By Cam Huffman
Say what you want about West Virginia University head football coach Dana Holgorsen’s leadership abilities, his sideline demeanor or even his hairstyle. One thing the third-year coach definitely has down is embracing tradition and creating a sense of pride in his players.
The Mountaineer Mantrip that he created during his first season is the best new tradition to be implemented since Rich Rodriguez came up with the idea of having fans and players sing and dance to John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” after each home victory.
The Mountaineer Mantrip — which even has a name, derived from the mantrips that coal miners all over the state ride deep into the mines each day, that honors the state’s history — gives fans a chance to see their favorite players up close and personal on game days and show their support. It’s a way to get the Mountaineer faithful fired up and ready, while doing the same for the players. It doesn’t matter if the idea is original or unique to WVU, as I’ve heard some fans bemoan. When you see the excitement in a quarterback’s face when he hears his name chanted or the joy in a 10-year-old getting to slap hands with his favorite player for the first time, it’s clear that Holgorsen had the right idea.
And the chunk of coal that players touch on their way into the stadium is another nice touch, reminding the WVU athletes of the blue-collar work ethic of the fans who are there to support them each week.
But Holgorsen isn’t done yet. One of the main focuses this spring, aside from getting better on both sides of the ball and finding a depth chart, has been developing an attitude and mentality for the program. Holgorsen has put a huge emphasis on trying to teach his players what it means to be a Mountaineer.
“It would be hard to explain it in one small press conference,” said the coach, who had no history with the Mountain State before athletic director Oliver Luck decided to bring him into the fold following the 2010 season. “We have talked about that a lot. We have taken different aspects in terms of what this program is about and who we are. We want to embrace different traditions, understand the past and learn about this great state. We want to educate them. How are all of our young kids going to understand all about it unless we educate them on it?
“We have taken a good portion of this spring semester and educated them. We are going to teach them what this program is about. I had to learn that. I couldn’t step into this role and learn everything overnight. We are teaching all the new coaches and all the new players. We are reinforcing why specific things are important, and we are going to embrace a whole bunch of it.”
That even includes the tradition that Rodriguez began a decade ago. Holgorsen doesn’t just want his players out there dancing to the music after a win. He wants them to understand what the fans are singing and why.
“Last Friday morning, we taught the group about the history of ‘Country Roads,’” said Holgorsen. “Half of them knew who John Denver was, and the others didn’t know. You get guys from so many different states, and some of them don’t understand the different traditions. It is our job to teach them that. We attempted to teach them the lyrics, and after we broke practice, we played it, sat there and enjoyed it. It is one of the best traditions in college football.”
Winning football games takes good coaching, talented players, hard work and, sometimes, even a little luck. But when players understand why they’re playing and whom they’re representing, good things often happen. It happened on the basketball court when Bob Huggins used stories of coal miners in the mines with radios trying to listen to the play-by-play of the games to help inspire a run to a Big East Tournament title and a Final Four. Now, Holgorsen is hoping he can find the same magic on the gridiron.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.