Dana Holgorsen walks the halls of West Virginia’s football facilities and sees something he didn’t see so much in Lubbock or Stillwater.
Trophies. Classic trophies. The hardware they give out for college football’s greatest games.
Holgorsen spent one memorable season at OSU and eight years in Lubbock as lieutenant in the Mike Leach Revolution. He was part of something special both places. But something was missing.
“The one thing we always struggled with Tech and even at Oklahoma State prior to their past two years was, the thing Texas and Oklahoma always did, they were walking past a whole bunch of trophies,” Holgorsen said. “Bunch of BCS trophies. We didn’t have that at Tech and Oklahoma State.”
OSU under Mike Gundy and Tech under Leach did not have great tradition upon which to build. Holgorsen has that at West Virginia as the Mountaineers enter the Big 12.
In fact, Holgorsen says that’s the only thing he knew about West Virginia when he interviewed for the job to become offensive coordinator/head-coach-in-waiting.
“It was a complete unknown,” Holgorsen said. “I didn’t know much. Didn’t know much about the state. Only thing I knew was the winning tradition.”
In the last seven years, West Virginia has played in the Sugar Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl and the Orange Bowl. WVU has won all three games, beating the likes of Georgia, OU and Clemson.
The Mountaineers have won 70 games the last seven seasons. They are not a team that enters the Big 12 wondering if they can hold up.
That’s a powerful asset. Belief can’t be bought in a store or even earned through the hard work of summer sweat. It’s an autumn crop.
“These kids are used to winning here,” Holgorsen said. “There’s some teams in the Big 12 obviously used to winning, looking at Texas and Oklahoma and, shoot, Oklahoma State and Kansas State.
“We’ve got that. These guys are used to winning. I think they’ll be able to hang in there.”
West Virginia figures to have an all-world offense with senior quarterback Geno Smith and speedy flanker Tavon Austin. The Mountaineers figure to be suspect on defense. That puts West Virginia in line with most Big 12 contenders.
“Will we surprise some people?” asked Mountaineer athletic director Oliver Luck. “I hope so. Will we be surprised? Probably so. We’ll be a productive member and help the overall level of the Big 12.”
The excitement that permeates West Virginia’s move to the Big 12 doesn’t extend to the players. Not on any real level.
“Players don’t care,” Holgorsen said. “Our players are kind of starting to research it a little bit. I just tell ’em, same thing, it’s a fantastic conference. Six or seven teams in the top 20.”
Holgorsen does warn that West Virginia’s Big East advantage — being perhaps that league’s only football-frenzied school — will not carry over to the Big 12.
“What we have here at home, from an excitement standpoint, a culture standpoint, fans used to winning, fans coming to games, being early, being rowdy, there’s nine teams in the (Big 12) conference like that.
“West Virginia being able to bring 20,000 to road games? Those days are over.”
But Holgorsen figures his Mountaineers’ biggest adjustment is in the past, not ahead. A crash course in the Air Raid offense, Dana-style, trumps anything West Virginia faces in the Big 12.
Upon Holgorsen’s arrival in January 2011, West Virginia’s talent was comparable to what he had been working with at Tech, Houston and OSU.
“The talent’s fine,” Holgorsen said. “The biggest thing was the culture shock, trying to train these guys how to practice, from a throwing-the-ball standpoint.”
Holgorsen said East Coast-bred players don’t grow up with 7-on-7 summer leagues and passing drills. Many don’t get an extra hour of athletics in school. “The skills were underdeveloped. They didn’t understand how to practice what I was I talking about.”
Holgorsen and Leach faced the same kind of transition 12 years ago when they went to Tech and installed a new-age offense. Holgorsen didn’t face that at Houston (Art Briles, a Leach disciple, had just left UH) or OSU (Gundy and offensive coordinator Larry Fedora at least were running no-huddle, fast-paced).
“But when we went to Texas Tech, it was about like going into this situation,” Holgorsen said. “Very slow. Huddle. Try to call plays and try to do things to make the defense good. We just had to teach ’em. We weren’t going to stray from our philosophy.
“We just had to coach it. We kept pressing forward, we kept improving, finally the light came on in the last game.”
That last game was the 70-33 Orange Bowl rout of Clemson, which brought not just another classic trophy, but even more confidence that winning is a way of life in West Virginia.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.