The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

February 26, 2014

Holgorsen’s idea good, but not original for WVU

MORGANTOWN — Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia University’s young head football coach, apparently has had a sudden change of heart toward the media and perhaps to those in a shrinking fan base.

With spring football practice starting on Sunday, March 2, Holgorsen reportedly has decided to open four of the permitted 15 practice sessions completely to the public, as well as recognized reporters.

That’s certainly a welcome gesture on the part of the fourth-year leader of the 122-year-old program at WVU.

Since he took over the reins in 2011, Holgorsen has limited media access to the team — as well as visiting WVU donors — more strictly than predecessors dating back to the early 1940s.

Be that as it may, the open practice dates have been listed as March 29 and April 12 (annual Gold-and-Blue game) in Morgantown. The other two will be practice sessions in Wheeling on March 22 and in Charleston on April 5.

Exact sites and times have yet to be announced.

Holgorsen was quoted as saying, “I came up with the idea. It wasn’t like anyone was telling me to do it.”

I certainly agree that it was — and is — a good idea. But it’s not something that hadn’t been done previously in the program he now directs.

Don Gay, a WVU graduate and well-known donor to the athletic program, recalls that the late Jim Carlen took his Mountaineers to the Charleston area (Kanawha City) for a spring scrimmage in 1968.

That was staged on a high school field, the St. Albans resident remembers. There also were similar sponsored stagings by Bobby Bowden’s teams at Charleston’s Laidley Field and South Charleston, and Frank Cignetti in the 1970s.

Gay, who with the late Bill Powell served as co-chairman of WVU’s annual major fund-raising dinner in Charleston for 31 years, said a spring scrimmage also was held at the St. Albans High School field once.

So there’s obviously some history to the so-called Mountaineer Nation about which members of West Virginia’s highest paid — by far — football coaches have yet to learn.

Surely no one could dispute that fact. Holgorsen is a multimillionaire and at least two assistant coaches are paid base salaries of $500,000 annually, with a third expected to approach that figure — if not top it — after a recent promotion to defensive coordinator.

To a guy who has been covering collegiate athletics for slightly more than 70 years, coaching salaries have gone out of control. That’s strictly one man’s opinion.

But I don’t blame those coaches taking what’s offered. I blame the university presidents, who allowed the situation to get out of hand, and the Board of Governors at WVU and those at other institutions for approving such outrageous financial athletic contracts.

Think of those poorly paid football and basketball coaches way back there in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, etc. Each head mentor had to settle for a few thousand dollars — not millions.

What’s more, they had only two or three assistant coaches in those days — not nearly as many as the nine Holgorsen has. And none was paid like today’s getting $250,000 each.

I talked to Frank Cignetti, WVU coach from 1976-79, earlier in the week. He recalled that his salary was about $35,000 when he left. And he was the one who recruited quarterback Oliver Luck, now the athletic director here, from Cleveland, Ohio.

Cignetti, an All-America end at Indiana (Pa.) University, returned to his alma mater in 1983 and became a National Hall of Famer as an athletic director and an award-winning head football coach.

As for the present time, West Virginia’s football program is coming off a 6-14 record under Holgorsen for the last 20 games.

And who can ever forget that 2012 season? The Mountaineers, with those all-time greats on the team, began 5-0, ranked No. 5 nationally, and wound up in disgrace with a 7-6 record.

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