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Holgorsen’s rant points finger at WVU fans

AP Photo
Dana Holgorsen has questioned WVU's fanhood.

MORGANTOWN - Chances are by now you have heard that Dana Holgorsen had some rather pointed things to say at his Tuesday press conference about the fan support - or the lack thereof - for West Virginia's football program.

If not, here's the Cliff's Notes version, and we'll expound on it in just a moment:

It sucks. You think this is big time? Think again.

Notice there are no quotation marks there. We're paraphrasing, folks. But even if those weren't the exact words, they convey the thought.

Now, we're not going to jump right into what Holgorsen actually said because, before we do, there is a certain relevance to an even larger issue here that I am obliged to point out. I don't need to condense it to the Cliff's Notes or Readers Digest version because it is really quite simple:

At a point in its evolution when West Virginia's athletic program is doing everything in its power to market itself to bigger and better conferences than the Big East, this is the unsaid. We can debate and lament until we're blue in the face about WVU's academics, its relatively small budget, its stadium size and other facilities, it's television market and the small size of the state in which it is located.

The fact of the matter is, many of those ills can be overcome by a large, rabid fan base. But the bottom line is, while you may include yourself as rabid, you are not large. You say you are, but you are not.

Or, better yet, let Holgorsen say it.

"We're all talking two weeks ago about how much difference the fans and the crowds make to the LSU people,'' Holgorsen said. "Well, LSU played well in front of 62,000 of our people and then turned around and went home and played a 1-4 Kentucky team at noon and had 95,000 people there. You want to talk about an elite program, that's one. I don't know about this place.''

Ouch. That hurt.

But it is absolutely and without a shred of doubt an issue.

You want numbers? Fine. Here they are. I didn't even have to look them up because I wrote about them just a few weeks back.

In the 10 seasons prior to this one, West Virginia played 65 home games. While some were technically sellouts, the actual attendance at only 19 of those 65 home games was at or above the stadium's capacity of 60,000.

In 2002, the Mountaineers were 9-4 and didn't draw a capacity crowd for a single game. In only two of the last 10 years did the school draw more than two crowds of 60,000. And even in those two seasons - 2006 and 2007 - there were four games where the attendance was below capacity.

This year? Well, for the past three seasons everyone complained that Bill Stewart had wrecked the program, in large part because he and Jeff Mullen drove an exciting, high-powered, score-at-will offense off a cliff. Enter Holgorsen. Problem solved. Not only is West Virginia 4-1 and ranked No. 16 in the country, the offense absolutely could not have done more of an about-face. You want passing? Two quarterbacks in the country have thrown for more yards than West Virginia's Geno Smith. You want running? No back in the country has run for more yards in a single game than Dustin Garrison did for the Mountaineers last week.

And the fan reaction? More people showed up for every single one of Bill Stewart's games than the 46,603 who paid to see West Virginia trounce Bowling Green 55-10 last week. Three weeks earlier, 51,911 came to see a 55-12 win over Norfolk State.

It's the opposition, you say? Well, 92,405 watched LSU beat someone called Northwestern State earlier this season. Even more were in that 92,000-seat stadium for that game with woeful Kentucky, which had just lost to awful Louisville.

Important point: I'm not criticizing fans for not showing up for a game against Bowling Green or Norfolk State, or for the fact that this Saturday's Big East opener against Connecticut isn't a sellout. Quite frankly, I don't care.

What I'm saying is don't talk ad nauseam about how West Virginia's rabid fan base is some terrific wild card selling point in the search for a conference to call home.

You might be rabid individually but, on the whole, West Virginia's fan base right now, in the face of that 46,603, seems minor league.

"I got out there and beat the drum [during the summer after being named the head coach]. I talked about how important it is to our athletic department and our players and our coaches to have support,'' Holgorsen said. "And all I heard was how big this was and how much this meant to everybody across the state of West Virginia. This was the NFL team here in town and we're going to be there to support you. Well, having 40,000 people at a game isn't doing that.''

As much as you would like to believe that what happened here two weekends ago with the crowd and the atmosphere and the enthusiasm for the LSU game was an eye-opener to potential conference suitors, so too was 46,603, probably 30,000 of whom disappeared to the parking lots or elsewhere at halftime. By the time the ghost of John Denver appeared to sing Country Roads, the crowd was less than that of the spring game.

Oh, by the way, in the conference to which West Virginia now seemingly aspires, Alabama had 91,312 for its spring game.

Holgorsen doesn't expect miracles, of course. He does expect effort, though. He talked about how easy it was to get his team up for LSU and how hard it was to get excited about Bowling Green - not simply because of any crowd issues, but just the natural letdown, combined with poor weather and everything else.

"Whatever the excuses were, our players didn't buy into it,'' Holgorsen said. "But obviously our fan base did. ... You only get seven opportunities a year. What's so hard about it? Is it cold? It wasn't too cold for our players. It wasn't too cold for our coaches or our managers or our players. They're out there. So why did we have 20,000 people less for this one than we did [for LSU]?

"The only thing we can do about it - and that's why I'm talking about it now - the only thing we can do about it is fix it. We do our best every week to fix whatever the problems are offensively, defensively and special-teams-wise. Well, what's everybody across the state of West Virginia - including the student body - doing to fix the fact that our players had to show up and play in front of 40,000 people?

"We have a conference game coming up this week. It's at noon. I can give you some excuses now. Playing a team that's 2-3; well, they should be 5-0. Playing at noon; well, who cares? Get up. The ManTrip's at 9:45. Are we going to have a good crowd or are we going to have nobody there? Is the weather going to be 85 and sunny or is it going to be 25 and snowing? It really doesn't matter because the coaches and players and trainers and everybody else is going to be there. That's what our job is, so what's the [fans'] job?''

We'll see.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com.


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