Though WVU sports information staffers interrupted interviews on multiple occasions to try to force the line of questioning away from reports which indicate head coach Bill Stewart has worked in the past to undermine his offensive coordinator and eventual successor, Dana Holgorsen, several players did comment on the matter.
But those who did talk expressed a feeling of helplessness, and said while they are aware of the situation, their knowledge is limited to what has being reported in the media.
“I mean, I really don’t know anything about it,” junior safety Terence Garvin said. “I really don’t.”
After a report in the Charleston Daily Mail on Monday morning that WVU has halted the finalization of Stewart’s modified contract as it investigates the possibility someone within the football program was the source of information used to defame Holgorsen in a column in the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, players began to see more and more coverage of the issue.
“I watched [ESPN's] ‘College Football Live’ yesterday. I ain’t never seen WVU on there, and we was on there the first 10 minutes yesterday,” said defensive end Bruce Irvin, a senior. “It’s crazy.
“But to be honest with you, we never really talk about it. It’s just, you know, we read it on the internet, but we don’t discuss it among each other. It’s not a big deal to us, man. It don’t matter if [WVU sports information director] Mike Montoro was coaching us next year.”
Indeed, the publicity itself has not changed the facts of the situation at this point, and players said they have taken solace in the one thing they can actually control at this point -- their workouts with Mountaineer strength and conditioning coach Mike Joseph.
That sentiment was shared by offensive lineman Jeff Braun, who sat out all of spring practice recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and has worked with Joseph this summer to complete his rehabilitation and prepare for preseason practice in August.
Braun, along with defensive lineman Julian Miller, took to Twitter on Monday as the news of the day began to gain steam.
“Man when will we ever be on @ESPNCFBLive for something good?” Miller asked Monday on his account, @JmillzHot97.
Braun responded, telling Miller he could not “remember the last time we had good news.” The fourth-year junior (who tweets @JEFFBRAUN57) later added “This is like drama in High School just with adults” regarding the coaching situation.
Both of those updates came long before former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette WVU beat reporter Colin Dunlap revealed on a Pittsburgh radio show in the wee hours of Tuesday morning that Stewart called him and at least one other reporter in December and asked the journalists to “dig up dirt” on Holgorsen.
But if that additional revelation added to Braun’s frustration, he didn’t show it.
“I understand the fact that it’s June, and there’s no football,” Braun said. “Everybody wants something to talk about, but they just want a story.
“And to me, you’ve got to look at the issue where, you know, we’re playing. No matter what happens, I don’t care. We could have no coaching staff next year. We’re still going to field a team, and I’m still going to go out there and play, and I know all my teammates are.”
Irvin agreed, and said players are not taking sides between Stewart (who would begin his fourth and final season as West Virginia’s head coach should he remain employed through the team’s opener on Sept. 4 against Marshall) and Holgorsen, the man Mountaineer athletic director Oliver Luck tabbed to succeed Stewart last December.
“There’s been a lot of talking going on or whatever, but we ain’t focused on that right now,” the Atlanta, Ga., native said. “I love Coach Stewart, and I love Coach Holgorsen. Coach Stew is a good dude. Coach Holgorsen is a good dude.
“Players, we ain’t focusing on that. We’re focusing on winning the Big East, getting to a national championship. All that extra stuff, it’s irrelevant to us right now. It’s unfortunate. You never want this type of publicity, this type of stuff around your program. But it is what it is.”
Irvin even attempted to put a positive spin on the matter, saying it was better that any tension that exists between Holgorsen and Stewart be exposed and dealt with during the offseason instead of surfacing while the Mountaineers attempt to prepare for opponents this fall.
“It’s better with the situation going on now than [it would be if it happened] during the season,” he said. “But I ain’t trying to talk too much about it. It’s their situation, and it will play out.”