Across 127 years of West Virginia University football, there’s been plenty of great players, games and moments. The one thing that is missing? A national championship.
As you may know, West Virginia is actually the winningest football program that does not hold claim to a national championship trophy. The all time record? 752-494-45.
The Mountaineers have been close three times and damn close once. Legendary coach Don Nehlen guided the program to two undefeated regular seasons (1988, 1993) and a national championship appearance in 1988 versus Notre Dame.
If you’re a diehard Mountaineers fan, you know the story. Star quarterback Major Harris goes down early against the Irish in ‘88; the voters snubbed undefeated WVU for a one loss Florida State team in ‘93; Pat White injures his non-throwing hand in a national championship play-in game with Pitt in 2007.
At the end of every season — particularly seasons where the team is quite good, as it was this year — fans find themselves wondering when the old gold and blue will finally break through. Judging by the pure dominance Alabama is having right now, it’s difficult to forecast the Mountaineers winning that last game of the year at any point in the immediate future.
Let’s face it. As much as the people of this state love program, West Virginia doesn’t have the rich history that an Alabama, Ohio State or Notre Dame can draw upon. Morgantown is not a nationally revered Mecca for college football; as such, coaches must attract and identify a certain type of recruit who isn’t blindly focused on the glitz and glam of Austin or Ann Arbor.
My point is that we, as a fan base, shouldn’t get overly upset with the 8-3 regular season that happened this season. As is often the case, this year didn’t lack some element of disappointment, but that doesn’t mean it’s time for some ill-begotten overhaul of the coaching staff.
When it comes to the WVU Football team in 2018, the word I’ve seen floating around the last couple weeks is “mediocre.” Frankly, that’s a reactionary opinion. Look at the big picture — the program’s overall win percentage is 60 percent, and Dana Holgorsen’s is 60.3 percent. Don Nehlen had an average record of 7.45-4.65, while Holgorsen’s is currently 7.62-5.
I get frustration, and I get disappointment, but let’s not act as if Holgorsen has performed below program standards. If anything, he’s performing slightly above those standards, in what most would consider a tougher league. In all likelihood, the biggest mistake the administration could make is moving in a different direction and away from its current staff.
West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons sent out a tweet last week that was very pleasing to see.
— Shane Lyons (@WVUADLyons) November 30, 2018
I get the sense that Lyons and the administration fully believe in Holgorsen and his staff. Lyons must feel that the football team is close to where they want the program to be. Ultimately, the team was one win away from playing in the Big 12 Conference championship. The program is on the cusp of great things and will break through that proverbial wall sooner than later.
I don’t know of any fan base that is totally patient and never unreasonable, but what I remind Mountaineer fans of all the time is that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Championships are the goal, but they aren’t necessarily the standard. Just because West Virginia doesn’t have the dominance of Alabama, or the consistent high-level success of Georgia or Oklahoma, doesn’t mean the program is mediocre. Having the long-term vision to see the program’s upward trajectory doesn’t mean we’re settling for eight-win seasons here in the present, either. (By the way, a lot of college sports fans would love to be disappointed with an eight-win season.)
Dana Holgorsen has done a hell of a job with this program in eight years. He has this team contending in the top level of the Big 12 just about every year, which is a consistency that few other Power-5 programs can match. Again, I know that’s not where the fans (or Holgorsen himself!) want to be, but it’s just reality.
WVU will likely never have the money to reel in a truly high-profile coach. No, Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher aren’t coming home. Don’t count on Rich Rod ever returning.
Fans can call for his head all they want, but the empirical evidence shows that Holgorsen is just as successful as coaches in years past. I don’t want to take away from what Rodriguez or those great 20th century teams did, but come on. The annual opponents included Syracuse, UConn and Rutgers. Now the competition consists of Oklahoma, Texas and TCU. It doesn’t take a College GameDay graphic to tell you that that the week-to-week stakes are higher now than they were 10 years ago.
Dana Holgorsen is the coach, should be the coach and will be coach moving forward. There are plenty of programs that wish they were knocking on the door of a conference championship like West Virginia has been these last couple of years, and that’s exactly why you hear Holgorsen’s name pop up during the coaching carousel.
Will Dana guide West Virginia to its first national championship? Time will tell. If there’s any chance of a big golden trophy coming to WVU, he’s going to give the Mountaineers the best, most reasonable chance. But no matter who roams the sidelines in Morgantown, the standard should never be national championship or bust, like it sometimes appears to be. That’s just not realistic.