Luck: WVU 'must get better,' Holgorsen's job safe
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck said Tuesday that football coach Dana Holgorsen's job is safe for now, although Luck sounded a warning shot following a 4-8 season that the Mountaineers "must get better."
Luck issued a statement indicating he's sticking with Holgorsen after the Mountaineers missed out on a bowl for the first time in 12 seasons. But Luck said "there were far too many disappointments."
Luck said he and Holgorsen met at length to review the season, including discussions of the coaching staff, which embarked on recruiting trips this week.
"I strongly believe in our coaching staff, including the work that our strength and conditioning staff is doing," he said. "In my opinion, continuity is the key ingredient that will bring our football program back to the high level that Mountaineer fans expect.
Holgorsen is 21-17 in three seasons. In 2014 he's set to earn at least $2.7 million in salary and bonuses in the third year of a six-year contract.
Luck cited a desire for WVU to become a national power when he hired Holgorsen to eventually replace Bill Stewart as coach. Holgorsen went 10-3 in his first season that included Big East championship and a 70-33 win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
But the Mountaineers have gone 6-12 in their first two seasons in the Big 12, including 2-7 this year.
"We had plenty of challenges this season; nonetheless, we should not and will not use those as excuses for our performance," Luck said. "We simply must get better."
It doesn't get any easier next year. Holgorsen must replace 11 starters, including six on defense. And the Mountaineers open the season against Alabama in the Georgia Dome.
"We have high expectations for the 2014 football team," Luck said.
The 2013 season had a common theme for the Mountaineers, who surrendered four second-half leads in their final six games.
"We have talked about finishing all year long," Holgorsen said after Saturday's 52-44 loss to Iowa State in triple overtime. "It is something that will be addressed in the offseason.
"Why can't we close games? It comes down to execution and a burning desire to win. You need a collection of guys not wanting to let each other down and coaches not wanting to let the players down. Obviously, we don't have that right now."
One of the season's few highlights was a 30-21 win over Oklahoma State on Sept. 28, the sixth-ranked Cowboys' only loss.
The defense was the worst in the Big 12 in passing yards and touchdown passes allowed and had the second-fewest sacks in the league.
The Mountaineers must mold the 2014 defense around three of their top four tacklers: linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski and Jared Barber and safety Karl Joseph. Two of the lost starters on defensive are linemen Will Clarke and Shaq Rowell.
On offense, West Virginia's 316 points scored were nearly 200 less than last season and were the team's fewest since 2008. The Mountaineers were outscored in every quarter except the fourth, when they held a 105-103 edge.
Three quarterbacks who all got starts this season will return, but combined they threw as many interceptions (16) as touchdowns.
Florida State transfer Clint Trickett arrived on campus in May, started seven games and now has an entire offseason to learn the playbook. Holgorsen liked what little he saw from redshirt freshman Ford Childress, who missed the final eight games recovering from a torn chest muscle.
The search will be on to fill the shoes of Charles Sims, who in his only season became the team's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2009. His 45 pass receptions tied Daikiel Shorts for the team lead.
With Sims off to the NFL draft, possible replacements include second-leading rusher Dreamius Smith (494 yards) and freshman Wendell Smallwood (221). West Virginia also loses three starting offensive linemen.
Holgorsen and his staff also will need to identify some return specialists. West Virginia averaged a league-low 3 yards on punt returns and 18.6 yards on kickoff returns this season.