West Virginia: You've just fired a winning head coach in the middle of June for a successor with no head coaching experience of any sort, as the direct result of a sordid melodrama that left the program gasping in a toxic atmosphere of uncertainty and betrayal. So why does it seem like Bill Stewart's rocky, unplanned ouster has everyone in Morgantown is breathing such a huge sigh of relief?
There was the one thing upon which everyone could agree, even if they weren't made aware of what had happened. The dynamic that existed with [Bill] Stewart and Holgorsen working together was uncomfortable. The suggestion Stewart wasn't making matters any better, whether true or not, had the players concerned.
"It relieves the tension a little bit, I guess," said senior cornerback Keith Tandy. "With Coach Stewart and Coach Holgorsen around, it was hard to figure out who to listen to and who was in charge. Now it's more clear cut and we can get back to work."
"I had questions and a lot of my teammates were the same way — 'Is Coach Stew the head man or is Coach Holgorsen the head man?'" Tandy said. "It's good the distraction has been eliminated. When you're out there playing football, you want to focus on that and on making plays and not on worrying about which coach you're supposed to listen to.''
Tandy's relative candor will probably be as close as anyone in the program comes to publicly dissing the decision to hand Stewart a pink slip with 52 weeks' advance notice last December: If the experiment was so doomed that even the players spent the last six months waiting for the other shoe to drop, better it come down sooner rather than later. And — soap opera notwithstanding — the end result is exactly what Luck had in mind when he lured Holgorsen from Oklahoma State in the first place. (For a sizable chunk of WVU fans, Stewart's permanent ouster should have been the original result, and by the end of last week the anti-Stewart opinion was practically unanimous.) The timetable has just been accelerated by a few months.
If Holgorsen track record makes him Mr. Excitement, though, that has at least as much to do with the fact West Virginia's offense produced so little of it last year. Three years removed from fielding one of the most terrifying attacks of the decade, the Mountaineers languished in 2010 at 67th nationally in total offense and 78th in scoring opposite one of the best statistical defenses in the country, failing to top 14 points in any of their four losses. The 23-7 bowl loss at the hands of N.C. State was an all-purpose catastrophe consisting of four punts, three fumbles, two missed field goals, an interception, a turnover on downs and, with one lonely touchdown on the board, the final nail in the coffin of outgoing offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen. After three years on Mullen's watch, the prolific "spread 'n shred" he inherited from Rich Rodriguez had devolved into a generic scheme that strived for balance and achieved it by excelling at nothing in particular.
Whatever issues Holgorsen has off the field — and they are not insignificant by any stretch — "forging a clear offensive identity" has never been a problem on it. Including his "Air Raid" days on Mike Leach's staff at Texas Tech and a two-year stint overseeing Case Keenum's record-breaking pace at Houston, Holgorsen has been a key element in the brain trust of offenses that finished among the top three nationally in both passing and total offense each of the last four years, with three different quarterbacks at three different schools. Last year, Oklahoma State was almost unanimously tabbed to finish at or near the bottom of the Big 12 South in the wake of massive attrition from arguably the most hyped team ever out of Stillwater in 2009, headed for a third or fourth-tier bowl game for 6-6 stragglers at best. Instead, the decision to bring in Holgorsen to resurrect a unit that imploded at the end of '09 paid off with one of the most prolific attacks in the nation and, with the bowl win over Arizona, the most prolific win column in OSU history.
That part is the no-brainer: Holgo got to install his system in the spring with a relatively experienced quarterback and seven other returning starters on offense, for deployment in by far the most offensively challenged conference in America. (The highest-scoring outfit in the Big East in 2010, Cincinnati, finished 57th nationally at 27.1 points per game). The hard part is his adjustment to the administrative side, where he finds himself suddenly tossed into the deep end of all the daily details that distinguish a head coach from a coordinator — Holgorsen's never been the boss (a role that will obviously take some growing into), and an apprentice season under a mentor who actually bought into the "coach in waiting" arrangement instead of actively attempting to undermine it may have done him and the program a lot of good toward easing into the full-time role next year.
Given the reality of an apprentice season under a wounded, resentful lame duck, on the other hand, it's hard to see how there was ever any other answer that didn't end with the Mountaineers dropping the pretense and getting on with the learning curve.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.