MORGANTOWN, WV - Dana Holgorsen didn't make any excuses 10 months ago when he was handed the West Virginia head coaching job under bizarre circumstances.
And he doesn't expect to be handed any training wheels this year when the Mountaineers engineer another major transition, becoming a member of the Big 12 Conference.
"We're not beating them over the head with who we're going to play, we're just beating them over the head with what football is going to be like," Holgorsen said yesterday in an interview with Fox Sports on the eve of the Gold-Blue spring game. "Just because we're switching conferences and going into some unchartered territory we're not going to use that as an excuse for not being successful.
Holgorsen spent 2005-10 in Big 12 territory coordinating offenses for Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. He took the same position with WVU just over a year ago, but with coach-in-waiting attachments to his position.
Then came allegations about this time last year that head coach Bill Stewart was chumming the waters for media sharks to come looking for dirt on Holgorsen. Stewart eventually resigned and Holgorsen was promoted in June. The 40-year-old native Iowan then led the Mountaineers to a 10-3 season, at least a share of the Big East title for the sixth time in the last nine years, and a thorough pounding of Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl, 70-33.
"We can't pick up West Virginia and move into the Southwest and Midwest, which is where the Big 12 is. What we've done is reached out and pulled some coaches from specific areas that understand how ball is played down there. It's different from what it is in the Northeast, and different from what it is in the Big East, and we got a bunch of guys here who understand what it's like, and in bits and pieces we're relaying what that's like to our team," Holgorsen said.
There are still mixed reviews about the Mountaineers move to the Big 12, though nearly every breathing soul wearing a blue and gold shirt I chatted up agreed that the school was wise to leave the Big East.
Kent Brewer, a 1975 WVU grad in town for the spring game, wonders if the step up to a major football conference comes at a price, literally.
"It's like what's happening in NASCAR. That's a lot of broke rednecks following that sport and NASCAR is doing their darndest to keep jacking up prices on everything to where they're alienating their fan base," Brewer said. "I can't help but wonder if they'll do the same here. I mean, it's great that Oklahoma and those Texas schools will be coming in here - I'm sure it will be standing room only. But, I just hope they just don't see it as a chance to start pricing out some of their fan base."
And then there's the more obvious geographical anomaly.
"I know a lot of people here pride themselves on making every football game, home or away," said Brittany Hubbard, a WVU junior English major and bartender at Mountain State Brewing Company. "Now (with the move to the Big 12) they're afraid they might not make them all and may miss a game."
Perfect attendance? That's what they're worried about here?
The Big 12 did well snatching up West Virginia when it had the chance.
And there's a good chance WVU will return the favor by winning the league in 2012. Quarterback Geno Smith returns after passing for 4,385 yards last year - Mountaineer and Big East single-season records. Expect his name to be dropped among early Heisman Trophy candidates. Tavon Austin is back after an 1,186-yard and eight touchdown receiving season. West Virginia will enter a gunslinging passing league with a pair of cannons dangling from its hips.
"Talent wise we'll be fine," Holgorsen says confidently, but not arrogantly, "We've had a lot of conversations about this as far as what these kids were used to as far as an offensive perspective, how they were trained on the east coast and where they're at now. They're a lot more comfortable with the passing game they're more comfortable with the tempo, and we'll be fine offensively. And defensively, our guys have been practicing against us for a year, so they understand how it's going to be."
The Gold-Blue spring football game at Milan Puskar (pronounced "PUSH-ker") Stadium on Saturday will be preceded by a WVU letterman's flag football scrimmage. Proceeds from the game will go to support the WVU Children's Hospital. It will also be the debut of Jonathan Kimble as the Mountaineers coonskin-capped mascot. Yesterday was one of West Virginia's more time honored traditions, the Passing of the Musket, as Kimble took the rifle from burly-bearded predecessor Brock Burwell.