And perhaps, because Dana seems to act independently odd anyway, that isn’t enough for him to leave Morgantown.