Mentor meeting prized pupil
MORGANTOWN - In a lot of ways, the familiarity between Dana Holgorsen and whatever Big 12 opponent his West Virginia football team is playing each week is a tired issue.
After all, he's coached within the conference almost exclusively for the past 14 years. He's with his third Big 12 program now that the Mountaineers are in the league, and with that kind of background it's hard to avoid renewing old acquaintances on a fairly regular basis.
"It's seems like each and every week we're playing against somebody that's associated with the program or guys that I've coached with in the past or guys I've coached in the past,'' Holgorsen said. "There's a lot of carry-over in the Big 12 when it comes to that.''
This week, though, is a bit different.
When West Virginia (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) faces No. 16 Texas Tech (6-0, 3-0) Saturday at Mountaineer Field, Holgorsen will again face the program where he essentially grew up. He was either a receivers coach or the offensive coordinator for the Red Raiders for eight years under Mike Leach. It's where he took his biggest leap as a coach, going from anonymous places like Valdosta State, Mississippi College and Wingate to growing into a recognized offensive mastermind at the Division I level.
And, of course, it's also where he first encountered Kliff Kingsbury.
On Saturday, Kingsbury comes to Morgantown as the rookie head coach at Texas Tech. In 2000, when Holgorsen arrived at Texas Tech, Kingsbury was the Red Raiders' quarterback, on his way to throwing for more than 12,000 yards and setting seven NCAA records.
Perhaps even more significantly, when Kingsbury finally gave up playing in 2008 after five nondescript seasons bouncing around the NFL, Europe and Canada, it was Holgorsen who put him on the path he's still on today.
"It was more my coaching days under him,'' Kingsbury said. "I wouldn't have gotten into coaching if it weren't for Dana.''
By the time Kingsbury had finished playing, Holgorsen had also done all he could do at Texas Tech. In 2008 he left the nest of Red Raiders coach Mike Leach to become the offensive coordinator at Houston under newly hired Kevin Sumlin, brought in from Oklahoma.
Holgorsen persuaded Sumlin to hire Kingsbury as Houston's quality control coach. Within two years, Holgorsen was hired away from Houston by Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State and Sumlin made Kingsbury his offensive co-coordinator. Within a few years of that, Sumlin took Kingsbury with him to Texas A&M and, after helping Johnny Manziel win a Heisman Trophy, he was hired by his alma mater as the head coach.
And perhaps none of it would have happened had Holgorsen not convinced him to get into coaching at Houston.
"He's the one who got me a job at the University of Houston and I actually lived with him when I worked there,'' Kingsbury said. "So yeah, we're very close.''
To say that Kingsbury's rise through the coaching ranks has been meteoric might be an understatement. How many coaches have ever gone from a quality control job to an FBS head coach of a Top 25 team in five years?
In some ways, though, it's not a shock to Holgorsen.
"They've had success, which is not surprising,'' Holgorsen said. "Kliff's a bright, young coach who was an extremely competitive player and is an extremely competitive football coach. He's doing good things in the short time that he's been there.''
Kingsbury also has the added advantage at Tech of not having to try to fit in to a new environment.
"Kliff's doing a great job of getting them to play at a very confident level with a tremendous amount of energy,'' Holgorsen said. "There's a tremendous amount of excitement surrounding the program. It's not surprising that he was able to get it going there in a short amount of time, based on his past there and how well he knows the fan base and how he knows what the school pride's all about.''
To think that Kingsbury learned all he knows about coaching from Holgorsen, of course, just isn't true. He played under Leach and the Texas Tech staff that set records for offensive production. He branched out under Sumlin at both Houston and Texas A&M.
But Holgorsen's contribution shouldn't be dismissed, either.
"Watching how he game-planned every week, watching how he installed the offense, I learned a ton from him,'' Kingsbury said. "The biggest thing I learned from him - and I think he's a master at it - is adapting to his personnel. He never tried to force a round peg into a square hole. If you don't have the players to run a certain type of offense, well, adapt your offense.
"That's one thing that's always stuck with me. You need to build your offense around the type of players that you have and not vice versa.''
Kingsbury has certainly accomplished that. At Houston he helped polish Case Keenum and a pass-heavy offense. At Texas A&M he helped develop Manziel and tailor the offense to his unique run-pass abilities. And this year at Texas Tech the Red Raiders are both throwing and running the ball effectively with two true freshman quarterbacks.
None of the history between Holgorsen and Kingsbury, though, will matter come Saturday afternoon.
"Every time you play against guys that you like or coached with in the past, you wish them a lot of luck in every game other than one,'' Holgorsen said. "We don't think too much about it, to be honest. We worry about our own team.''
BRIEFLY: Holgorsen on Tuesday said that defensive lineman Christian Brown will miss the rest of the season with an injury suffered during weightlifting. Holgorsen said Brown will take a medical redshirt.
Holgorsen also said that backup safety Wes Tonkery will miss six weeks with a broken thumb, but that linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski is fully healthy after missing time with a hamstring injury.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734
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