Holgorsen buyout will keep him safe for now

By Kyle Lovern

November 20, 2013

Embattled WVU football coach Dana Holgorsen has a nice contract.

He makes about $2 million a year for coaching a sport he obviously loves. At the same time, his Mountaineer team is not performing up to the standards that West Virginia fans have become accustomed to the last few years.

Last Saturday’s loss to Kansas was an embarrassment. The Jayhawks had not won a Big 12 Conference game in three years. Yet they pounded the Mountaineers 31-19.

“This program is not equipped right now to handle the wear and tear of the Big 12,” Holgorsen said in his post-game press conference. That is not what WVU fans want to hear. Unfortunately, it’s probably true, even if some fans don’t want to admit it. The Mountaineers are now 4-7 and 2-6 in the Big 12.

This will be the first time in 11 years that WVU will not be going to a bowl game. That means the school will lose out on a lot of money.

Just a few years ago, WVU won a BCS game in the Sugar Bowl over Georgia. Then a couple of years later the Mountaineers beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

The team was ranked in the top five and was even mentioned as a possible national championship contender.

We had Heisman Trophy candidates in Pat White, Steve Slaton, Noel Devine, Geno Smith and Tavon Austin. Not to mention legends like Owen Schmitt and many others that fans grew to love.

But this year the football team will end up with a losing record.

When Holgorsen took over he had some great recruits that were brought in under the late Bill Stewart and his staff. Doc Holliday, now the coach at Marshall, used his Florida pipeline and other contacts to help bring in players like Smith and Stedman Bailey from the Sunshine State. Others like Slaton and Austin came from nearby Maryland.

WVU was a team that recruits wanted to play for and commit to.

WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck was hoping that when he hired Holgorsen he would bring in his knowledge as an offensive coordinator and the high powered excitement to the team. He had done that at other schools as an assistant coach.

Holgorsen was considered the head-coach-in-waiting who would succeed the beloved Bill Stewart, a Mountain State native who loved WVU. Things happened and Stewart was fired. Holgorsen took over sooner than later.

However, Mountaineer fans are not very patient.

We are known as the school who “hung a coach in effigy” – that being Bobby Bowden, who went on to become the head coach at Florida State who won national championships. He has the most wins in NCAA football history.

So that move – getting rid of Bowden, turned out not to be such a good one for WVU.

So who knows, firing Holgorsen so soon in his stint in Morgantown might turn out the same way. Then again he may be in over his head and the Mountaineer program could continue to spiral out of control.

Even if he is fired, Holgorsen would come out smelling like rose – at least financially. He has a buyout of $11.5 million. So if Luck does send him packing, will WVU be able to afford that kind of payment? It is very doubtful.

However, if the team keeps losing, the fannies won’t be in the seats at Milan Puskar Stadium. That means the school is losing money.

They are already staying home for the holidays and will not get any bowl game funds this year.

The natives are restless, especially after losing to cellar dweller Kansas. The Mountaineers are off this weekend and then finish up the season with Iowa State.

In Holgorsen’s first season, WVU finished 10 and 3, including a record-breaking 70-33 win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

The fans were excited and the expectations hit the roof.

But then last year the team had a horrific collapse in the second half of the season. That included an embarrassing 38-14 loss to Syracuse in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

WVU lost several players to graduation and to the NFL. So you could say they are rebuilding this year. But, fans still expected at least seven wins and a minor bowl bid. Not a losing season.

In another recent game, the Mountaineers were flattened by a mediocre Kansas State team.

WVU fans are spoiled with the success we had over the last few years. They don’t expect to lose to teams that are considered subpar.

There are a lot of decisions to be made in Morgantown. I don’t envy Oliver Luck or the new president that will soon replace Jim Clements.

Holgorsen has a nice contract and it pays him well. But, he was given that to produce wins and take the program to new heights.

Instead it is at a very low point. Perhaps it is at the lowest since the early 1970s when the program was picked as one of the 10 worst in the country.

Holgorsen should be given one more year to see if he can carry the team out of the hole it currently is buried in.

But if not, work out a long term buyout plan over several years and send him packing.

It will be worth it in the long run.

(Kyle Lovern is the sports editor for the Williamson Daily News. Comments or story ideas can be sent to klovern@williamsondailynews.com or klovern@civtasmedia.com)