Stewart and West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck did not take questions at the podium, instead offering statements to open what was ultimately a session of just over 25 minutes in which the reporters that cover the Mountaineers regularly got to ask their first questions of Holgorsen, who was officially announced as the program's next head coach a week ago.
Holgorsen made the trek east from Stillwater, Okla., where he has been aiding in Oklahoma State's practices for the Valero Alamo Bowl against Arizona. The Cowboys’ offensive coordinator arrived in Morgantown for an event that followed another day of WVU’s own bowl preparations -- which Stewart announced he had cut short by giving his players the evening off instead of having them practice.
Both Luck’s and Stewart’s statements walked a fine line between talking about the future of the program and Holgorsen while trying to give proper attention to the Mountaineers’ Champs Sports Bowl match-up with North Carolina State, which is a mere six days away in Orlando, Fla.
“With [defensive coordinator] Jeff Casteel and Dana Holgorsen, I do believe that it’s going to be a very exciting 2011. So I can’t wait for that,” Stewart said. “But we have a task at hand, and that’s to whoop the N.C. State Wolfpack, and that’s the ultimate goal right now and what we have our sights set on.”
Stewart, who will be forced out of his job as head coach following the 2011 season, was gracious in introducing his successor. For the first time publicly, he acknowledged he and Holgorsen had met previously and did his part to assure Luck and West Virginia fans that he would make the transition as easy as possible.
“I’ve watched him and his offenses, and I’m very excited about Dana coming on board as our offensive coordinator,” Stewart said. “This will be a very smooth transition. Our defensive staff will remain intact, and we’ll talk once Dana and I get back here on the 1st of January, we’ll sit down and let him implement schemes, ideas, what have you, in preparation to give him the finest offensive staff we can compile.
“I can tell you this: standing before you today, the direction of West Virginia football is good. It’s in great hands. It will continue to be in great hands.”
With that, Holgorsen took to the podium and offered a lengthy opening statement of his own, talking about his offensive philosophy and his desire to finish what he started at Oklahoma State (where he will conclude his first and only season as offensive coordinator with the Dec. 29 Alamo Bowl).
“Come Jan. 1, I’m 100 percent in on trying to make this place just a little bit better,” Holgorsen said. “With that said, I’m aware of what this program has done the last six years. When you get 60 wins in six years, you’re doing pretty doggone good now. If I can just make a little bit of difference offensively and work really well with Jeff Casteel, who I have a ton of respect for...I’m looking forward to working with him as well.”
Indeed, Casteel, the architect of WVU’s 3-3-5 stack defense that has ranked among the nation’s elite in 2010, was brought up often in Wednesday’s introduction, even though he was not in attendance. Holgorsen was asked about his goals for the Mountaineer program, and he cracked a joke in response.
“Well, keep Jeff Casteel happy is No. 1,” the former offensive coordinator at Texas Tech and Houston joked.
If Holgorsen is successful in that aim, it might free him to focus solely on improving the West Virginia offense, which sputtered at times throughout 2010 before scoring 35 or more points in three of its last four games.
But that still wasn’t enough to save the jobs of offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen and offensive line coach Dave Johnson. Holgorsen said Wednesday he will interview the current WVU offensive assistants (all of the defensive coaches will be retained for 2011) before making any decisions on possible staff moves.
“I will talk to them and evaluate what we have and what we need,” Holgorsen said. “On my end, there’s some guys I’m pretty adamant to talk to and see if it’s a fit here as well. If you get an opportunity to hire a couple guys, you can’t just hire your best friends.
“You’ve got to go out there and see what the position is, what do you need, what are the recruiting aspects, what’s the geography as far as what part of the country they need to recruit. So there’s a lot of things that go into that. You don’t just make decision that overnight.”
“It’s like Coach Stew said when he was up here: we’re not too concerned with that right now. What we’re concerned with is West Virginia winning their bowl game and Oklahoma State winning their bowl game. Once that’s over, then we can move on to the next chapter. In a perfect world, this press conference would have been about nine days from now. But because you guys like to write stories and stuff, we had to do it a little bit quicker.”
But regardless of the situation with the team’s coaching staff and the fact that he admitted he likely won’t get to even seriously look at the current Mountaineer offensive personnel until February (when national signing day for recruits has come and gone), Holgorsen said he expects his high-flying offense, which has ranked among the nation’s elite at each of his last three coaching stops, to come together quickly in Morgantown.
“Our first year at Houston, I went into a staff that was already assembled with four returning starters, and I feel like the system that we’ve got is one that’s easy to teach and easy to grasp,” Holgorsen said. “It makes sense. It’s all about putting it in [players’] hands and getting them as good as they can at it. We were second in the country in offense that year, so things worked out okay.
“Last year [at Oklahoma State], I came into a staff that had four guys that were on staff and implemented it and had four returning starters and we led the nation this year. Granted, it was by one yard ... but I don’t know. I think it makes sense to [players].”
One thing that could affect the transition would be infighting between the coaching staff, a possibility some have wondered about given the way Luck handled the transition -- giving Stewart a year to work with an offensive coordinator that was not of Stewart’s choosing before giving Holgorsen the head coaching job.
But both Stewart and Holgorsen dismissed that possibility.
“If I thought it was a problem, I wouldn’t be here,” Holgorsen said. “That’s No. 1. I’ve got a lot of respect for Coach Stewart and what he’s done. I know what kind of person he is. I’ve got a lot of respect for Oliver and what he’s accomplished and the kind of person he is.
“At the end of the day, it’s about surrounding yourself with good people, hiring good people, and if everybody’s on the same page, it gives you a chance to win football games. If I come to work Jan. 1 and there’s people fighting each other, you’re not going to win games. I think we’re all comfortable with each other at this point, and we know that if everybody’s on the same page, we’ve got a chance to win.”
Given Luck’s public statements that the change was spurred at least in part because he didn’t think the West Virginia football program under Stewart could compete for a national championship, Holgorsen was left with little doubt as to what the standard of success will be. He was asked if that added any pressure to what will be his first head coaching job at any level.
“You mean this is the only place that wants a national championship?” he joked. “I mean, it’s hard and it’s a challenge, but if you’re at a place that has a chance to get that accomplished, you’re at the right place. We’ll work hard and do our best.”
And Holgorsen, somewhat of a nomad in the southwest in recent years, said he was ready to settle in once he makes his move to Morgantown.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for me, and I can’t wait for my six years ahead of me. I’ve been at four different places in the last five years. I’m tired of moving. I’m tired of living in a hotel,” Holgorsen said, offering a nod to the much-discussed fact that he never purchased a home in Stillwater.
“I know there’s been a lot of speculation about that. But I’m looking forward to making this my home. So I’m really excited about being here.”