WVU offensive lineman Pat Eger drops to a knee as Iowa State players celebrate following the Cyclones' 52-44 double-OT victory Saturday.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- If it's bright spots you're looking for as West Virginia heads into a premature football offseason, well, I'm here to help.But only a little.For instance, the next game the Mountaineers play won't, in all likelihood, be against defending national champion Alabama. Thanks to Auburn, it will be against mere Alabama.There. That's the best I can do. At this point, nothing else is even close to guaranteed.
It's not, of course, the best Dana Holgorsen can do. It's his job during the next nine months to rebuild - he will insist that it is to keep rebuilding (note the difference) - a once-proud program that over the last 20 games has won just six times.Random factoid No. 1: West Virginia has been playing football for 121 years and 1,226 games. Only twice have the Mountaineers endured a worse 20-game stretch: 1-17-2 between 1959 and 1961 under Pappy Lewis and Gene Corum and 3-17 between 1977 and 1979 under Frank Cignetti.Random factoid No. 2: Lewis and Corum are in both the WVU Hall of Fame and the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. Cignetti is now in the national College Football Hall of Fame.So how does Holgorsen go about the process of restoring the program?Well, for starters let's get this silly notion out of the way: He won't be fired. Complain all you'd like, stop buying tickets, band together and protest in front of the Puskar Center or the Coliseum. Doesn't matter. He's not going anywhere for two very sound reasons.First, he has completed just three seasons and only two recruiting classes. Yes, the results have been awful in terms of wins and losses. Holgorsen started out 15-3 and he's 6-14 since. And yes, he won 15 of 18 at the start with a roster largely recruited by someone else. But he's also lost 14 of 20 with a roster largely recruited by someone else.
You can't say he started out 5-0 in 2012 with Bill Stewart's players and finished 2-6 with his own. Doesn't work that way. The fact is he went both 15-3 and 6-14 predominantly with Stewart's roster, which accounted for all of the third-, fourth- and fifth-year players this year and all of the second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-year players last year. His players last year were freshmen and this year were freshmen, redshirt freshmen or sophomores. (Thus, the influx of gap-filling junior college players and transfers).Of course, if that doesn't sway you, then the money will. Blame Holgorsen for being greedy if you want or Oliver Luck for spending way too much, but the numbers are staggering. An athletic program that in the 2011-12 fiscal year was ridiculed for losing $12.9 million isn't going to pay even more than that entire deficit to shed itself of a coach who has had two recruiting classes and is now 21-17.Random factoid No. 3: It's not just Holgorsen's contract for which a university without a president is on the hook. It would cost $11.6 million to pay off the head coach and, by my count, at least $2.475 million to rid itself of just his on-field assistants. That's $14.075 million.So if Holgorsen is staying, what then? Well, there are three obvious goals during the next three to nine months. First is to continue to develop the players he already has. Second is to rehabilitate the ones he lost to injury this season. And third is to recruit more.Holgorsen will argue that the ones he's already recruited the last two years are pretty good, but many were forced to play before they were ready. You might argue that his first two recruiting classes were nothing special and he needs to kick his recruiting up a notch.
He says tomato, you say . . . well, you get it. The one argument you won't get from him is that he doesn't need to recruit better players for whatever reason (either because he hasn't or because he just needs more). He knows that. But so does every coach this side of Tuscaloosa and Tallahassee.Everything else is pretty much minutiae. And that includes finding a quarterback and consistent receivers and cornerbacks who can cover, etc. It's all a part of those three previously-mentioned goals.What will be most interesting - although perhaps not necessarily all that important - is to see if there are any staff changes. I'm led to believe that aside from recommendations and/or discussions, Luck won't be heavy handed and force Holgorsen to make changes. And given that pretty much the entire staff has turned over in the last two years, it's probably not wise to stir the pot just to be stirring it.Then again, you have to wonder.Joe DeForest is almost universally reviled by the fan base after 2012's defensive disaster, the Oklahoma State accusations and the fact that he makes half a mil a year to coach special teams that weren't all that special. Both symbolically and practically, perhaps, it's time to cut him loose. Even if you lose something in recruiting (and I have no idea because I don't delve deeply into it), as a PR move it might go over well. And Holgorsen needs all the good PR he can get. You know that at the least DeForest's name-association with the issue at OSU makes for great negative recruiting fodder.What of Shannon Dawson, the only coach remaining from Holgorsen's original staff? I'm not sure doing anything there accomplishes anything because Dawson is pretty much just running Holgorsen's system as the offensive coordinator, but maybe you jettison DeForest and hire a proven quarterbacks coach. Dawson had never been just a QB coach until he was moved there to replace Jake Spavital and make room for Lonnie Galloway to coach receivers. And no one can say West Virginia's quarterback play was over the top this year.
Aside from those two, the only other assistant who didn't just join the staff (Ron Crook, Brian Mitchell, Tony Gibson and Galloway) or seems otherwise safe (Keith Patterson) is defensive line coach Erik Slaughter. Again, I have no idea about his value as a recruiter, but his defensive line play seemed fine to me, especially given the turnover there.Other, ancillary positions might be at risk, I don't know. For instance, given the injury rate this season, what of strength and conditioning coach Mike Joseph or even the training staff?Perhaps, though - and Holgorsen would surely argue this point - all is not as bad as it seems.No, there are no excuses worth making for some of the losses West Virginia suffered this season, particularly the final two. And although it seems minor in the grand scheme of things, Holgorsen has tended to make - or at least be ultimately responsible for - some mind-numbing sideline gaffes.How many times this season was WVU penalized for delay after a stoppage of play (timeout, quarter, TV break)? Early in the season at Oklahoma, there was an awful decision on challenging a play following a TV timeout (you only challenge to stop play and give the replay booth time; all plays are reviewed and the booth had plenty of time to review that one).And there was the decision to waste three seconds at the end of the Iowa State loss by spiking the ball instead of using a timeout. There's a huge difference between eight seconds and five seconds from midfield. And even then there was another delay penalty.But on the flip side, West Virginia was outclassed in one game. Baylor was a disaster. A 37-0 loss to Maryland was bad, but a couple of plays turned that one completely sour. And every other game, the Mountaineers either won or had a chance to win and somehow kept Oklahoma State from being in at least fringe national title game contention right now.That's not usually the case with 4-8 teams, so see, there's another inkling of a bright spot.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.