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WVU football: Holgorsen molding future

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- When West Virginia played LSU at Mountaineer Field last September, the home team found it still had something to learn about major college football.

It had nothing to do with the 47-21 final score against the Tigers team that wound up playing for the national championship.

Someone, or some group of people, was able to get into the team locker room during the game and rifle through lockers, backpacks, pockets, wallets or whatever else was supposedly safe in WVU's sanctuary.

The explanation after the act was as simple as it was unacceptable.

No one was guarding the unlocked area.

"The whole building was wide open," WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said nine months later, still perplexed by the circumstances. "This is our safe haven. Our players and coaches are supposed to be protected here."

There was no vandalism. As best as anyone could tell, only a few items were stolen from a few players. The invasion of their privacy and the fact it could have been so easily prevented mattered most.

"It hurt the people inside the building, but that's the way it had always been," Holgorsen said.

"The building had always been wide open, but that's not how college football works. That's not how 99.99 percent of all the other places across the country are.

"This is our home. How many people across the country leave their front door open so it swings open and lets someone walk in and take something from someone's house?"

The truly remarkable part was that it wasn't the first time it happened. WVU's locker room had been similarly burglarized the prior April during the spring game.

After the LSU loss, enough was finally enough.

"The doors don't swing open anymore," Holgorsen said. "They actually got locked and it didn't happen again."

This is but a small example of a big part of Holgorsen's first season.

The Puskar Center, the team's epicenter that serves as its practice and meeting site, has changed a lot since Holgorsen took over last June. He was able to make many functional and aesthetic alterations and additions before the start of the 2012 season, which is when he was supposed to start until the bizarre circumstances of last summer pulled him into his position a year early.

Almost everything is geared toward performance and recruiting and WVU is perhaps a year ahead of schedule, but actually right on time as it enters the Big 12 Conference in the fall. Holgorsen's second preseason camp begins today with a 5 p.m. practice, and the only Mountaineers coach to win 10 games in his first season admits there was a benefit to starting earlier than originally planned.

"It expedited things a little bit because from the day I got here I expressed my opinion and I had a voice that was heard based on the future," Holgorsen said. "That's because the guys that hired me trusted me and I trusted them, and it had to happen sooner than we thought.

"But the minute I got here, I started to evaluate things from a long-term standpoint. If there was something that needed to be fixed, like having desks out as soon as you come in so someone can help you, that was something I voiced an opinion on."

*  *  *

The Puskar Center has two entrances on opposite sides of the front of the building. Before last year, someone could walk in through either entrance and have unchecked access to the rest of the building. There are secretaries at a desk in the middle of a hallway that joins the entrances, but it was easy for someone to avoid that and just wander aimlessly.

Now there are desks from where someone greets visitors.

Things are very different throughout the rest of the Puskar Center. There are dozens of timely photographs decorating the hallways. They replaced older ones that hung for years and focused on the Fiesta Bowl triumph in 2008. What is displayed now will be replaced in the near future.

There are leather chairs and matching pieces of furniture that now offer a suitably cozy and organized environment.

Those items were high atop Holgorsen's list.

"You'd be amazed at what it was like, from TVs to screens to furniture," he said. "It goes back to recruiting as far as wanting to have stuff that is functional and wanting to have nice stuff so you can sway a recruit."

Holgorsen points to the dark brown, wooden blinds that line the long, large windows looking out into the parking lot. The blinds, he said, signify progress.

"Those are relatively cheap," he said. "But if you come in here and they're old and dirty or if you go into an assistant coach's office and they're crooked, it just looks like crap. You want a kid to come in and sit in your office and have it look professional. It matters. Perception is everything."

WVU has been planning and performing renovations for the academic area for players and meeting rooms for coaches. They'll all have more space and better technology and Holgorsen believes that leads to more productivity.

The coaches' offices have all been updated so they have matching furniture, as opposed to a variety of pieces, and new large, flat-screen TVs "that actually let them watch film now," Holgorsen said. Film was further addressed by buying high definition video equipment.

"It's all about preparation," Holgorsen said. "You've only got so many hours a week you can meet with the kids and only so many hours a week you can prepare for an opponent. What's the point in practicing if you can't film it and learn from it? What's the point of practicing if you can't sit down with a kid and show him exactly what he did right and what he did wrong?

"One of the first things we did was fix the quality of the film. We'd be watching the opponent and we couldn't make out the numbers on the jerseys. So we fixed the TVs and the quality of the film, which means we can learn better now."

*  *  *

Holgorsen believes the best way to attain success is to keep things simple. The fact he needs three days to install his offense is famous now. Friends and foes find it hard to believe he takes about two dozen plays into a game. It's no different when it comes to prettying his program. He's focused only on where his team meets and practices.

"The glitz and glamor stuff, I don't care about," he said. "I just want to function."

The meeting areas are being addressed, which has Holgorsen ready to look toward where his team practices.

"The weight room is used 365 days out of the year and that's no different than practice," he said. "The functionality of our weight room is an issue that's high on the list. That's got to be changed."

Outside of the Puskar Center, WVU has other problems. Holgorsen would prefer to practice on grass around 80 percent of the time.

He can only use the grass practice field for about two weeks before the turf is too damaged to continue. He said the indoor practice facility "doesn't exist, unless it's offseason conditioning," because it has a 70-yard field and a low ceiling that prevents any type of constructive kicking or punting.

The Mountaineers are instead left with the stadium, and that's not ideal, either.

"First, it's not big enough," he said. "It's a field-and-a-quarter when everybody in the world has at least two full practice fields. We're tripping over each other in there.

"To me, practicing in there every now and then is something special. Playing games in there is something special. But now being in there is like an everyday thing. So it's space and it's that Mountaineer Field needs to be special. You need to be in there when it's time to be in there."

WVU is handcuffed, though, because there isn't much room available at the football complex. If there was, the indoor building might be bigger or there would already be an extra grass field.

"You can find room," Holgorsen said. "There's a lot of space out there. We can do something. But that's long-term. I understand that. I'm not mad about that."

Indeed, Holgorsen and his boss, Athletic Director Oliver Luck, have discussed this in depth on numerous occasions. Luck understands Holgorsen's need to grow and Holgorsen grasps the trouble they'll have with the close confines surrounding the stadium and the expanding Ruby Memorial Hospital nearby.

"There are some things we can look at and brainstorm about," Luck said. "The architects we're working with are looking at some things at the Puskar building and the stadium concourse and they're looking at some really radical ideas about just the land use. But the bottom line is it's tight over there and you're bumping up against homes and apartments that have been there 40 or 50 years.

"It's something we have to look at when it's doable with regard to time and finances."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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