WVU Mountaineers Football and Oliver Luck: Is 2011 West Virginia's Lucky Year?

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WVU Mountaineers Football and Oliver Luck: Is 2011 West Virginia's Lucky Year?
Aaron M. Sprecher/Getty Images

With just over six months on the job, West Virginia University Athletic Director Oliver Luck made a bold move, and some of his critics say that he handled it poorly, mistreating Bill Stewart after years of faithful service.  Bill Stewart is out, and Dana Holgorsen is in, but not until 2012. 

In 2011, Holgorsen will act as WVU's offensive coordinator under Bill Stewart and assume head coaching responsibilities the following year when Bill Stewart takes a position in the school’s athletic department.  So, what does that spell for next year?  A closer look at this decision reveals an interesting possibility—the possibility that Luck handled this perfectly.  Here’s why:

Anyone who doesn’t believe that Holgorsen is a hot commodity right now simply doesn’t know college football.  There is no need to repeat the impressive statistics that have been reported ad nauseam since news of his hiring broke.  Suffice it to say that Holgorsen takes teams with trouble scoring and turns them into teams that score at will—period. 

How long can a coach with his talent continue to produce mind-boggling results before he is snatched up for a head coaching job?  What if he landed at one of the Mountaineers’ rivals, for instance Pittsburgh?  Oliver Luck knew Dana from his time in Houston, was aware of his abilities, and sensed that he could make the deal happen this year.  Good for him.  These are the types of decisions that WVU hired him to make.

What’s more is that Holgorsen is known for making an immediate impact on teams.  Ask Houston and Oklahoma State fans if you doubt that.  The numbers speak for themselves.  Both teams went from offensive mediocrity to leading in offensive statistics nationwide under his leadership.  Oklahoma State’s turn-around happened in Holgorsen’s first year on the job.  With the talent WVU is returning on offense next year, it seems like the sky is the limit.  Add a more productive offense to Jeff Casteel’s physical shut-down defense and the results could be scary. 

Imagine that combination this year.  The Mountaineers lost by six points to LSU on sacred SEC ground.  If West Virginia would have put up the numbers Holgorsen’s teams routinely score and the defense played exactly as it did, it is reasonable to expect that the Mountaineers would have left Death Valley with a win.  And surely a more potent offensive attack would have knocked off Big East foes Syracuse and UCONN, both of which squeaked out narrow upsets against the Mountaineers this year. 

West Virginia could easily be undefeated and boasting a serious quality road win against a top-notch SEC team, likely placing WVU in the top five in the nation.  With a few well-placed losses from the right teams the Mountaineers could be looking down the barrel at a spot in the National Championship game.

What else is important about 2011?  Remember that TCU will be moving to the Big East in 2012.  For several years WVU has enjoyed the advantage of greater tradition, facilities and talent than the other teams in the conference.  The very fact that they managed only a share in the Big East championship once in those three years is precisely why Oliver Luck made a coaching change to begin with.  West Virginia should have dominated the conference over the last three years, and 2011 will be the last opportunity to take advantage of their “big fish” status. 

This isn’t to say that WVU cannot beat TCU, but the addition of TCU and murmurs around the league indicate that there will be a sharp upswing in the competition level in the Big East.  Winning the Big East should prove more difficult in the near future.  2011 is West Virginia’s best chance to snag a National Championship, which is pretty significant for a program that holds the most wins of any FBS team without one.

So why keep Bill Stewart if the key to all of this is Dana Holgorsen’s offensive prowess? True, Bill Stewart will still be at the helm of the 2011 Mountaineers, but this time he will command an offense lead by Dana Holgorsen and a stingy Jeff Casteel directed defense.  And we’ve already discussed what that could look like.  Bill Stewart keeping the head coach position for 2011 is important for a couple of reasons.

First, Holgorsen and Casteel are going to have to work together if the Mountaineers are going to go take it to the next level, as advertised by Oliver Luck.  What better way to do that than to give them a year to work out the kinks?  On top of that, the notoriously level headed Bill Stewart will be there to lend his calm hand to the transition. 

In effect, Holgorsen will get all of the first year jitters out of the way while Bill Stewart is there to help him out.  2012 will look less like a new coach taking over an unfamiliar team and more like a familiar face taking on new duties within his own team.  This arrangement works well for 2011 and the future.

Secondly, if it all pans out, and West Virginia can navigate the tumultuous waters of the BCS to win a National Championship, it will be Bill Stewart who goes down in history as the first Mountaineer head football coach to accomplish that feat, not Dana Holgorsen. 

Coach Stewart will get to hang up the gloves as a winner—perhaps the greatest winner in WVU history—and head directly into a cushy position in the athletic department to enjoy his spot in the annals of college football history.  Any talk of Luck’s mistreatment of Bill Stewart would be squashed, and Bill Stewart would go out with the distinction he deserves.

Oliver Luck has created a great opportunity for West Virginia based on long term expectations, and with some innovative thinking, he has managed to leave a little promise left over for the short term.  If the lucky stars align, it may just pay out sooner than anyone is expecting, and the Mountaineer faithful will thank their lucky star.  His name is Oliver.

Adam Sinsel

December 20, 2010

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