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New assistants get comfortable with Holgorsen

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - When Dana Holgorsen arrived at West Virginia in December 2010, he did so with the reputation of an offensive innovator who became a career-driven mercenary.

He didn't really object, either.

Holgorsen started his career working at three places in seven seasons before spending eight at Texas Tech. Then came more moves made with a head coaching job in mind, and the press conference that introduced him at WVU a few days before Christmas was the third in three years.

And on that occasion, Holgorsen joked that his priority was to keep defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel happy.

During the season that followed, Holgorsen would say he concentrated only on offense and let Casteel run the defense. To be fair, Holgorsen was forced to work as the offensive coordinator throughout his first season as head coach.

Casteel is gone, running the defense at the University of Arizona. Joe DeForest, who was at Oklahoma State for 11 seasons, including 2010 with Holgorsen, is in Casteel's place.

The faces have changed and Holgorsen's role also is different. He has freed himself to become more involved with other parts of the team by naming receivers coach Shannon Dawson the offensive coordinator.

But has Holgorsen's administrative philosophy changed?

"He lets us do what we want, but he and I talk a lot about suggestions and about what gives him problems, what gives us problems and I think if we work together as a team and let each other know the good and the bad, it works," DeForest said.

"A lot of offenses and defenses won't share that information because they're scared of giving away secrets."

Casteel occasionally would highlight the struggles in practicing against Holgorsen's offense because it was so different from what other offenses do. The offense had no tight end, for example, and the WVU defense went the entire spring last year without working against sets that featured them.

DeForest is comfortable with Holgorsen's offense because he worked against it in 2010 and because it remained after Holgorsen left for WVU. They've done more than spring practice together, though, and DeForest knows how Holgorsen will manage a game, say, when his defense needs a break from the Big 12's fastbreak style of football.

"Dana's the head coach," DeForest said. "He's in charge of team management and managing the game. The head coach's responsibility within the framework of the offense and the defense is to get a pulse as the head coach and to get a feel for whether we are tired, whether we need a blow, whether we need to milk the clock."

The tactics belong to DeForest and not everyone would defer like Holgorsen. More coaches are workaholics and involved in every aspect from recruiting to academics to coaching whatever they can coach. Holgorsen does all that, but without as much depth as many others.

Even more unusual, Holgorsen is a coach who is fine with delegating responsibility - and on defense, he hired two assistants and moved another from offense in the offseason.  

"It's probably hard to find guys like that, but it definitely frees you up to be able to interject and to be sure you're headed in the right direction," said linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson.

DeForest and Patterson were the offeseason additions. Patterson is a 10-year college coaching veteran who last worked at Pitt with Todd Graham, who was a defensive coordinator when he was at WVU, but became deeply involved in offense as he progressed as a head coach.

Patterson finds Holgorsen's approach unique, but effective.

"Sometimes a head coach can be too involved," Patterson said. "Dana knows what he wants defensively and he laid out a blueprint and said, 'Here's what I want,' and he hired a group of people and entrusted them to do what he wants. He's not a hands-on-every-day, in-every-meeting coach, but he's definitely the head coach and he knows what he wants on defense."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blog is at


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