By Cam Huffman
On the plane from Detroit, Mich., to San Antonio, Texas, Friday night, I overheard a conversation similar to one to which I’ve listened countless times over the years from the mouths of West Virginia football fans.
One of the passengers was a San Antonio native, on his way home. The other was a WVU fan, headed to Austin to watch the Mountaineers play Texas.
The conversation was predictable. It started with talk about Texas and the atmosphere at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, progressed to Geno Smith and his Heisman Trophy chances and then eventually moved on to WVU’s flashy young coach, Dana Holgorsen.
The Mountaineer fan explained to the Texan that he loved Coach Holgorsen, attended his radio talk show every week and was thrilled with the job he’s done in two years in Morgantown.
“But,” the WVU fan explained, “I’m afraid we’re going to lose him soon.”
The thought is certainly understandable. Mountaineer fans have been down that road before. Native son Rich Rodriguez left for what he thought were greener pastures at Michigan after taking WVU to the verge of the BCS Championship game. In basketball, John Beilein made the exact same move after getting WVU to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 in back-to-back seasons.
So why should Holgorsen, one of the hottest coaches in the business with no ties to the Mountain State, be any different? Arkansas will soon be looking for a coach, and other jobs are sure to pop up over the coming months. Why should anybody think that Holgorsen won’t be knocking on the door for one of those opportunities?
The answer is simple. WVU is not the place it was when Rodriguez left or even the place it was when Holgorsen arrived. As the Mountaineers proved in front of more than 100,000 fans in burnt orange Saturday, WVU football is in an entirely new world.
Am I guaranteeing that Holgorsen will stay in Morgantown until the college football world figures out a way to stop — or at least slow down — his offense? No. But when you consider reasons to leave, nothing really pops out.
When Rodriguez bolted town like a wanted man in the middle of the Morgantown night in December of 2007, he was leaving behind a crumbling Big East Conference and headed to the tradition-rich Big Ten. Did he handle it right? No. But the move at least made some sense when it comes to a career progression standpoint.
That’s not the case with Holgorsen. He’s in one of the country’s top conferences, and with the new television deals it’s clear that it will be stable for some time.
Another Rodriguez complaint was support from the administration. Holgorsen has said from the beginning that the reason he came to West Virginia in the first place was because of athletic director Oliver Luck.
The former Mountaineer quarterback is pulling all the right strings and making all the right moves to assure that WVU is ready to be a big-time player in college football and keeping up with the Joneses in the Big 12. As long as Luck’s calling the shots, what coach wouldn’t want to work for him?
There has already been some concern about Luck leaving — are you sensing a trend? — but to put it simply, if Luck didn’t want to be in Morgantown, he wouldn’t be.
Luck didn’t need the job of athletic director at WVU. He wanted it. And there is still a long list in front of him of things he wants to accomplish.
What about facilities? Sure, the indoor practice facility needs an upgrade, as do the grass practice fields, and there are some cosmetic changes needed in the locker room.
But Luck is on it. Progress is already being made to make those changes possible, and there’s no reason to believe that they can’t be completed.
When Holgorsen first arrived in Morgantown, he probably didn’t plan on staying long. He was probably hoping to make a name for himself for a couple years, say all the right things and then jump to an SEC or Big 12 job.
But now he has a Big 12 job. He’s proving he can compete with the best, and Mountaineer fans are responding. If he ever doubted the passion, the WVU fans who turned Austin into a bowl-like atmosphere over the weekend gave him the answer.
Are there better jobs out there? Sure. But at this point, there aren’t many.
It’s going to take a big pile of cash or an unbelievable opportunity to lure Holgorsen away from WVU anytime soon. And if he has any visions of those green pastures, he can just ask Rodriguez about how the grass tastes on the other side.
Slowly, but surely, WVU is becoming a destination job instead of a stepping stone. And maybe one day the Mountaineer faithful can learn to relax and enjoy the moment, without looking over their shoulders.
But what will they talk about on the airplane?