A Little Know-Howe: WVU Football Questions for 2014 the Same as Those in 2013

By Brad Howe on December 07, 2013


Oliver Luck announced earlier this week that WVU head football coach Dana Holgorsen would be returning next season. The fact that he felt the need to make a statement about an employee who has 4 years (and $11.3 million) remaining on his contract tells you all you need to know about the state of the WVU football program right now.
It was a disastrous season. There is really no other way to describe it. The first shutout in more than a decade (39-0 at Maryland), the second most points ever given up by a Mountaineer team (73 to Baylor, surpassed only by the 130 scored by Michigan in 1904), the first conference team to lose to Kansas in nearly three seasons, the first Big 12 team since 2007 to lose to Kansas and Iowa State in the same season and near record low attendance at the season finale against Iowa State were all moments that marked one of the most disappointing football seasons in more than a decade. 
Given the way the season played out, it wasn't a surprise so many people were wondering aloud whether Dana Holgorsen would return. It was difficult to find an area of this football team that was better in November than it was in September. The lone bright spot was Houston transfer, Charles Sims who became the first WVU running back to eclipse the 1,000 yard rushing mark since 2009.
We have nine months to predict, discuss and debate what will happen to the 2014 version of the Mountaineer football team. But, that shouldn't stop us from diving in now. There is a lot of work to do during the off season with this team and the same questions remain as we look ahead to 2014 as existed when we began 2013.
Who will be the quarterback? Who produces from the running back position? How good will the offensive line be? Are there any receivers that come close to replacing the production from Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey from 2012? Can the defense improve from one of the worst seasons in the history of Mountaineer football?
Look at those questions again. Literally, the same ones we asked last August. We went through an entire season of football and didn't answer a single question. That's hard to do, folks. 
There is one key difference from the start of the 2013 season to the start of the 2014 season…the first opponent. As you all well know, WVU opens the season against Alabama, not William & Mary as they did last year. To say that is a step up in competition is the understatement of the year. 
We can certainly debate what Oliver Luck meant when he said "We have HIGH EXPECTATIONS for the team in 2014." Does that mean eight wins, does it mean winning a conference championship or is just getting back to a bowl game qualify as meeting high expectations? Defining what "high expectations" meant may be one of the most discussed topics surrounding the football program as we head into next season. What we do know however, is that getting back to six wins and becoming bowl eligible is not guaranteed. 
Outside of Towson, I'm not sure there is a single team on next year's schedule that you could mark down as a win right now. The Big 12 figures to be better next year as well, especially offensively. Remember, WVU wasn't the only team in the league this year that had question marks at quarterback. Nine of the teams in the Big 12 started more than one quarterback this season. WVU lost six times to first year starters at quarterback, including four freshmen. 
Most likely, those teams will improve. As we've seen in college football, teams that get good quarterback play have a chance at a successful season. Will we be able to include WVU in the group of teams that fought through some challenges with a first year quarterback only to see that experience pay off in year two? We'll see. However, given the fact that WVU is scouring the JC ranks for a quarterback, one would think the staff is not sold on Trickett, Millard or Childress as the starter for next season. WVU could be looking at its fifth starting quarterback in the past three seasons if they decide to bring in a JUCO transfer to take the job. 
That will be one of the many topics we will follow throughout the winter, spring and summer camp.
One other issue to keep your eye on: what will Oliver Luck decide to do with Dana Holgorsen's contract after next season? I'm going to assume barring another 4-win season (or worse) in 2014, Holgorsen will return in 2015. I think the narrative that Luck issued a win or else ultimatum for next season is overstated. The statement issued earlier this week leaves plenty of room to cite improvement next season and bring Holgorsen back again. Of course, that assumes there is actual improvement. If we see another four win season next season, then all bets are off.
However, if the Mountaineers win six games in 2014 and return to a bowl, can't you see Luck's statement this time next year going something like this: "While we haven't achieved all of our goals, I'm pleased with the improvement and progress shown by the team this season. We are happy to be going to the {insert minor bowl game here} and look forward to building on this season in 2015. I like the direction of the program." 
If that scenario plays out, here's what you need to keep an eye on. At the conclusion of the 2014 season, Holgorsen will only have three years remaining on his contract. I've yet to be around a head football coach that didn't insist on having at least a four year contract. The reason: Coaches claim recruits want to know the head coach will be there for their senior seasons. 
Now, as we know, even with a contract there is absolutely no guarantee a coach will be around to see a recruit exhaust his eligibility. Coaches leave all the time with years remaining on their contracts. Athletic directors fire coaches all the time with years left on their contracts.
But, count on Dana Holgorsen asking for an extension at some point soon. Immediately following a 4-win season is not the time, but it will come. What will Luck decide then? If you extend the contract as is, you will be boxed in financially as you are now if it came time to make a change. Would that be the time to negotiate a buyout into the deal? Tell Holgorsen you will add a year to the deal, but in return there will be a buyout should the university decide to go in a different direction with the program. Basically the same deal Holgorsen has should he decide to leave. If Holgorsen decides to leave on his own for another job, he would owe the university $2 million. 
Remember, as the contract is written now, WVU is on the hook for the entirety of the contract if Holgorsen is let go. After next season (with three years remaining on the deal), WVU would still owe Holgorsen $8.6 million if they wanted to make a change. If Luck extends the current deal without insisting on some sort of buyout, WVU will continue to be in a financial straight jacket, especially considering Luck has already projected a deficit for the next fiscal year. It will be interesting to see how the request for an extension is handled when the time comes. 
Those what-if scenarios are a ways off as we sit here in early December. But, as we all know, time flies. It will be football season before we know it. So, as you follow the off season recruiting news and anticipate the return to the field by the Mountaineer football team, keep an eye on the contract discussions that will most likely begin sooner rather than later.
Are you feeling hopeful for the 2014 season or are you fearful of another four win season? Leave a comment below or tweet me @bradhowe07 and let me know what you think.
Editor's Note: Photos by Ben Queen of www.benqueenphotography.com. 


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