So the Dana Holgorsen era starts a year early.
This is what should have happened in December, when athletic director Oliver Luck decided he wanted Holgorsen as his next coach. As Ivan Maisel writes, the Bill Stewart-West Virginia marriage almost seemed doomed from the start after the disastrous end of the Rich Rodriguez regime. Stewart underachieved, going 28-12 in three seasons while failing to earn a BCS berth, and was simply not the coach to lead this team to the next level.
Is Holgorsen that coach? Luck believes he is, and so do West Virginia fans. But now that Holgorsen is taking over as head coach a year early, are those expectations realistic going into his first season? Remember, Holgorsen has never been a head coach, and will have to learn on the fly. We're talking game management, strategies and dealing with a whole roster of players along with a host of other duties that will be new for him.
He will still call the plays for the offense, but how involved will he be with the other parts of his team? How will he adjust to the pressure and the spotlight being on him all the time? Offensive coordinators come under fire, certainly, but ultimately all responsibility falls onto the head coach.
There is no question that Holgorsen knows what he is doing with his offenses. His teams put up loads and loads of points and gain chunks and chunks of yards. Geno Smith and Tavon Austin are expected to be a fearsome duo, a big reason many are picking West Virginia to win the Big East this year despite losing seven starters on defense. But oftentimes the best coordinators do not pan out as the best head coaches. Anybody remember what Greg Robinson did at Syracuse?
On the flip side, you could look to West Virginia native son Jimbo Fisher as the perfect example of a prolific offensive coordinator doing wonders at a program that expects to win. Fisher emerged from a nasty coach-in-waiting situation as well, got Florida State into the ACC title game in Year 1 and has the Seminoles poised to be a preseason top-10 team. The difference, of course, is that Fisher served under Bobby Bowden for several years as the coach-in-waiting.
But the breakup in Tallahassee two seasons ago got pretty messy, too. Sides were drawn, accusations were made, tensions flared between Bowden and Fisher and nobody knew whether the move would work. Fisher got past all that drama with victories. He just brought in the No. 1 recruiting class in America. Sanity has been restored in Tallahassee, and the drama of 2009 is a distant memory. Program in disarray? Not anymore.
If Holgorsen has the same immediate success, the absurdity of the past two weeks will be quickly forgotten. If not, the negativity could snowball.
West Virginia will now have to work on its public face moving forward. This whole saga got started with Holgorsen being escorted out of a casino in the wee hours last month. He admitted making mistakes and was reprimanded. So in addition to all the on-the-field learning he has to do as a head coach, he has off-the-field learning to do as well. He is now the man in charge. West Virginia cannot afford to have another embarrassment smear the program.
There still is plenty of time in the offseason for West Virginia to move past this. There should be no permanent damage because of a few days of negative pub. Mistakes happen. The Stewart questions should end before fall practice starts. But the most important question of all will remain:
How will Holgorsen do as head coach?