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ELLIOTT: WVU Football, Where You Can Be Wrong — And Right

August 27, 2011
By JIM ELLIOTT ( , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Sometimes, old debates have a way of making themselves (somewhat) relevant again.

It was early last November - a few weeks before Dana Holgorsen became a familiar name in these parts - when Dave Morrison, the sports editor of the Beckley Register Herald, posted something on Facebook about how WVU should just hire a fan to be its next head coach because they all seemed to know so much.

The comments came fast and furious, including some from Jay Hewitt, a one-time Mountaineers basketball player from Richwood, who suggested Bill Stewart's downfall (this was just before rumors started to swirl) was hiring an offensive coordinator with no experience, in this case ''Wake Forest's quarterbacks coach.''

Article Photos

West Virginia Coach Dana Holgorsen

Now I'm going to share a little knowledge about myself: I rarely engage in fruitless debates about sports. Conversations? Sure. But if you tell me something like ''the Cowboys are the best team in the NFL'' - in August, I'm not biting. It takes months to determine that. They have playoffs, then a big game at the end. You can't win that argument in August, nor can you lose it. I'd rather discuss last night's episode of Billy the Exterminator.

Anyway, I took a pause and chimed in here, simply because I didn't believe, in general, that people who are already successful play callers are in a big hurry to leave one school to make a lateral move to another. If they're good, they're ''hot'' coordinators and are most likely in line for head coaching jobs somewhere. A good example is Steve Sarkisian, the former USC offensive coordinator who took his work north to Washington for more than $2 million a year to be a head coach. That leaves you with former coordinators to choose from. You know, people who are out of work because, among other things, someone else's fans saw to it.

(It should be pointed out, in the interest of fairness, none of us mentioned the name of Gus Malzahn, the former Tulsa offensive coordinator who bolted for Auburn for the same position and was two months away from winning a national title. But that came with a hefty price tag, too. Malzahn makes $1.3 million a year to coordinate the Tigers when they have the ball).

Now at that time - still two weeks before Holgorsen's name popped up - no one around here was thinking WVU was willing to pay an assistant coach seven figures.

Turns out we were all wrong.

Sort of.

Our debate took place days after back-to-back losses to Syracuse and UConn, which was the same time WVU athletics director Oliver Luck was practically throwing up in his mouth about what he'd seen on the field the previous two weeks. He knew something needed to be done, and if he had to spend money to make money, he would.

And he did.

Eleven days later, Holgorsen's name was on the tip of everyone's tongue. It was a month and a half before it became official. Holgorsen would come in as offensive coordinator and head coach in waiting.

That was a loophole neither Hewitt or I considered. And, on paper, it seemed like it might work. You have a guy working as a CEO, while two of the best in the business- Holgorsen on offense and Paden City's Jeff Casteel on defense - spin their crafts.

Only it didn't work. By June, through some concoction of he-said, he-said involving Stewart, Holgorsen, Colin Dunlap, perhaps Chuck Landon, and Luck - "the totality of rumor and innuendo," as it were - Stewart was gone. And it turns out, the ''hot'' coordinator didn't make a lateral move at all. He left one place, in this case Oklahoma State, to become a head coach at another.

And, I was right. It's just that it took a little more than half a year to prove it. Or about as long as an NFL season. Ugh.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at:

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