Hey coach, don't be so defensive
MORGANTOWN - Have you heard the news?
Dana Holgorsen and his West Virginia coach staff haven't forgotten how to coach the game.
Surely you've heard, right? It was in all the papers, and on the radio and TV and on the Internet.
Not that anyone ever asked or suggested otherwise, mind you. But after back-to-back losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State by a combined score of 104-28, Holgorsen is obviously feeling a bit defensive, and it shows.
It began after the 49-14 beatdown at Texas Tech. It intensified following a 55-14 shellacking at the hands of Kansas State.
And it reached its head earlier this week at Holgorsen's weekly Tuesday press conference.
First came a rather innocuous, if rather poorly stated, question about any changes Holgorsen and his staff might have made. It was poorly stated because the inquisitor seemed to assume changes had been made - "What's the biggest thing you guys have changed in the last two weeks?'' - rather than asking if any were in the works, as might be assumed of a team that had been completely outplayed on offense, defense and special teams.
"Well, seeing as how we decided not to switch back to the 3-3 stack or decided not to go to a 4-2-5 or we decided not to start running the option, we decided not to go with just a hundred percent empty because we had a little bit of success with it against Baylor, then we probably didn't change a whole lot,'' Holgorsen said, the sarcasm fairly dripping.
"Hopefully we got refreshed and our mentality is good and body language is good and our confidence is back up and our players are excited about playing. [Hopefully] we practice hard this week and we get out there and we're excited to play a football game. We'll go out there and play to the best of our ability.''
In other words, "Changes? We don't need no stinking changes.''
Then came an even more pointed question, as in pointed as far away from criticizing the coaching as could possibly be. West Virginia's passing game - especially its vertical passing - hasn't been the same since Stedman Bailey had to sit out the second half at Texas Tech and then was essentially a non-factor against Kansas State. Might that have been related to his health, Holgorsen was asked, and would his return to again form a 1-2 punch with Tavon Austin remedy some of the problems?
Here's where it really veered off course.
"I didn't know we forgot how to coach,'' Holgorsen immediately fired back. "I didn't know our offensive problems were incredibly [affected] by one guy. That's not ever going to happen.
"Are we better with Stedman out there at a hundred percent? Yes. Are we better with a hundred-percent Shawne Alston? Yes. Is that the reason we lost? No. It's not. There's a whole bunch of things that go into it and we're working hard to try and fix them.''
Well, sure, you don't lose 49-14 and 55-14 because of one guy. And hopefully you don't go from scoring 70, 69 and 70 points in three of the previous six games to scoring three offensive touchdowns in the last two games because of one guy.
But the question was never about coaching to overcome the limitations of Bailey, but how much his return to form might help an offense that had unquestionably and irrefutably dropped off a cliff. You only answer the way Holgorsen did - to both questions - if it's starting to eat at you that people are questioning your ability to coach.
In that sense, maybe Holgorsen should borrow that completely ironic white hat that defensive coordinator Joe DeForest has taken to wearing after games in which his defense has reached lows that few thought possible.
It bears just one word: relax.
Granted, there are fans who question and criticize everything, especially when nothing is going right. Those who yearn for the days of Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 defense probably include many who spent the past decade deriding it. Others pine for the days when WVU's special teams were not good, as opposed to horrid. And the number of those who are deadly silent when Holgorsen's offense is scoring 10 touchdowns a game come out of the woodwork when it scores just one.
The fat new contract and preponderance of "outsiders'' running the program now certainly play heavily into any criticism, too.
But to become defensive about it? Not a good strategy. When each of your two-week paychecks approaches a gross of $100,000 - in a few years Holgorsen's will be more than $120,000 every two weeks, excluding bonuses - part of the deal is to take the heat. Just shut up and take it. Don't tell us you still know how to coach, just get back to work and prove it.
Coaches are criticized all the time. It comes from the fans and from the media. Sometimes the fans in West Virginia can be brutal. Deal with it. They are no worse - and largely not even close to being as bad - as others around the country.
The media? Here? Please. At any given press conference, if there are 50 media members in attendance as part of the corps covering West Virginia, I can usually count on one hand those who don't fall into at least one (and sometimes most) of the following categories: alums, students, those who work for an entity with a direct or indirect contractual relationship with WVU's athletic department, or those who have a flying WV on their clothes or car and refer to the team as "we.''
In other words, Holgorsen isn't exactly getting raked over the coals like Les Miles when he loses two games in a season, much less two weeks. The only people who think you've forgotten how to coach are the ones who never thought you could in the first place.
So stop being so defensive.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.