There's no more intriguing figure in the Big East for 2011 than Dana Holgorsen. The new West Virginia offensive coordinator/head-coach-in-waiting brings his high-powered offense to Morgantown, as everyone will be watching how the relationship between him and Bill Stewart works out. He's also a colorful character.
I talked to Holgorsen earlier this week about a host of topics, and here is Part I of our conversation. Look for Part II on Friday.
Now that you've gotten a chance to take a breath after signing day and actually settle in a bit, how important is this time period right now?
Dana Holgorsen: It's pretty important. That signing day week, we started to get the know the kids, and now with the five weeks of offseason [before spring practice], we've really got to take advantage from a watching film standpoint. It's about us offensive coaches, and the defensive coaches as well, getting on the same page and getting a plan for spring. And also, 1) getting to know the guys and 2) getting them lined up and 3) watching film of the offense, that way they've got an idea of what's going on the first day of spring. We don't want to start teaching them the first day of spring. We want to start teaching them now.
Have you gotten a sense of what the players can do by watching film and in what little you can interact with them at this point?
DH: I watched just a little bit of tape on what they did last year from a personnel standpoint. Everybody is kind of starting over. We've got a lot of experience coming back from guys who have played. But it's a new system. It's going to be a chance for a lot of kids to wipe the slate clean and start over and mature. There are a bunch of guys who had redshirted or hadn't played very much who are going to develop. We've got to figure out who those guys are. It will take practice time to do it.
Do you feel like you've got the speed and skill you need to run the offense the way you want?
DH: I think so. There is more experience at the receiver position here than there was at Houston when I first got to Houston or at Oklahoma State when I first got to Oklahoma State. There are probably guys here who have played more football, though that doesn't necessarily mean they're better. It doesn't mean they're going to develop. But I think there are some guys with more experience at the skill positions -- not at running back but at receiver. At receiver, I think we've got about five guys who are a proven commodity, while at running back I think we've got guys have played a little bit, but they played behind [Noel] Devine for a couple of years.
At Houston and Oklahoma State, you were able to get your offense installed and be highly productive right away. What's the secret to that?
DH: Each place is different. Both at Houston and Oklahoma State, I was coming into a situation where we had only three returning starters. But there were bodies on campus. We have more returning starters here than any of the two previous places I was at. It's about how they adjust and how they jell more than anything. We've done it before, and the system isn't any different than it's been the last three years. So we'll teach them and then line them up and then it's just a matter of meshing together.
Do you feel like it's a system that can be easily learned, without a lot of confusing terminology and such?
DH: I think one thing we've always done a good job of, and it's probably the biggest thing I learned from Mike Leach, is the organization of how we present it and how we practice it. I've made some changes at each stop each year to try and make it a little easier for these guys to grasp, but the key is to grasp it as quickly as possible. We're taking advantage of the meeting time we have over the next five weeks so they'll have a quicker grasp of it and get better at it. I don't want them thinking about what they're doing all the time. I want them just reacting.
What are your initial impressions of Geno Smith?
DH: Calm. He's pretty poised. He's played a lot of football and won a lot of games. People gravitate toward him, so whether he wants to be a leader or not, he's one of those guys who is. He's got a lot to learn, and he's got to prove he can do it. But watching him on film, he seems pretty poised in the pocket. He doesn't get rattled and doesn't panic.
Do you think he fits with what you want to do offensively?
DH: Yeah, I think he does. We don't have much on campus. We've got him and we've got two true freshmen who were midterm enrollees, so we have three quarterbacks. Geno is the returning starter, and then there are two high kids that are both 6-foot-3, good-looking kids who've thrown the ball a bunch. But you never know how those guys are going to develop. They've got a guy in front of them that has played games and has proved to be able to win.
How about the running back position, where you've got some bigger backs than West Virginia has had in a while?
DH: I just don't know a whole lot about them. There's Shawne Alston, but he's battling an injury and I haven't seen him run around. [Note: Alston is dealing with a knee injury but is expected to participate in spring practice]. Ryan Clarke has been impressive. He's a physical kid who does a good job in the weight room. He's a bigger back but also athletic as heck now. Those two guys have some snaps under their belt. We have to look at guys like Daquan Hargrett and Trey Johnson, and then a midterm guy like Vernard Roberts, who's a freshman. That gives you five people to line up and figure out what they can do.
And your system is adaptable for bigger backs?
DH: Either they get yards or they don't get yards. We had a first-team all-conference fullback at Oklahoma State who played about 35 snaps a game. So you've just got to evaluate your personnel and get the best ones out there. I don't care what they look like. It's about production, and if your better players are bigger people, then put 'em in there.