"Play smart. Play hard. Play fast." Easy enough, right? Those are the pillars on which Holgorsen's offensive scheme (oftentimes misconstrued as being pass-centric) are based, and while each has room for expansion and explanation, the foundation isn't much different from many offenses across the country.
'Play smart' includes the avoidance of mistakes – a linchpin of any coach's scheme. "I want to teach players how to play smart. Don't turn it over, and don't have penalties. Move [the ball] forward to have a chance to be successful."
'Play hard', the second pillar, goes beyond just trying, or the giving of great effort. Holgorsen, like many other spread coaches, has fought the battle against characterization as a finesse football team, and emphasizes physical play.
"Being a physical football team is important," the outgoing Oklahoma State offensive coordinator said. "I can assure you, I don't just want to line up in five wide all the time. If you look at what I have done, I've had a tight end involved, and have a fullback involved. You have to be physical to do that."
The third tenet, 'play fast' is an outgrowth of Holgorsen's obvious connections with the "Air Raid" offense, but also comes from a statement made to him by Kevin Sumlin. Sumlin, now the head coach at Houston, was an Oklahoma assistant coach when West Virginia blitzed the Sooners 48-28 in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. Soon after that, Sumlin took the job at Houston, where he hired Holgorsen as his offensive coordinator.
"After he got butt whipped by West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl, he said, 'Play as fast as you can," Holgorsen related. "Keep doing what you are doing, but do it fast."
So, it's simple right? Execute those three fundamentals, and the points will flow. Unfortunately, that's not all there is to it, although Holgorsen does think that his offense, which has been successful at every one of his coaching stops, is not rocket science. Holgorsen has been able, in quick order, to translate his vision to players at both Houston and Oklahoma State, to the point where his pupils hit the ground running and zoomed to the top of the charts in terms of offensive production.
"The first year at Houston, I went in with staff that was already assembled, and with four returning starters. I think the system is easy to teach and grasp, then you put it in their hands and get them as good as we can at it. Then at Oklahoma Sate I came in with four guys already on staff and had four returning starters and led nation in yardage."
Of course, Holgorsen had some talented players to work with, but the fact is that he was able to teach his system not only to the coaching staff, but also to the players, very quickly. With limited numbers of starters back, he may have had the advantage of a fresh slate in terms of teaching, but he also was dealing with players that didn't have a great deal of game experience. At West Virginia, the opposite will be true.
"The thing I'm looking forward to is having everybody back [on West Virginia's offense]," he observed. Getting at the things that matter, like turnover margin, least amount of sacks and negative plays. Points-per-game is pretty important, but third-down conversions and red zone offense isn't really at the top of national statistics. I think this offense makes sense and once it makes sense to them we line them up, try not move them around and just keep repping it and repping it."
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Hologorsen's trio of offensive philosophies is balanced by a trio of coaches from his past that helped shape his offensive views and his coaching methodologies.
"It started with Hal Mumme. I played for him, and he started doing this kind of offense 20-25 years ago. I had the opportunity to play for him at Iowa Wesleyan, and then coached for him at Valdosta State. He researched it, amd developed the system based on various trips to BYU, the Green Bay Packers and local high schools in the Texas area. He developed it, believed it and ran with it. The X's and O's, as far as how you coach, I learned from him.
I hooked back up with Mike Leach at Texas Tech in 2000. Just the organizational skills of what he does on a daily basis are pretty impressive. The way he organizes practices and his players – he makes sure the guys get the reps the need to get. He was able to remain calm throughout the whole game – he's good at that. Good or bad, he has the same facial expression throughout the whole game. About this time three years ago, I made the decision to leave him and go work for Kevin Sumlin at Houston. People thought I was crazy to leave the BIG 12 to go to Conference USA. I left for two reasons – I was tired of telling Mike to punt, and I wanted to make those decisions, as far as deciding what to do on third and fourth down. Being able to do it on my own, and working for Sumlin, were two things that were important to me. I learned a lot from Kevin, as far as just being able to manage a program. He's a good friend, and I'm thankful for the opportunity he gave me three years ago.