For West Virginia University sports fans, the only positive that can come from Saturday’s loss to Kentucky in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is that spring football practice is only one week away.
Monday, March 28, 2011 is the start of spring drills for the Mountaineers, culminating in the Blue and Gold game on April 29, 2011.
Three straight nine-win seasons prompted Athletic Director Oliver Luck to hire offensive coordinator/head coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen.
For those fans that are concerned, current Head Coach Bill Stewart is not a “dead man walking”. Actually, Stewart may be the only coach in college football that can make the current situation at WVU work.
Stewart has the 2011 football season as his curtain call, his final go as the head coach of his favorite team from his home state.
Don Nehlen, WVU’s Hall of Fame coach of 21 seasons, got a bowl game as his swan song. Nehlen put an exclamation point on his career at WVU with a resounding victory in that bowl game.
Rich Rodriguez, the former WVU coach that Mountaineer Nation loves to hate, got the 13-9 loss to Pitt as his final game. The loss knocked WVU out of a chance to play for the national title.
So, how will Stewart’s final season unfold?
If Luck has his way, it will be a monumental success. Luck has done as much as an athletic director can do to place his head coach in a position to prosper.
Stewart is in the enviable position of having coordinators that are among the most respected at their positions. Both Jeff Casteel and Dana Holgorsen, and their staffs, know what it takes to win football games.
To his credit, Stewart seems to understand the potential for success that Luck has afforded him. Furthermore, Stewart appears to have every intention of doing his part to see that potential become a reality.
To accentuate the point even further, there is talent on the roster in Morgantown. There were losses to graduation, just ask the defensive coaches. Still, there is a core group of players with talent to draw from.
The challenges facing each unit are polar opposites.
Defensively, the unit will be young, having lost seven starters to graduation from the nations No. three defense in 2010. Casteel and Co. will have their work cut out for them to mold the remaining defensive players into one of the nation’s top units again.
The defensive staff has over 60 years of combined experience coaching the Mountaineer defense. A level of experience almost unheard of in college football, the coaching pedigree would suggest that the Mountaineer defense would be alive and well next season.
WVU may not field a top five defense in 2011, but they will not fall off the map. Look for Casteel and Co. to put their defense in the top-25 nationally.
The offense returns almost intact with experienced depth at almost every position. The loss of Noel Devine and Jock Sanders will be felt, to be certain. Still, the impression is that there are players with experience to step in and take over.
It is the offensive coaches and their system that provide the most concern. How fast, if at all, will the players adjust and understand the new offensive philosophy?
The answer to that question will not come until the games are actually played in September.
Like the defensive staff, there is a record of accomplishment to draw from for the offensive staff. Holgorsen has shown a propensity for installing his offense in short order, and his players have not only succeeded but also flourished.
It is well documented that Holgorsen and Co. have made every offensive position open for competition.
The proverbial cupboard is not bare; Holgorsen and his staff will improve the offensive production at WVU. Like the defense, WVU may not field a top five unit. Holgorsen will still improve the overall offensive production. Look for WVU to return to the top-25 offensively.
Mountaineer Nation can take pride in the knowledge that WVU will field one of the best-coached teams in the nation in 2011.
Many will give the credit to the respective coordinators—after all, they will be a large part of the success. So too will the players.
Keep in mind that the head coach is still Bill Stewart. At the end of the day, any success that the football team enjoys on the field starts at his door.
Of all the potentially negative outcomes that could happen, none will. Stewart will do whatever he can to see the Mountaineer football team succeed in 2011. Is there anything else a fan can ask of his head coach?
WVU will not succeed in spite of Bill Stewart, it will succeed because of Bill Stewart.