Saturday, June 11, 2011

Thanks, Stew + Hooray for Holgorsen!

My beloved Mountaineers have a new football coach. It might have been nice if things had worked out for this fall as Oliver Luck (who I admire) envisioned, but unfortunately it did not work out that way. Forced marriages don't usually work, and this setup was similar to an unhappy couple not divorcing in an effort to protect the kids. Inevitably, the split occurred sooner than later.

I welcome our new coach, and wish him the best. I was never a Stew hater like some folks were, but neither was I an unabashed Stew supporter. I appreciated him for stepping into the vacuum when Rodriguez abruptly left. [Note: Now that he has been fired from Michigan, I'm not going to call him Fraudriguez or the Product or any other such name—I'm still not thrilled with him, but at least I'm ready to move on.] I am forever grateful for Stew's leadership in that fantastic Fiesta Bowl win.

However, the next season displayed some reasons why his new coaching staff was not up to snuff. I went to the East Carolina game where we lost, followed by the devastating defeat by Colorado on ESPN. At least when we drove to Charlotte for the bowl game we got to see them beat UNC at the end of that season. The next two bowl games we attended (Jacksonville's Gator Bowl versus Florida State and the Champs Sports Bowl at Orlando against N.C. State) were not as much fun to watch.

Stew was a good guy, but was from a different era. Big time college football is changing rapidly. The old days of a father figure leader who keeps his job even during mediocre seasons are no more. It is a big business, and those who win (and especially in an innovative fashion) are going to thrive, and those who don't won't last long. Just having a winning season is not enough to keep your job. Coaches are measured against expectations, and WVU fans have high expectations. Losing to Syracuse and Connecticut as we did this year is simply not good enough.

To make matters worse, sometimes Stew looked confused on the sidelines during games. Some people didn't like his comments that they thought seemed crazy, like “Match the Mountains” or the Field Marshal Foch's quote ("Hard pressed on my right. My center is yielding. Impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent. I attack.") or a story about West Virginia from early in this century ( Some thought he was dumb, but he was a smarter guy than most of those who criticized him. He definitely loved West Virginia!

To me, Stew's biggest problem was his loyalty to those he hired. His biggest mistake was probably hiring Jeff Mullen to be his offensive coordinator. This happened only because his first choice—an old friend with whom he had coached in the Canadian Football League—was not allowed to get out of his contract. When that hiring fell through, Stewart talked with another old friend from West Virginia, Jim Grobe (the Wake Forest head coach), who recommended his young quarterback coach from his WF staff. Mullen had never served as an offensive coordinator, and while we probably needed to incorporate more passing than had been done in the Rodriguez era, the new offense never seemed to fully click. But Stew stuck by his hire, and it probably cost him his job.

Now we have a new head coach with no West Virginia connections. I hope he likes it here and stays a long time if he is as good as promised. I also hope that his little drinking problem in Cross Vegas (a smashup of Cross Lanes and Las Vegas) served as an adequate wake-up call to "police" his own behavior. We expect more from our coaches whose jobs include molding these young student athletes into top notch adults, as well as being someone who all West Virginians (even the non-drinkers and non-gamblers) can feel good about. The head coach at WVU is a huge job in this state. I hope that Holgorsen's new offensive staff meshes well with Casteel's defensive staff (most of whom have West Virginia connections), so that they become a cooperative cohesive coaching staff.

Most of all, I'm eager to put this chapter behind us and move on towards summer camp and then the opening game of the Holgorsen era. Let's Bring On The Mountaineers!!!

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