In the hills and hollers of West Virginia and cyberspace, there is a controversy brewing around WVU Coach Dana Holgerson. With a 7-6 record in 2012 and a poor start in 2013, the coach may soon feel the wrath of angry alumni.
The last seven years have been a tumultuous ride for West Virginia University football fans. The program soared to the cusp of national championship contention in 2007, but lost their last game to rival Pitt, and their coach Rich Rodriguez to the University of Michigan. The sudden departure of “Rich Rod” angered the fanbase and caused the state to practically banish West Virginia-native Rich Rodriguez from his home state. But, interim head coach, Bill Stewart rallied the team and ably led them to a 48-28 victory of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
After three solid 9-4 seasons, Stewart was pushed out of the head coaching job in a controversial way to make room for even bigger ambitions. Offensive coordinator and “head coach in-waiting,” Dana Holgerson took the helm, had a great 10-3 2011 season capped by a dominant performance in the Sugar Bowl where they crushed Clemson 70 to 33 in 2012. For the 2012 season, WVU left the Big East and moved to the Big 12 Conference where it had high hopes of storming to prominence. After a strong start, the team collapsed against strong Big 12 competition and finished 7-6 after an embarassing bowl 38-14 Pinstripe Bowl defeat. There were glaring deficiencies in the defense and the offense seemed to lose its fire. With the 2013 season off to an even shakier start, Coach Dana Holgerson may soon find himself in the hot seat.
This year, the Mountaineer victories have come against the fledgling Georgia State University Panthers football program, the Division IIA William & Mary Tribe, and an overconfident Oklahoma State. The Mountaineers struggled against William & Mary, but prevailed late in the game due to the strength of their bench. WVU was crushed 37 to 0 by a passionate and well-coached University of Maryland team. After years of dominating the Terrapins, the Mountaineer faithful were shocked by the shut out. The shut out also brought the misgivings of many West Virginia fans out into the open and ignited passionate debates over the effectiveness of their coach and his staff. The critics were silenced by a solid 30 – 21 over a nationally ranked Oklahoma State. However, the firestorm erupted again when the Mountaineers were absolutely demolished by the Baylor Bears in a game with an amazing 73 – 42 score.
The crushing defeat in Waco prompted former Mountaineer star quarterback, Pat White, to tweet: “He is not a leader. Players don’t believe or trust. #LaneKiffin #PullThePlug.” The former quarterback was referring to the summary dismissal of University of Southern California coach Lane Kiffin after his team suffered embarrassing 62 – 41 loss to Arizona State. Due to White’s status as one of WVU’s all-time-greatest quarterbacks, his quick tweet carries a lot of weight with many fans. On October 6, 2013, White tweeted “My apologies go out to Dana, the staff, the players and any other members of the mountaineer family that my words may have offended.” Still, his original tweet indicates a deep level of unease with where the Mountaineer football program is headed.
Some anti-Holgerson WVU fans questioned why their coach hadn’t recruited effective replacements for departing offensive superstars like Tayvon Austin, Geno Smith, and Stedman Bailey. They also wondered why their fellow fans were willing to accept a mediocre 7 – 6 and the possibility of a 3 – 9 season this year when the University had pushed former head coach Bill Stewart out after solid 9-4 performances for three seasons. Finally, they murmured about the personal lives of their coaches and questioned Assistant Head Coach Joe Deforest’s role in the Oklahoma State recruiting scandals that made headlines in Sports Illustrated. They argued that West Virginia had been a perennial Top 25 team and was building into an elite football program.
Pro-Holgerson WVU fans urged patience. They argue that 2013 is an obvious rebuilding year due to the departure of 11 key seniors on offense. The defense which was non-existent for 2012 has improved greatly under the tutelage of new defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. In a typically West Virginia way, they argue that WVU was not really a big time football school. They say that their teams show flashes of brilliance interspersed by rebuilding years.
As the 2013 season progresses, WVU faces several Big 12 opponents that are capable of inflicting high scores on hapless opponents. It remains to be seen whether WVU players can reach deep into their souls and step up to develop into the stars that the Mountaineers need to avoid repeated humiliation in a tough conference. Each loss promises to bring more debate about Holgersons’s coaching abilities. By the end of the season, his head coaching position may well be in jeopardy.
West Virginia Mountaineers Football, wikipedia.com
Geoff Coyle, “Pat White Says It’s Time to Pull the Plug,” West Virginia Illustrated, October 6, 2013
Pat White (P5White) on Twitter.com