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Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Will Big 12 familiarity breed wins at WVU?

By David Ubben

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck would consider himself a man with foresight, but even he has to chuckle when he looks at his football head coach.

The Mountaineers are entering a brand-new world in the Big 12 in 2012, and the man in charge, Dana Holgorsen, happens to have nine seasons of experience in WVU's new conference.

"Dumb luck," says, uh, Luck.

That part may be luck, but the December 2010 hire was about a lot more. Holgorsen was hired as the coach-in-waiting, and 2012 was supposed to be his first season replacing Bill Stewart as head coach until a drama-filled scandal made Holgorsen's time come early.

Dana Holgorsen
Dana Holgorsen coached for nine years in the Big 12, including stops at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, before coming to WVU in 2011.
"I brought Dana in because I thought he was a great, young coach and had tremendous potential," Luck said. "I’d be pulling your leg if I said I had any premonition that we’d be in the Big 12. Having said that, it’s great that both of our major sports -- football and men’s basketball --have coaches who have coached in the Big 12."

Bob Huggins, who spent one season at Kansas State, came to West Virginia in April 2007.

Holgorsen's arrival preceding Big 12 membership was an accident, but Holgorsen's offseason hires were anything but. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel ended an eight-year tenure at West Virginia to join former Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, and Holgorsen didn't have to look far to find his new coordinator.

Joe DeForest spent 11 years at Oklahoma State before following Holgorsen east to West Virginia, and he'll share defensive coordinator duties with Keith Patterson, who spent time as a high school coach in Oklahoma and Arkansas before stops at Tulsa, Pittsburgh and Arkansas State.

"Dana's put together a great staff with knowledge of the league we’re fixing to enter, which can only help us," said DeForest, who was the associate head coach, special-teams coordinator and safeties coach since 2005 in Stillwater.

Running backs coach Robert Gillespie was at Oklahoma State in 2009 and 2010, and the Mountaineers just welcomed Andrew McGee as a graduate assistant. The former Oklahoma State cornerback led the Big 12 in interceptions in 2010.

"It takes the element of surprise out," Luck said. "There’s a lot of Big 12 coaching experience in the group and an understanding of the conference and a comfort level with all the things you’ve got to put up with, travel and et cetera. Some of the traditions. And I think having some coaches with experience in the conference filters down pretty quickly to the players because they realize that their guys have been there, and it’s not all just brand new."

What can the coaches explain? DeForest will be sure to warn his players about the Paddle People in Stillwater, and the student section that sits just four yards behind the visitor's sideline.

"I’ll have recall on every team we play," DeForest said. "Whether it’s subtle things, tips that we’ve learned from previous years that they’re still giving away, or any possible thing you can use based on the time you’ve been there and the knowledge that you’ve gained, and I think it’s only advantageous for us."

For DeForest, suddenly he's bridging the gap between new guy and know-it-all. Instead of entering a brand-new world in the Big East, he's helping his players dip their toes into unfamiliar waters.

"There’s a comfort level there. I’ve been to every venue. I can relay things to our players about every venue and every crowd and every student body and a lot of the personnel we’re going to face. That excites me that I have knowledge and I’m not walking in here blind coming into the Big East, with them knowing and me not," DeForest said. "Knowledge is king. I’m just excited to see how our kids match up and how they respond each and every week in a big venue. I’m not saying the Big East didn’t have big venues, but in the Big 12, it’s a big venue every week."

DeForest knows well what Big 12 teams like to do on the field, especially Oklahoma State.

"Maybe they’re continuing to do the same tendencies and I can feed off that to help give them knowledge and help us make better calls," he said.

Holgorsen, DeForest and the rest of the Big 12 will see just how big or small the impact will be come fall, but it's easy to see why Luck is confident in the men he put in charge as they bring West Virginia into its new world out west.

"It’s all positive," he said. "I can’t think of any negatives involved with the experience level of these guys."