STILLWATER — Dana Holgorsen's time in Stillwater was brief.
In his 10 months spent at Oklahoma State, Holgorsen installed his spread system that transformed the Cowboys into one of the most potent offenses in the nation. And he became known as an interesting — if not fascinating — figure because of his unique personality and lifestyle.
“Everything about Coach Holgorsen, you never knew what you were going to get every day,” wide receiver Charlie Moore said. “From the Red Bull cans all over the field, to the funny choice of language, to the stories that you don't even know about him, but you hear, to the pulling the hair, throwing the headsets…
“But overall, Coach Holgorsen was a good guy. I enjoyed playing for him. He was a fun coach.”
Ultimately, it was a short marriage that worked out for everyone. Holgorsen used his one successful season in Stillwater to make the jump to become the head coach at West Virginia, which visits OSU Saturday afternoon. And the Cowboys still use Holgorsen's base philosophies on offense, with a few tweaks implemented by his successor, Todd Monken.
“That was a good move,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said of hiring Holgorsen. “Not the most popular at that time, but it was a very good move, in my opinion.”
OSU inside receivers coach Doug Meacham — a Cowboy assistant before, during and after Holgorsen's short tenure — remembers being excited when Holgorsen was brought in by Gundy after the 2009 season. Meacham thought the Cowboys' personnel, especially quarterback Brandon Weeden, fit the spread offense perfectly. The system was simple, but would allow the Cowboys to play fast and throw the ball around the field.
Gundy admits Holgorsen followed a bit of a “fly-by-night” schedule. He wasn't much of an early bird, so he didn't show up to the football facility before 9 a.m. He wasn't a guy who locked himself inside his office to scribble out plays and scheme and mastermind.
He was in; he was out. Often as he pleased.
“What I tried to do was just stay out of his way and let him do his job,” Gundy said. “What I needed him to do was be productive for us. There's traditional coach thoughts that we all have … well, he goes against a lot of things. And that's OK.
“I just said, ‘Hey, look, there's what we need to do.' And he was good at it, so I just let him go.”
Even with the unconventional habits, Meacham said Holgorsen was well-liked on the staff, and that he created an enjoyable work atmosphere.
“It was a lot different than maybe a grinding environment, where you're chopping wood all day long,” Meacham said. “It really wasn't as much of that as it was trying to make it fun in the offices as well as on the practice field. A lot of joking and laughing and those kinds of things.
“It could have been because we won a lot, or because of his personality. I think it was a combination of both.”
Holgorsen's unorthodox off-the-field behavior is also well-documented.
The Cowboy staff joke was that Holgorsen could fly around the world twice because of all the Marriott points he racked up by living in a Stillwater hotel. Some who knew him during his stint at OSU report that his free time would often include cocktails and casinos. Give Holgorsen credit, he employed a driver.
After leaving for West Virginia, there were reports of Holgorsen and casinos there, too, and the story of the night he'd reportedly had too much to drink and was tossed from the premises. Soon after, the late Bill Stewart, the Mountaineers acting head coach who was set to be replaced by Holgorsen, allegedly urged some sports writers to dig into Holgorsen's past for more questionable antics.
But despite all the quirks, Holgorsen got results during his one season at OSU.
His offense helped make the Cowboys one of college football's biggest surprise teams in 2010, finishing 10-2 and tied for the Big 12 South title. He helped catapult Weeden and Justin Blackmon to superstar status, which eventually resulted in both being first-round NFL Draft picks. He laid the foundation of an offensive philosophy that won a Big 12 title last season and continues to thrive in 2012, even with a quarterback carousel and an injury-rattled receiving corps.
And it propelled Holgorsen to his own personal opportunity to advance his career and become a head coach.
“I went there and had a good year,” Holgorsen said of his time at OSU. “I knew there were good people in place.
“(Gundy) does a wonderful job from a structural standpoint and from an organizational standpoint, as far as how you run a program and as far as what your day-to-day operations are like. I took a lot of things from him, and, from an offensive standpoint, he took a lot of things from me.”
Gundy admits he thought Holgorsen would stay at OSU for two seasons and that him leaving after one “threw (him) a curveball.” He understands, however, that Holgorsen had to take the job at West Virginia.
Holgorsen's stay in Stillwater ultimately wasn't much more than a pit stop, which fits his offbeat nature. Still, his football influence at OSU is recognized on the field and by his former colleagues.
“He had a really good impact on this program,” Meacham said. “We're grateful to him for coming in and spending that time that he was here.”