MORGANTOWN — There was a reason Dana Holgorsen wanted a contract extension to remain West Virginia’s football coach for the foreseeable future, and despite the differences that existed between the two for much of 2016, there was an identical reason WVU Athletic Director Shane Lyons wanted to issue that contract extension.
Holgorsen can plan on being here for a while.
The contract makes it costly and thus unlikely for one to leave the other these next few years, and there’s great value in the security the boss on the sideline and the boss in the athletic department separately and commonly sought. The football program is already realizing some of those rewards.
There are 128 head coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and despite the array of ages, skills, reputations and futures, they have one thing in common: Every head coach’s job is to keep his job. That’s no longer Holgorsen’s priority. He’s safe, and he can be bold, because he has a contract extension. That’s good for him, for Lyons and for their program.
Holgorsen can ask his superiors for more than he has. He can cede power to others. He doesn’t need the media in his corner. He can altogether refuse to discuss injuries. He can protect innovations within closed parts of practice. He’s free to take more chances, which is necessary at places like WVU, but he’s also beholden to no one but himself, his staff and his players.
That’s his unfettered job and focus now, and we’re already seeing it in action.
Holgorsen is a stubborn-haired, highly caffeinated character. His personality, powered by wit, sarcasm and unrehearsed and unapologetic honesty, is a positive. It can come out now. It can come out again.
This is not to say he was dry or dull before. Remember Holgorsen during and after his first season? Heck, remember the skydiving before it? But in recent years, certain words and deeds could be met with consequences that don’t exist now, at least not in the same severity. No longer are those words and deeds weighed with, among various items, a 4-8 record, losses in lesser bowls, the absence of a riveting passer on the roster and the like.
So there’s his tweet that contains a video of him getting plunked below the belt. There’s another video of him at a fund-raiser saying Virginia Tech has “no damn chance” in the season opener. And there’s going to be more, because that’s who he is and who he can be. (By the way, there’s your team motto T-shirt for 2017. “No damn chance.” You’re welcome.)
He’s empowered now to do what he can and what he wants to keep the people who rushed to his side as he won 10 games last season. It cannot and does not come as easily when you don’t know where those people stand, when you’re not sure if they want you here or gone, when you wonder how what you say or do will affect them.
So watch out, because there is no impediment in place to halt his bravado, and that’s a heck of a way to make tedious summers more exciting and pull more people up onto the bandwagon. That’s a heck of a way to make everyone feel better about the choice Lyons made.
But Holgorsen is also a fine football coach who’s allowing himself to strengthen that reputation. He’s no longer worried how a call, a series, a game impacts his immediate future. He’s open to ideas and alterations. He’s able to look and ask for more to keep the momentum moving. He’s started in that direction, too.
WVU used to limit itself to one quarterback in a recruiting class. That’s no longer the case, because recruiting quarterbacks is not easy and you’re more likely to succeed if you have more quarterbacks on campus. If a few of them don’t pan out and Holgorsen’s reputation adds more misses than hits, so what? If one of out of three in, say, 2019 is a winner, then it worked.
Another shift was hiring Jake Spavital as the offensive coordinator in January. Maybe that wasn’t a surprise given their background together at Houston, Oklahoma State and WVU. Giving Spavital the power to call plays did arch brows, because that has always been Holgorsen’s gig. There’s simply no way this happens if Holgorsen is concerned about job security. But this isn’t the final year of Holgorsen’s contract. It’s the first year of a new five-year run. He’s not worried about someone else screwing up his shot at an extension. He’s worried about game plans, practice schedules, fixing special teams and flipping through scenarios so he’s ready to make decisions about fourth downs and call timeouts and better manage things that are hard to calculate when he’s calling the next play. That can only help the Mountaineers.
Holgorsen has discovered more assistance, too. He’s long considered analysts wise investments for a program, and he thought they could handle advanced scouting to give assistants head starts on game plans. WVU never had one before hiring one this offseason. This week WVU posted a job ad for two more analysts.
He’s free to push for more now, and Lyons, quite familiar with analysts from his time at Alabama, is happy to oblige. As much as Holgorsen is responsible for keeping his job, Lyons is just as eager make sure his decision is a successful one.