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Expectations High for Holgorsen

December 16, 2010
By JIM ELLIOTT

MORGANTOWN - It looks like West Virginia Athletics Director Oliver Luck had seen enough.

After watching an historic season of defensive play at WVU being unmatched by an offense many perceive to be underachieving given the Mountaineers' talent, Luck reached into his well-connected contact list and hired one of the hottest, brightest offensive minds in the game in Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen.

Holgorsen will take over as West Virginia's offensive coordinator next season and supplant head coach Bill Stewart in 2012.

All of West Virginia's defensive coaches have been asked to stay aboard, as the AD is surely happy with what he's seen from coordinator Jeff Casteel and his gang.

Holgorsen was getting plenty of attention after leading a Cowboys offense to the top ranking in the land in total offense this season, averaging 537 yards per game. Under Holgorsen's eye, Oklahoma State is also second in the country in passing and third in scoring.

It appears to be quite a coup for Luck, who has watched a decline in attendance (but not necessarily season-ticket holders) and what many perceive to be a step backward in the program, even as Stewart has won at least nine games in each of his three seasons.

None of those seasons produced a BCS bowl berth, though, in what has become a very weak Big East. At 8-4 overall, Connecticut will represent the league in this season's Fiesta Bowl.

If there ever was a year for West Virginia to do it, most figured this was it.

It didn't happen.

Dogged by turnover issues and play calls that excited no one, the Mountaineers limped through the season averaging 26 points per game, losing three times despite owning a defense that never gave up more than 21 points after any kickoff. Some have noted a lag in recruiting, but it's a risky move to doubt anyone before they ever put on a uniform.

Holgorsen, who has never been a head coach, will take over for Jeff Mullen, who you'd think had his chances at the Kent State head coaching position decreased by being let go by West Virginia. Holgorsen will implement his offense in 2011, then his stamp in 2012.

At every stop of his coaching career - OK State, Houston, Texas Tech, Wingate, Mississippi College, Valdosta State - Holgorsen has overseen big offense, and produced wild passing numbers, something that has to excite WVU sophomore quarterback Geno Smith. This season isn't the only one in which Holgorsen has produced the nation's top offense, as he did the same thing at Houston in his previous stop. And his name was gaining steam among a lot of the school's with coaching vacancies, including Pitt, where Holgorsen apparently turned down an opportunity for WVU because of his ties with Luck dating back to their days in Texas.

Unlike the last two Mountaineers head coaches, Holgorsen, 39, a native of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, who played at Iowa Wesleyan, has no ties to West Virginia, but it's a trade WVU fans will likely accept in exchange for points on the board.

What does this mean for Stewart?

While it may be difficult to believe 28 victories in 39 tries isn't good enough to retain a job, epic fails against supposedly inferior teams - UConn, Syracuse this season, others in previous ones - had Mountaineers fans staying away. His preference to win by one changed only during the last game, when he broke character, kept ordering passes, and whipped Rutgers 35-14.

Known as one of the nice guys in the business - if not the nicest - it seems as if Mountaineers fans love Bill Stewart, but they don't want him coaching their team. Stew was strong, convicted, even a little stubborn during his tenure, which will last one more season at a reported $950,000.

Word is he'll be asked to stay on as something of an ambassador to the program, which is a good move, because there's none better. But this stopped being about collegiate athletics long ago, as it was when Stew was cutting his teeth. It's a business. Like Ricky Bobby said, if you're not first, you're last.

In his three seasons, Stewart was never first. He was good, not good enough.

In comes Holgorsen, who along with Casteel, might give the Mountaineers the top two coordinators in the land next season.

And with that comes big expectations. Nine victories isn't enough. Ten may not be either. West Virginia fancies itself as an elite program, whether it is or not.

It'll be Holgorsen's job to make sure it is.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: elliott@theintelligencer.net