The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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December 3, 2013

‘Too many disappointments’

What does Oliver Luck’s statement on football program really mean?

Oliver Luck has finally broken his silence. No, the West Virginia University athletic director is not talking about the process that turned his “sure thing” as the new athletic director at Texas into a missed opportunity.

But he did release a statement Tuesday discussing the current state of the Mountaineer football program and head coach Dana Holgorsen, who just finished his third season in Morgantown.

Here’s a look at Luck’s statement, along with my analysis of his words.

First, I want to thank all Mountaineer fans who supported our football team through a difficult and trying season.

It’s difficult to blame fans for not turning out for Saturday’s game against Iowa State. The game of the year was happening at the same time, with Alabama and Auburn going head-to-head, and there’s really no reason to brave the cold to see a game that means nothing. Why not sit at home and flip back-and-forth?

Though there were some high points this year, including our upset victory over No. 11 Oklahoma State and the inspired play from many first year student-athletes, there were far too many disappointments.

Although there’s no excuse for losing to Kansas and Iowa State, or being blown out against Maryland, there are some reasons to believe the Mountaineers aren’t too far away. The top four programs in the Big 12 have been Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor — at least recently — and WVU’s been competitive with each of them the last two seasons. The Mountaineers have split games with Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor since joining the league, and they came within a yard of going to 2-0 against the Longhorns. Oklahoma is 2-0 against WVU over the last two years, but the Mountaineers were in the game in the fourth quarter against the Sooners on both occasions.

We have high expectations at West Virginia University for success on and off the field and, as Coach Holgorsen has acknowledged to me, we are not meeting those expectations on the field. Coach Holgorsen and I met at length and reviewed this past season. We discussed the coaching staff, recruiting, player development, strength and conditioning, academic support, facilities, in short, all the components that make up a successful program. We are working diligently to improve our capabilities  in all of these areas.

Luck seems to be laying down the law. Holgorsen’s going to get another year, but he needs to start winning. What’s it going to take next year is the question. Is a winning season enough? Does WVU need to go to a bowl that’s not played in a baseball stadium? I think it depends on where the wins come. Going 7-5 might be enough, as long as Kansas isn’t one of those five losses.

 I strongly believe in our coaching staff, including the work that our strength and conditioning staff is doing. In my opinion, continuity is the key ingredient that will bring our football program back to the high level that Mountaineer  fans expect.

There are going to be few changes, if any, on the coaching staff. This is the right move. WVU players have seen almost as many coaches as players come through the Puskar Center in the last three years. Making more changes, just to make a statement, isn’t the answer. The players need to become comfortable with a system and those teaching it.

Although the improvement wasn’t drastic, WVU did take a step forward on defense, and I’m more than convinced that Keith Patterson is the right guy to lead the way.

The only real question mark is Joe DeForest. Is a special teams coordinator whose unit ranked 109th in kick return and 119th on punt return really worth a half-million dollars a year?

We had plenty of challenges this season; nonetheless, we should not and will not use those as excuses for our performance. We simply must get better.

The Mountaineers did suffer through an abnormal number of injuries this year, and there was a lot of youth on the field. WVU never did settle on a quarterback. But, as Luck said, those are just excuses. Other programs have injuries, and young players are winning elsewhere. The quarterback situation was largely Holgorsen’s fault. He had two years with Geno Smith leading the way to develop a successor, and obviously he didn’t.

Coach Holgorsen and his staff are on the road recruiting this week, securing the future for a successful Mountaineer football program. We need to do our part as well by continuing to move forward with the facility improvements needed  to compete at the highest level in our conference.

Facilities are important in college football. There’s no doubt about that. Impressive facilities attract recruits as well as help develop them once they get on campus. But WVU isn’t falling behind in this area. It’s already completely rebuilt the weight room and continues to make upgrades to the Puskar Center and Milan Puskar Stadium. It appears as if those projects will continue.

But the constant pleading for more from Holgorsen is beginning to get a little old. As Luck said, there’s no room for excuses. Is there really any reason a team can’t win practicing on its playing field?

We have high expectations for the 2014 football team, and I have shared those with Coach Holgorsen. He and his staff are eager to get started to prepare for our opening game against Alabama. We are well aware that we have a lot of work to do.

Who made this schedule? Really? Alabama?

We have tremendous student-athletes in our program and a very accomplished core of coaches who want to bring championships back to West Virginia University. We will do all we can to help them in that endeavor, and I ask for your continued  support as we move forward to a brighter future.

Luck is pleading with Mountaineer fans to continue to buy season tickets and come to games. Crowds of 33,000, like the one that spread throughout the stadium on Saturday, not only hurt the bottom line, they hurt recruiting. It’s hard to believe that the prospects who were there for the triple-overtime loss to ISU left impressed.

— E-mail: chuffman and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.


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