Holgorsen, Mr. Red Bull, has plenty of energy despite low-key persona
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - By now, anyone writing or talking about this Orange Bowl between Clemson and West Virginia has discussed why Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd eventually picked his school over the Mountaineers.
What hasn't really been discussed is what was most meaningful to Boyd. He met Coach Dabo Swinney, struggled to believe his personality was reality and then eventually couldn't imagine playing for someone else.
"There aren't too many schools you can go to and play for guys like that," Boyd said of Swinney, a chest-bumping, high-fiving character who does showy things and says quirky stuff, like accepting the Atlantic Coast Conference championship trophy and saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to announce that I'm taking my Clemson talents to South Beach, baby."
It's not an act. It's actually what makes the Tigers go and why they average 75 snaps per game.
"It'd be weird if your coach had more energy than the players," Boyd said. "He'd going to do some crazy things, but it's just so fun to play for such a unique guy."
Swinney is half the coaching matchup. His counterpart is West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen and during the game he's about as demonstrative as a windmill. He may get going from time to time, but he usually the same no matter when you look at him.
And yet he's the guy who challenged his players to challenge themselves and play with more energy and enthusiasm. Ask anyone who is about to play or coach in this game Wednesday and they will tell you that changed their season.
It just doesn't make sense because ... because ...
"Because I don't have any energy?" Holgorsen said.
Well, put that way, yes, that's the perception. The 40-year-old Holgorsen may brandish energy in a can and chug Red Bull during a game, but he only really gets riled up when he's mad at officials. Even then, it's often a smirk, a shake of the head and a roll of the eyes.
Off the field, away from his job, he is very different, but when he's in the game, he's in the game and he's not jumping out of the skin he's quite comfortable in to inspire his players.
So, in a way, Holgorsen preaching about energy and enthusiasm as keys to victory makes about as much sense as Holgorsen preaching about fullbacks and tight ends as keys to victory.
"I've always been the same way," he said. "I've never been a rah-rah guy. I think some of that stuff is fake. You do it when you need to do it and you don't do it if it's not something you do. That's my philosophy. You can't trick them."
And yet he has his team's attention.
"They know when they need to have energy," he said. "I am pretty low-key and I'm pretty relaxed when things are going the way they need to go. When things aren't going the way they need to go, they know exactly what's coming."
Soon after the deflating loss to Louisville, Holgorsen met with his team and said he was changing the way he decided who dressed out for games.
The Mountaineers were about to play in a pivotal game at Cincinnati and he vowed to only take the players who would prove worthy in practice by outwardly expressing how much they wanted to be on that road trip.
WVU normally takes 70 or 75 players on the road. Sixty-four went to Cincinnati. The Mountaineers won and showcased their newfound spirit from the beginning to the end, even if he merely offered a muted fist pump or a calibrated holler along the way.
He'd nevertheless made his point.
"It got through to the people we left at home," he said. "You've got to back it up."
Holgorsen said some players who were left at home that day made the next road trip to South Florida. A few never learned the lesson. There were no exceptions made to his rule and though he said he was tested, he never failed to establish his way.
It was like that throughout his first season as a head coach and it's not easy managing all the very different players, personalities and productivity on his team and predicting what punishments may do.
Holgorsen simplified it and didn't really care about the variety.
"It's all about being accountable for a variety of things," he said. "It's class, weights, being on time. It's saying do one thing and if you don't do it, you're going to be held accountable for what you are supposed to do. They still have to be held to the same standards."
The Mountaineers were a better team the rest of the way, more exciting and more excitable, and they found ways to rescue themselves from themselves. Then they were in a tight spot, they found a way to explode out of it and escape.
"Dana basically told the seniors, 'Listen, this is your team. Whether you're on special teams or defense of offense, if a good or bad play happens, you need to be there to provide a spark for us to move past that point,'" said outside receivers coach Darron Roberts, who has known Holgorsen since Roberts immersed himself with the coaching staff at Texas Tech for a project he was working on as a student at Texas.
"The guys took over, which is a credit to the coaches and the players on the sideline. He said, 'This is your sideline. I want you to own it and do everything you can within the rules to own the sideline.' The last three games, you saw a lot of energy and we never got too far down even though we had some tough scrapes."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.