MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Let's get this out of the way before we go any further: This could be Dana Holgorsen's last game as West Virginia's football coach.
Enough has gone wrong in the past two seasons to make that a clear possibility. No matter how many fans aren't at Mountaineer Field today, there are still enough people who care about the past, present and future of the program, who care about the welfare of the players, the tradition and the reputation of the Mountaineers to make such a decision.
Yet some will have you believe there are 11.3 million rea$on$ the Mountaineers won't, maybe can't and perhaps shouldn't do it. There's probably something to that, except that WVU wouldn't immediately owe Holgorsen $11.3 million if it fired him tomorrow.
Eventually, yes, but not immediately. The difference is not insignificant.
The contract Holgorsen signed in August 2012 says WVU will pay a fired Holgorsen a fraction of the buyout in June of every year remaining on the contract. That's a much more palatable $2.825 million in June 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 - plus a bizarre $300,000 retention incentive still due March 1, 2014, even if he's crushing Red Bull somewhere else. WVU would owe him that because Holgorsen wouldn't have left for another job or been fired by WVU because he did something illegal, immoral, unethical or worthy of termination beyond coaching losing football.
Yet Holgorsen's boss, Athletic Director Oliver Luck, seems like a pragmatic guy who believes in the process, and the process is what Holgorsen has preached. Don't forget, either, that Luck watched a rather unproven head coach remodel Stanford. Jim Harbaugh's entire college coaching resume before Palo Alto was three years as the head coach at San Diego in the Football Championship Subdivision.
But in December 2006, Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby, now the Big 12 commissioner, hired Harbaugh and Harbaugh was 4-8 in 2007, 5-7 when Luck's son, Andrew, was redshirting in 2008, and then 8-5 and 12-1 with the younger Luck as his starting quarterback.
Harbaugh is now running the San Francisco 49ers, and Stanford is isn't doing bad, either.
Precedent might be pointless, too. Of the aforementioned folks who care about WVU, no one has a greater investment than Luck, and the decision, of course, is his and based solely on his discretion.
To make a case for Holgorsen is to make note of the injuries on defense and at quarterback and how both allowed neither the offense nor the defense to really get in shape this season. Should a coach and his staff be able to coach up a quarterback in a backup role? Yes. Should there be depth to absorb injuries? Yes - though to a reasonable extent. But adjusting is an inevitable act and an invaluable tool in coaching and the past two teams have been lacking in that regard.
Proper armament might be coming, though, and the Mountaineers should be much better in 2014, which might serve as the better now-or-never moment for Luck and Holgorsen.
At worst, WVU has three quarterbacks who have practiced and played as the starter, which does away with some inexperience issues, and we probably never got a complete look at Ford Childress. If healthy, he could be the story of the spring.
The Mountaineers lose running back Charles Sims to graduation, but Pitt transfer Rushel Shell is, in the eyes of some who have seen him work, capable of being the team's best player next season, while Andrew Buie's apparent return to the team should happen in January. Put them with Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood, who looks as though he can handle the allaround game Sims plays, and the Mountaineers will again be good in the backfield.
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