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Holgorsen Makes a Surprising Career Decision

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Head coach Dana Holgorsen spoke about his high expectations for the team. Photo: Corbin Ayres/The Daily Cougar

By Michael Hanich |

It is not uncommon for coaches to take other jobs for the same positions with another team or school. It is uncommon, however, for a coach to leave his job of higher-caliber to take a job with a smaller-caliber team. Former West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen announced he will be resigning from his position with the Mountaineers to take the same position with the Houston Cougars. Holgorsen signed a 5-year deal worth $20 million, making him the highest paid coach from a Group of Five football program.

The Group of Five includes teams and conferences that are in the descriptions of a Division 1 FBS football program but don’t have the resources, perks, and packages that a Power Five conference like the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, ACC, or PAC-12 have. Holgorsen has been the head coach at West Virginia, a Big 12 program, for 8 years from 2011 to this season. He will be the head coach of the Cougars, a program with great history and players, but reigns in the American Athletic Conference as a Group of Five program. He takes over a program who had moderate success in two seasons with Major Applewhite but could not account for bowl wins and get above an 8-win season.

Holgorsen has coached under many different styles of offensive philosophies while he was an offensive coordinator for multiple different programs. Holgorsen served as offensive coordinator with the Texas Red Raiders from 2005 to 2007 under the leadership of Mike Leach, now at Washington State. Holgorsen also was the Houston Cougars’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2008 to 2009 under the leadership of Kevin Sumlin, now at Arizona. Finally, he was the offensive coordinator of the Oklahoma State Cowboys in 2010 under the leadership of Mike Gundy.

While at West Virginia, Holgorsen got the Mountaineers to seven winning seasons including two 10-win seasons in his 8 years there. His first season at West Virginia in 2011, the Mountaineers accounted for a 10-3 season including a 70-33 win in the Orange Bowl against the Clemson Tigers. That season, West Virginia had the 13th scoring offense (37.6 points per game) and 6th passing offense (346.8 passing yards per game).

This season, the Mountaineers had an 8-4 record while being tied with the Iowa State Cyclones for 3rd place in the Big 12. They finished the season with a 34-18 loss to the #17 Syracuse Orange in the Camping World Bowl in December. Under the leadership of Holgorsen, the Mountaineers are currently ranked 10th in scoring offense (40.3), 8th in total yards accounted for per game (512), and 4th in passing yards accounted for per game (351.3). Most of his offenses have turned into some of the top productive offenses in the nation especially this year with QB Will Grier.

For many seasons, the Houston Cougars have embraced the philosophy of an aggressive, high-caliber offense that mostly revolves around the passing game. The Cougars thought they were going to find this under the direction of Major Applewhite but he couldn’t create impact for their defense as well. The Cougars’ offense ranked 5th in the nation in points per game (43.4) and 7th in total yards per game (513). Their defense, however, was one of the worst defenses in the nation by ranking 107th in scoring defense (34.4) and tied for last (130th) with Oklahoma in passing yards allowed per game (291.4).

Although Holgorsen is mostly an offensive minded coach, he is up to the task of turning the Cougars’ defense around while continuing the same amount of efficiency on offense. He knows the recruiting area well of Houston and throughout Texas, due his two years of coaching there, and recruiting against other Big 12 schools while at West Virginia.

The decision comes at a great time for Holgorsen to make himself a great coach for Houston. This only gives West Virginia a chance to start over without having to possibly force Holgorsen to resign there. Even though he brought some good seasons at West Virginia, in 8 seasons, the Mountaineers have accounted for a 61-41 record under Holgorsen. He is also 2-5 in bowl games with only one of them being a major bowl game.

In the end, Holgorsen could make the Houston Cougars one of the elite programs in the American Conference again. This could also be the push that the Houston Cougars to transition to a power 5 conference, likely in the Big 12. On the other end of the spectrum, West Virginia will start looking for a coach that they can feel will bring them more consistent wins every year and potential Big 12 Championship titles.

Michael Hanich is a sports journalist and analyst in Gulf Shores, Ala., who writes for multiple outlets, in print and online. Hanich is a student at the University of South Alabama seeking a master’s degree in communications with a concentration in journalism. 

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