Off have come the wheels of West Virginia football. Less than 12 months ago, the Mountaineers were Orange Bowl champs, ranked in the top five in the polls and had a dizzying array of stars (Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin) that made the West Virginia the Big 12 favorite. WVU went to Austin and beat Texas 48-45.
Now West Virginia football is a total mess. The Mountaineers are 4-8 in their 12 games since, and the victories are over Iowa State, Kansas, William & Mary and Georgia State. A series of embarrassing losses last season — 49-14 at Texas Tech, 55-14 to Kansas State, 38-14 to former Big East brother Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl — was extended last Saturday with a 37-0 whitewashing by Maryland.
Now OSU plays in Morgantown on Saturday, and West Virginia seems to have no answers. Is the clock already ticking on Dana Holgorsen, WVU’s third-year head coach? Holgorsen was a controversial hire because of the nature of his elevation — he was brought in as offensive coordinator for Bill Stewart, ostensibly for one year but with the announcement by athletic director Oliver Luck that Holgorsen would take over in 2012. Stewart clearly didn’t like the arrangement, tried to torpedo Holgorsen and was eventually moved out a year ahead of schedule.
Now the Holgorsen hire is in question. All the misgivings have bubbled to the surface — that Holgorsen was only an offensive mind who had shown little interest in the overall workings of a football program — as West Virginia has struggled.
But my guess is that Holgorsen’s job is secure. It’s only a guess, but here are four reasons why I think Holgorsen is safe:
1. Money. In August 2012, Luck gave Holgorsen a new contract that extends through the 2017 season and pays Holgorsen from $2.3 million to almost $3 million per year by the end. West Virginia arrived in the Big 12 last year with quite a bit of athletic debt, some of it from a Big East exit fee, and while the Mountaineers will reap the bonanza of the Big 12′s new television contracts, the money hasn’t started flowing that much yet. A big buyout of Holgorsen, plus another contract for a new coach, would only add to West Virginia’s financial problems.
2. Patience. Yes, a 37-0 loss to Maryland puts the entire state of West Virginia in a foul mood. But it was only 111/2 months ago that the Mountaineers were ranked in the top five nationally. College football decision-makers can’t be quick-triggered. That only leads to more problems. And while there’s little excuse for 37-0 in Baltimore, the truth is, West Virginia was going to have an adjustment period going from the Big East to the Big 12.
3. Pride. Oliver Luck is a sharp guy. Some have mentioned him as a possible replacement for DeLoss Dodds as Texas’ athletic director. Luck has a law degree from Texas. And while the hiring of Holgorsen was funky on a variety of fronts — coach-in-waiting rarely works out — Luck would look worse if he bails quickly on Holgorsen.
4. Offense. West Virginia shockingly seems to be quarterback-deficient, resorting the last two weeks to redshirt freshman Ford Childress, who was third-team before that. But no matter what anyone thinks of Holgorsen, no one can deny his offensive acumen. Too much evidence — at Texas Tech, at Houston, particularly at OSU — shows Holgorsen invigorating programs with offensive firepower to believe that Holgorsen has lost his touch. And remember why Holgorsen was brought in. West Virginia was largely successful under Stewart, but the offense had grown stale and attendance was soft.