Two seasons after a memorable 2012 BCS upset against Clemson, head coach Dana Holgorsen’s job is now about as safe as an unattended piece of furniture on Grant Street.
It’s hard to completely blame West Virginia supporters. The Mountaineers haven’t even been competitive for most of this season and are just 5-11 since starting 5-0 in 2012.
A bowl game and a winning season are looking more far-fetched by the week, and naturally the man in charge has been the target of a majority of the criticism.
Frankly, a lot of it has been warranted. Even Holgorsen admitted his decision-making has been faulty at times, and you don’t need to look much further than WVU’s record to see just how much adversity the Mountaineers have already faced during their second Big 12 Conference campaign.
But as much as the Mountaineers have struggled in their last 16 games under Holgorsen, it’s not time to fire the three-year head coach, yet.
Because when it comes down to it, it’s time for the players to finally take some accountability.
We knew the team would miss Geno, Tavon and Stedman. I just don’t think anyone thought it would be this much.
Because outside of Charles Sims and Dreamius Smith, WVU’s skilled players have been downright abysmal this season.
West Virginia fans originally found themselves contemplating the preseason quarterback battle as a sign that either the Mountaineers had three quarterbacks who were all capable of starting and producing or an indication none of them were talented enough to be distinguished from the other two.
Well, eight weeks into the season and we’ve finally reached the point where there’s not really any debating left: none of WVU’s three signal callers are very good.
The Mountaineers’ receivers have been just as bad. Just let offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson tell you about it.
“They can’t catch it when we (hit them when they’re open),” Dawson said after the Kansas State game Saturday.
Like almost all head coaches should, Holgorsen has put the accountability on himself after every loss this year, but after Kansas State you could actually hear the frustrations with his players bleeding through his postgame comments after the loss.
Holgorsen literally called out Trickett, who was benched during the fourth quarter, and said the Florida State transfer was notdoing a “good job” of throwing and completing to open receivers.
One reporter asked Holgorsen in the postgame if he thought he might have underestimated how much he lost in regards to personnel from 2012. Holgorsen previously dismissed those types of questions vehemently in the preseason, claiming new stars were created every season in the Big 12, and this year would be no different for West Virginia.
But when Holgorsen was asked that question again after his fifth loss in eight games this season, the third-year head coach clearly didn’t feel the same way. And even though he never came out and actually said it, it’s never been more apparent this is probably the least talented group of skill players Holgorsen has coached since first becoming an offensive coordinator in 2006.
Everywhere Holgorsen has been since then, either as an offensive coordinator or a head coach, offenses have flourished tremendously.
In the last seven years, Holgorsen’s offenses have twice been the top producing offenses in the entire country. Even in 2012, when the Mountaineers finished with a disappointing 7-6, Holgorsen guided WVU’s playmakers to more than 500 yards of offense a game.
But not this year.
This season, the Mountaineers are averaging about 100 yards less on offense per game, and it doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to realize the biggest variable in this equation is simply personnel.
Now, of course, one of the most critical aspects of being a successful head coach in college football is your ability to recruit. And if anything, this season has shown just how much recruitment is a potential weakness for Holgorsen.
But I also think recruiting is one of the biggest reasons Holgorsen will be given at least little more time to set things right in Morgantown.
Eventually, despite notions to the contrary, I think whoever the new Athletic Director ends up being will realize the Mountaineers are still in a bit of a critical transitional phase, especially in regard to recruiting in WVU’s new conference home, the Big 12.
By firing Holgorsen, WVU could also end up losing a good chunk of its assistant coaches, who have now all joined the staff since Holgorsen’s arrival in 2011. Literally not a single assistant coach from the pre-Holgorsen era remained.
There are some assistants, like Tony Gibson and Lonnie Galloway, who previously worked on WVU’s staff and would probably would be more willing to stay, but they were still technically hired under Holgorsen.
Obviously, losing assistant coaches might not seem like the end of the world to some, but they actually play a major role in the recruiting process. And with the Mountaineers already at a bit of a crossroads in regard to recruiting, I’m just not sure WVU can afford to restart this whole rebuilding process, especially at this point in time.
Still, regardless of what I think, Holgorsen’s time is likely running out. Memories of the 2011 Orange Bowl are fading, and they’re fading fast.
And in this day and age, college football coaching is one of the ultimate “what have you done for me lately” professions, and Holgorsen simply just hasn’t done much lately.
I had the privilege recently to sit down with West Virginia’s most legendary sportswriter, Mickey Furfari, and he said the football program is in the worst state he’s seen in his nearly 70 years of covering sports at the University.
If Holgorsen can’t ultimately prove to boosters and alumni he can get this program turned around almost immediately – ideally with a surge in recruiting this offseason (assuming he makes it that far) – then I don’t think there will be any doubt that Holgorsen, just three years after one of the biggest bowl wins in school history, will almost surely end up following the country roads out of West Virginia.