DALLAS — Dana Holgorsen had been through the rigors of a Big 12 schedule during his years as the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
So he tried to explain the difficulties of playing in Big 12 road environments — and against the league's prolific offenses — to his West Virginia team as the Mountaineers navigated their first season in the conference in 2012.
But the players needed to experience it for themselves.
“I sat there and told them how tough Texas Tech was gonna be,” Holgorsen said Tuesday at Big 12 Media Days. “And they looked at me like, ‘We just won at Texas. What do you mean Texas Tech is gonna be tough?'
“It's a transition. There's no excuses made. We've got to coach them up. We've got to get them comfortable with all the surrounding teams in the league, and eventually we'll have success.”
Now WVU enters Year 2 in the league with much lower expectations after it sputtered to a 7-6 finish last season and then lost offensive stars Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey to the NFL.
Holgorsen talked Tuesday about the ongoing adjustment for his program, his continuing impact on the Oklahoma State program and how he feels new Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury will fare in Lubbock.
What did you most take away from West Virginia's first season in the Big 12?
“I said going into it that it's going to take a couple years before everybody understands it. I did my best of explaining what it's going to be like at the specific places. Next year I'm gonna have to do the same thing, because we're playing at all the places that we've never played before. So it's the same thing. But after a couple years in it, with half our roster that has experienced games in the Big 12 — whether it's home, whether it's away — then you start developing some familiarity with it. The fan base understands it. The administration understands it. Your players understand it. And they can talk about it with the other guys. It's going to take some time. We battled. Everybody thinks it was a disappointing, unsuccessful season, well, it wasn't a whole lot different than 2011, just at a higher level. It takes some time, but we'll get there.”
Oklahoma State was picked to win the conference in the preseason media poll. When Mike Gundy and others talk about the rise of the program — specifically, the offensive numbers — your name still frequently comes up as a key contributor. Do you take any pride in knowing you helped build that program?
“It was a success. Me and Mike have talked about that. It was a success for me. It was a success for Oklahoma State. It worked out. You can't sit there and live in the past. It was one year. When that year is over, you move onto the next one. I think we'll both agree it was a success for both of us, but what you do the next year is what you're gonna be remembered for.”
Gundy still hasn't named a starting quarterback. You coached Clint Chelf and recruited J.W. Walsh. What qualities stick out to you about both of those guys?
“They're both good players. Clint's a smart kid that has sat in a lot of meetings and learned the system. And based on last year, he proved that he can line up and that he can lead the team to victory. J.W., I never got to coach him, but I spent a lot of time understanding what his mental makeup's all about, and the kid knows how to win games, as well. The biggest thing with quarterbacks is having a guy that believes he can win, and both of those guys do.”
Another guy you recruited was Josh Stewart. Were you surprised about the breakout season he had last season?
“Not surprised. In all those weeks that I went down there and recruited J.W., Josh Stewart was the guy I always ended up watching. He was the best player on the field in the three playoff games that I watched in December. If he was the best player on the field in those games, then it doesn't surprise me that he's doing it in the Big 12.”
After one season as defensive coordinator, you reassigned former OSU assistant Joe DeForest to associate head coach and special teams coordinator. What was that process like, and how did DeForest take the change?
“It's always tough. Change is hard. Transition's hard. It's reality in football, at all levels, that changes are going to be made and adjustments will be made and reassignments will happen, as well. He's doing a tremendous job as our special teams guy and doing a tremendous job recruiting the state of Florida. He's a great recruiter. He's a great special teams guy. And we'll be able to get our specialists in position to be able to help our team win some games.”
Is Kliff Kingsbury ready to be a head coach?
“He'll handle it just fine. Everyone talks about Kliff being young and Kliff being inexperienced. Well, Kliff's been around for 33 years, growing up as a coach's kid and being on the sidelines, playing a bunch of football in college at Texas Tech and having success at the quarterback level, which is going to be more cerebral that anything. His time in the NFL was obviously around football, so he was around some good people and continued to learn football. He would have been a coach earlier if he wanted to give up playing the game, and he didn't want to give up playing the game because he loved the game so much. Once he decided that dream was done, that's when he started coaching. So he's been around it forever and ever … From an offensive perspective, he's got everything you want. He's smart. He understands how to game plan. He understands how to call plays. He understands how to keep things rolling practice-wise. It takes some time to be able to figure out if you know how to do all the other stuff, which I've got complete confidence that he's smart enough and is really good enough with young men to be able to understand the rest of it.”
What will be his biggest adjustment from being a coordinator to a head coach?
“It's just all the other stuff. Football still remains football. But as opposed to just focusing on offensive football, you've got to focus on everything. It's pretty obvious — as the head coach, you can't just be one-sided. You have to make sure you know what's going on with special teams, with defense, with academics, with strength and conditioning, with operations, with recruiting and all that stuff.”
What do you remember most about the 70-63 game against Baylor?
“I remember me and (Baylor coach Art) Briles being incredibly displeased with our defenses, to say the least. That was a long night for me, looking at what was happening defensively. That 5-0 start, from a fan base (perspective), was exciting. From a coaching staff perspective, (it was) very discouraging. You can't continue to have to score 50 points a game to win. We weren't there defensively, and I knew we weren't there defensively. What transpired after that was in no, way, form or shape fun, but not overly surprising, as well.”