After a three-game losing streak, there is room for frustration from West Virginia football fans. It is only natural to not be happy when the team you support isn’t winning. What there isn’t room for, in my opinion, is all the talk of Dana Holgorsen future, how he’s “on the hot seat” and how he might not be the man to take WVU to the next level.
What I will say about that line of thinking is this: You don’t get to the next level by scrapping what you have and starting all over again. That doesn’t make sense to me at all.
If a national championship is your expectation, I think you have to sit back, have some patience and let the head coach figure out what needs to be figured out.
There is one thing I think a lot of people are forgetting, or at least not paying enough attention to in this whole argument. This is Dana Holgorsen’s first head coaching job.
While many of the great coaches throughout the history of the game have cut their teeth at small-time schools, learning how to be a head coach in a low-stress environment, Dana Holgorsen is doing it on the big stage in one of the toughest conferences in the nation for a team with one of the most passionate and most critical fan bases around.
Over the last 20 years, just five men who were in their first head coaching job won national championships: Loyd Carr in 1997 at Michigan, Phil Fulmer in ’98 at Tennessee, Bob Stoops in 2000 with Oklahoma, Larry Coker in ’01 with Miami and Jimbo Fisher in ’13 at Florida State.
In Carr’s case, he spent 15 years as an assistant coach with the Wolverines before he got the head coaching job. Even then, the success wasn’t instant. Carr’s Wolverines went 9-4 and lost in the Alamo Bowl in his first year, then went 8-4 and lost in the Outback Bowl in his second before going 12-0 and winning the national championship in his third.
The refrain is very similar for Phil Fulmer, who spent over a decade as an assistant in Knoxville before becoming the head coach of the Volunteers. He didn’t make the big time right off the bat either, as it took until his sixth season for the Vols to capture that national championship in 1998.
Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops worked as an assistant at Kansas State and Florida for a combined 10 years before landing the Sooner head coaching job, and was able to lead that ‘00 team to a national title in his second year as the main man. Guys like Stoops who figure it out so quickly as head coaches are exceptions, rather than the rule.
Coker reinvigorated the ‘Canes dynasty in Miami, leading his team to a national championship in his first year, but he did it with a roster that he took over from Butch Davis, which included a bevy of future NFL greats. Coker had served as Miami’s offensive coordinator under Davis for five seasons before getting the head coaching gig.
In 2013, West Virginia native Jimbo Fisher led Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles to a national championship during his third season as ‘Noles head coach. Fisher previously served as FSU’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from ’07-’09.
Twenty years is a pretty good sample size if you ask me, and there is an easy trend to find within this one: It takes time to be a great head coach. That time has to be afforded to you be a smart Athletic Director and a conscientious fan base that understands that you rarely experience the thick times without the thin.
This is Holgorsen’s fifth year in Morgantown. When you factor in the conference realignment and the new type of players he needed to get to fit his scheme in the Big 12, there has to be some wiggle room given here.
I don’t think he’s built a roster capable of winning a national championship just yet, but there is no way you can say he isn’t capable of that altogether.
A few weeks ago, Bobby Bowden was inducted to the WVU Sports Hall of Fame. After Bowden’s speech that afternoon, one of the football team’s sports information directors approached me and a colleague and told us a story about how coach Bowden had been very apologetic every time his tenure at WVU was brought up.
You see, Bowden said he owed the people of West Virginia a great debt because he was just learning to be a coach at WVU. His 42-26 record while in Morgantown, compared to his litany of accomplishments after leaving WVU attests to that.
A light went on in my head when I heard that. It reminded me of someone: Dana Holgorsen. While I realize comparing those two might seem a little ridiculous now, the truth is none of us knows what the future holds for Holgorsen.
With 12 players earning All-American honors and 12 draft picks, including two first-rounders, under his belt so far though, I think it’s worth taking the wait-and-see approach.
By no means am I saying if you fire Dana Holgorsen it’s guaranteed he will go off and win national championships somewhere else, but I am saying sticking with him is the best option for West Virginia football.