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March 9, 2011

Holgorsen has them rocking in Morgantown

Dana Holgorsen was just watching a little hoops, relaxing in the stands at the West Virginia-Providence game in January.

That's when the cameras spied him, and the fans went nuts when his image was splashed on the screen at the WVU Coliseum.

"We went around the court at halftime shaking hands with fans, boosters," he says. "It was fun.

"This place is passionate. I love it."

Welcome to West Virginia. Holgorsen is the program's new rock star, an offensive mastermind whose fancy Xs and Os promise to take the Mountaineers back to the top of the Big East -- and maybe beyond.

With Holgorsen, all things seem possible.

With Bill Stewart? Well, let's just say few dreamed big.

That's why West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck hatched a plan last November to bring in Holgorsen. Stewart would coach this season, then give way to Holgorsen, who will ride shotgun as offensive coordinator before taking over in 2012.

If Stewart hurts, he isn't showing it. But how can this not sting just a little? Stewart is the walking, talking personification of "West, By God, Virginia." He speaks with pride and reverence about his hometown of New Martinsville. You'd think it was Paris. And don't even try to tell "Stew" there is a better state in the union than West Virginia. You'll get a hand in the face.

"This is home, my state university," Stewart says. "I have a master's [degree] from here. I grew up here. It has been a real fairy tale for me [to be head coach], so whatever the state needed me to do ... "

Holgorsen's arrival has energized a passionate fan base that had grown restless with Stewart, who some feel was hired in haste following a win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl following the 2007 season. Stewart had been made interim coach after Rich Rodriguez had bolted to take the Michigan job.

The new guys
Since his hiring, Dana Holgorsen has rebuilt WVU's offensive coaching staff. In addition to being coordinator, Holgorsen will coach quarterbacks. The rest of his staff:
Bill Bedenbaugh, offensive line: He had been offensive line coach and co-coordinator at Arizona. He played with Holgorsen at Iowa Wesleyan for Mike Leach. Bedenbaugh also was a Texas Tech assistant with Holgorsen.

Shannon Dawson, inside receivers: He had been coordinator at FCS Stephen F. Austin. He was coached by Holgorsen at Wingate (N.C.).

Lonnie Galloway, receivers/passing game coordinator: He had been West Virginia's receivers coach and is the lone offensive assistant retained by Holgorsen.

Robert Gillespie, running backs: He had been running backs coach at Oklahoma State, where Holgorsen was coordinator last season.

Holgorsen, 39, already has put his stamp on the program, gutting the offensive staff and hiring his own assistants.

"I didn't want to have to coach coaches a year from now and have to change staff," Holgorsen says. "So it was important for me on the front end to hire guys I know who know the system and make the transition easier offensively because I won't always be able to be in those offensive meetings. I can get those guys going now, and when I am the head coach, I won't have to coach offense the whole time."

It's not that Stewart hadn't performed well. He just hadn't performed great, which is what Rodriguez did. In three seasons, Stewart is 28-12 overall (15-6 in the Big East) with three bowl trips. The Mountaineers even won a share of the conference title last season. Still, more was expected from a program that had won or shared four Big East titles under Rodriguez from 2003-07.

Last season was particularly disappointing. The Mountaineers were picked by many to win the Big East. But an inconsistent offense proved costly in a 9-4 season. WVU's three regular-season defeats came by an aggregate 14 points before a 23-7 loss to N.C. State in the Champs Sports Bowl.

The wheels of change began churning long before the bowl loss. WVU was slogging along with a 5-3 record in early November, and Luck had seen enough.

"We had some big expectations and we had lost to Syracuse at home and UConn on the road," says Luck, a Rhodes Scholar finalist and former star West Virginia quarterback (1978-81) whose son is Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. "Both close losses, but ... I don't think any fan would have said we played well in either game.

"At that point, I sat down and let Bill know in a very direct -- some would say a blunt -- fashion how I felt. I was up front with Bill on this stuff from day one. I think that's the only fair thing to do. I don't like to operate behind people's backs. I think Bill respected that. At the end of the day, he may disagree with my decision. But I think he respects the fact that I spoke to him mano a mano."

Stewart wants to make sure he goes out with a bang. He's making proclamations about posting a double-digit victory total, winning the Big East title and earning a BCS bid. After that, Stewart will remain with the university.

"I will fund-raise, do special projects for the president, the university," he says. "I could be a great liaison with the state capitol in Charleston. There are a lot of things I can do to lobby for higher education. I am very close with the president. I don't think I will just be a fundraiser who goes to caravans. But first I'm looking forward to working with Dana."

Won't it be difficult to work side-by-side with a coach who is going to take your job?

"Nope," Stewart says.

Won't it be difficult to not have any hard feelings?

"That is baloney," he says. "We are going to show a defining moment next year. The new coaches have been so respectful. Things are going pretty good. It has been a dream come true. A dream come true."

And Holgorsen is sensitive to what Stewart, 58, is going through.

Looking to be more offensive
WVU was 9-4 last season, but that record could have been even better had the offense been more consistent. The Mountaineers' three regular-season defeats were by a combined 14 points. Here's a look at WVU's offensive rankings in 2010.
Total offense: 372.7 ypg, 67th nationally
Scoring: 25.2 ppg, 78th nationally
Rushing: 159.7 ypg, 50th nationally
Passing: 213.0 ypg, 67th nationally

"He is a West Virginia guy, born, raised, went to school, coached here a long time," Holgorsen says. "It is in respect to him. Plus, he hasn't done a bad job.

"The AD is good, a football guy. He is planning for the future. This is his place. He's excited. He's an alum. This is his place, too. He understands the importance of having Bill Stewart around here for a long time. And Bill wants to stick around to make the university bigger and better. I think they want to treat him right, and he deserves it."

WVU is the latest stop in Holgorsen's fast-rising career. Just 12 years ago, in 1999, Holgorsen was coaching quarterbacks and receivers at tiny Wingate (N.C.) University. Now, he's one of the top young coaches in the nation, a guy Luck describes as "quality, smart, aggressive, future-superstar kind of guy."

"West Virginia is a place that really cares," Holgorsen says. "They have won 60 games in six years. This isn't a rebuilding job; it's a 'keep it going' job. They have won a bunch, have some national appeal, won some BCS games. Oliver Luck is a great boss. They have a new president [Jim Clements]. The leadership is phenomenal."

By the numbers
Dana Holgorsen has coordinated some of the nation's most dynamic offenses the past three seasons. Here's a look at the numbers:
Total offense/rank: 520.2 ypg/3rd
Scoring offense/rank: 44.2 ppg, 3rd
Passing offense/rank: 345.9 ypg, 2nd

Total offense/rank: 563.4 ypg/1st
Scoring offense/rank: 42.2 ppg/1st
Passing offense/rank: 433.7 ypg/1st

Total offense/rank: 562.8 ypg/2nd
Scoring offense/rank: 40.6 ppg/10th
Passing offense/rank: 401.6 ypg/2nd
The marriage of Holgorsen's offense with that of defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's standout work has fans thinking big.

"There is some excitement for the whole offense thing," Holgorsen says. "They have been so good on defense here the last three years. They have tapered off offensively since Rich left. They are winning a lot of games 17-14. They want some excitement; my past 12 years of point and yardage production -- there is some excitement."

Holgorsen is hard-wired for offense dating to his days as a receiver for Mike Leach. It was at NAIA Iowa Wesleyan in Mount Pleasant, Iowa -- Holgorsen's hometown -- where he began to be spoon-fed Leach's spread scheme. He eventually joined Leach's first Texas Tech staff as receivers coach in 2000 before becoming coordinator in 2005.

"Dana was a good receiver for me," Leach says. "He always had a thirst for knowledge. He eventually followed me to Valdosta State as a G.A. And he was the first coach I hired when I got to Texas Tech."

Holgorsen's career took off in 2008, when he left to coordinate Houston's offense under Kevin Sumlin. Holgorsen enjoyed a prolific two-year run before leaving for Oklahoma State. In his only season with the Cowboys, they were third in the nation in total offense and scoring offense in 2010.

Now, he's at West Virginia, ready to begin a new journey. Holgorsen will have weapons to work with as he begins to install his system. The Mountaineers' attack welcomes back eight starters, including four linemen and quarterback Geno Smith. A defense that ranked seventh in the nation in 2010 again should be stout.

"Do me and Bill have any hard feelings between us?" Holgorsen says. "No, he is a great guy. He's just a West Virginia guy who wants the school to be successful. We are working well together and will try to win a bunch of games.

"This is going to be fun."

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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