Holgorsen wants players playing, not thinking
MORGANTOWN - Once was the time when Dana Holgorsen was like all young coaches in that he thought he had a better way. He would diagram play after play that showed his creativity and, before long, had so many of them he didn't know what to do with them all.
That was back in the days before he became one of the country's hottest offensive minds. Now that he is in such high demand - so much so that he's now the independently wealthy offensive coordinator and coach in waiting at West Virginia - he needs an 18-wheeler to bring to Morgantown all those plays he designed, right?
Uh, well, no. Actually one notebook will do.
A small one.
"Probably so,'' Holgorsen said recently when asked if it was true that his ultra-successful offense actually has fewer plays than most. "I think we've simplified it the point where we've got a lot of different ways of doing the same thing. Just because there might be one receiver lined up - or two or three or four or five - if we call one play they're all doing the same thing. They have the same responsibilities.
"I think we have enough plays. I mean, I could draw up twice as many more and put in twice as many as we've got. I just don't feel like it's necessary.''
Truth is, one's enough if it scores, right?
"Yeah,'' Holgorsen said. "And if it scores you probably ought to call it again, right?''
The reason Holgorsen has so simplified his offensive playbook is easy. He wants to be able to teach it to 18- to 23-year-old college football players and not confuse them beyond what is necessary. Now that might sound like a slam on the intelligence of 18- to 23-year-old college football players, but it's not. They're generally as smart as any other 18- to 23-year-old college students.
But why make it more difficult than it has to be. The sooner players learn and master the playbook, the sooner they can start making plays. And it's a lot easier to do that if you aren't constantly trying to recall a bunch of complex routes and assignments.
"If they feel like it's simple, then we can start worrying about the things that make them good players,'' Holgorsen said. "If they're not thinking, then it's more about the technique and effort and repping, getting comfortable and timing and all the rest. We don't want them thinking, we want them playing good. And the less thinking they do, the more we can coach them to play good.''
During West Virginia's five weeks of spring drills, Holgorsen was able to put in virtually his entire system in three days. He then went back and repeated the first three days and continued to do so until his new players knew it as almost second nature.
There's not much more to be installed. By the end of spring practice, Holgorsen had even managed to throw in a tight end formation or two, something he didn't think he would even do with this group.
"We didn't do anything with tight ends just because we don't have any,'' Holgorsen said. "I mean, if we had three tight ends laying around we'd probably use a couple of tight end sets. But we don't have any. Last year [at Oklahoma State] we ran a tight end set probably five percent of the time. But it's hard to do if you don't have them.''
But by the end of spring, this group had picked up the system so well that Holgorsen went ahead with the tight end sets for Tyler Urban. He could do that because the rest of the offense was so simple that most everything had already been mastered.
The trick now - and what makes the offense really go - is repetition and learning the nuances.
The trick, of course, is creating a simple offense and having it succeed. The more basic the offense, the easier it is for defenses to figure it out. But there are so many variations to the same plays in this offense that few defenses have been able to master that yet.
And that's Holgorsen's chief goal now that he seemingly has come up with the simple system that he really likes - changing just enough so that defenses never really figure it out.
"We try to make it all look the same,'' Holgorsen said. "We self-scout ourselves. We have for years and we know what the tendencies are and we try to fix them. And then when you go into a new place or a new year, you do what you can to fix what the tendencies were that you had the previous year. We're definitely trying to focus on not having any. It's hard, but you do your best with it.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.