WVU officially on hunt for coach

January 3, 2019


CHARLESTON — West Virginia University officially is on the hunt for a new football coach.

The University of Houston announced Wednesday afternoon that it has hired Dana Holgorsen, who spent the last eight seasons as the Mountaineers’ coach, as its new football coach, replacing the fired Major Applewhite. Reports have Holgorsen’s deal with the Cougars at five years and $20 million.

The news came through the UH football program’s Twitter feed via a four-second video of Holgorsen donning a Houston visor, holding a Red Bull in one hand and throwing up the Cougars’ “UH” hand signal with the other.

“Go Coogs,” Holgorsen said. “Hey, y’all wanna go win some games? Let’s go win some games.”

The line was a callback to what he said to WVU players before the 2-point conversion that gave the Mountaineers the win over Texas this season in Austin.

Holgorsen leaves WVU with a 61-41 overall record and a 2-5 record in bowl games. One of those bowl victories was a record-smashing 70-33 Orange Bowl win over Clemson in his inaugural season.

Holgorsen is known for his high-octane offenses. Former quarterback Geno Smith set several school records in Holgorsen’s offense and former quarterback Will Grier finished fourth in voting for the Heisman Trophy in December.

Houston Athletic Director Chris Pezman said that skill in scoring was a big reason Holgorsen was coming to town.

“His offensive acumen with an emphasis on student-athlete development on and off the field, is a perfect fit for our program, university and city,” Pezman said in a release on the university’s athletics website.

Holgorsen served as Houston’s offensive coordinator under former head coach Kevin Sumlin in 2008-09 and said he was “beyond excited” to return.

“This city and the University of Houston has unlimited potential,” he said in the same release, “and I am honored to be a part of it.”

Holgorsen’s introductory news conference at UH is scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday.

WVU Athletic Director Shane Lyons released a statement shortly after Houston’s announcement, thanking Holgorsen for his service and saying the search for a new coach was on.

“Our national search for his replacement has already begun, and I know it will be a successful one,” Lyons said. “A proven record of competitive success, a passion for the student-athlete, emphasis on academics and a strong work ethic are among the qualities that I will be looking for in our next head coach.

“We will move quickly to bring him to Morgantown to continue our strong winning tradition and solidify our place in the Big 12 and on the national scene. We are looking forward to this new and exciting era of Mountaineer football.”

Reports had surfaced after WVU’s loss to Syracuse in the Camping World Bowl that the Cougars were circling Holgorsen to replace Apple white, who had gone 8-5 in 2018 with a 70-14 loss to Army in the Armed Forces Bowl. On Monday, Houston asked for and received permission to talk to Holgorsen about the job.

Between late Monday night and early Tuesday, reports out of Houston had the deal at a certainty. The timing was important, as on Jan. 1, Holgorsen’s buyout to leave for another job dropped from $2.5 million to $1 million.

The move of a sitting coach at a Power Five conference program to a Group of Five conference for a football coach is rare. The Power Five, made up of the Big 12, Big Ten, Atlantic Coast, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences, are home to the biggest programs in college athletics. The Group of Five, which includes the American Athletic, Sun Belt, Mountain West and Mid-American conferences and Conference USA, house programs with smaller budgets.

The Big 12, where WVU resides, has an automatic berth in the New Year’s Six bowls — the Sugar, Rose, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and Peach. The American, where Houston resides, fights with the rest of the Group of Five for one berth.

Yet Holgorsen has history and plenty of financial incentive at Houston.

The reported $4 million per year the 47-year-old Holgorsen will receive at Houston is the richest contract handed to a Group of Five football coach in history. According to the contract extension Holgorsen signed with WVU in 2016, he was due $3.6 million in 2018 and $3.7 million in 2019.

Houston likely had some help in that deal from Tilman Fertitta, a restaurateur who also owns the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casinos and the Houston Rockets. Fertitta, worth $4.5 billion and ranked at No. 153 on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans, is a major UH booster. He tweeted his joy at Holgorsen’s hiring as well.

“It’s official.” Fertitta wrote, posting a picture of him and Holgorsen along with Pezman. “Please join (UH President Renu Khator), (Pezman) and I in welcoming (Holgorsen) as the @UHouston football coach. We are looking forward to having you expand on our already awesome program.”

The man who hired Holgorsen at WVU, former AD Oliver Luck, also applauded Houston’s move. Luck — now the commissioner of the XFL, professional wrestling impresario Vince McMahon’s new professional football league — has a history in Houston as well. He was a former Houston Oilers quarterback, former CEO of the Houston Sports Authority and former general manager of the Houston DynamoMajor League Soccer franchise.

“I think it puts (Houston) in a really strong position, not just within their conference, but in the bigger picture as well,” Luck said in a statement to Houston television station Fox 26. “I hired him because we had this opportunity to join the Big 12. That’s a league where you’ve got to score a lot of points to win and I thought he gave us a very good chance in that conference which was a new conference for the Mountaineers.

“That was really my rationale for hiring Dana,” he said, “and I think, in a way, that applies to U of H as well.”

Now the quest in Morgantown is to find Holgorsen’s replacement. Among the names mentioned nationally have been Troy coach Neal Brown and Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell. WVU players have taken to social media in recent days to stump for current Mountaineer defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, who has experience as an assistant atWVU, Michigan, Pittsburgh and Arizona, but no head coaching experience.

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