THE MODERATOR: We’re now joined by Dana Holgorsen from West Virginia. Coach, Oklahoma, and your thoughts about the upcoming season.
DANA HOLGORSEN: It’s good to see everybody. Obviously, everybody that comes up here is going to say how excited they are about what’s going on. I’d like to start off by just talking about how excited I am about the Big 12. This is going into our sixth year. Really for the first time, feel like we’re a true member.
All the programs, not just football, but all the programs have stepped up and been incredibly competitive in a very competitive league. It’s a tough league to win in, and I think there’s a lot of excitement right now with the Big 12. We won ten games last year but didn’t win our Bowl game, but the rest of the Big 12 did really good in their Bowl games. So I think there’s a lot of excitement surrounding college football within the Big 12, and I think that’s going to continue to just do well throughout the course of the country.
A lot of exciting matchups. We open up with Virginia Tech. I know a lot of the other schools have got big matchups. We didn’t do very good last year in the nonconference as a league. I know we’re motivated to go out there and show the country that we’re as good as anybody else in the Power Five.
That’s what’s on my mind. So excited about the season and getting started. We’ll take some questions here.
Q. Dana, you have a number of transfers in your two-deep. What do you feel like it is about West Virginia that makes it such a respite maybe for guys that are looking to transfer? Whether that’s JuCo (Junior College) guys or four-year guys.
DANA HOLGORSEN: We made that decision about four or five years ago — I think it’s five years ago we went 4-8. The first year in the league, we had some top-end talent, but our depth wasn’t very good. Recruited a lot of high school kids, got our depth better, but we went 4-8, so we needed some more top-end talent. So started doing a lot of transfers, and they’ve worked out. It’s just kind of what our niche has been.
We went better than 50 percent — more than 50 percent transfers this last year. Of the 26 available we had, I think 14 or 15 of them ended up being transfers. They’ve just worked out for us. I used to get nervous on Signing Day when we missed out on a couple of high school kids. Now I don’t really — it doesn’t bother me. Not that I don’t care, it just doesn’t bother me because we can find guys later on. We took three or four transfers here in the last couple of months that I think are going to end up making our program better.
West Virginia is a little bit of a melting pot. We don’t get many high school kids from West Virginia, probably zero to two a year. So we’ve got to go everywhere, and part of what has enabled us to be able to have a lot of success is to get some good transfers. Got two of them here today, Kyzir White is from Lackawanna Junior College, and Justin Crawford is from Northwest Mississippi Junior College. Those guys are good players, and that’s top-end talent that we need to be able to win this league.
Q. You’re not going to be calling plays this year. I wonder how that will change what you do on game day, what your thoughts are about that transition, and why did you make it?
DANA HOLGORSEN: A couple of reasons. One, I got complete confidence in Jake Spavital. I trained him for four years. He was my personal GA for four years and trained him how to do things. He went out on his own and did a lot of really good things. He knows how I think. I know how he thinks. So I’ve got 100 percent complete confidence in him being able to do this.
I thought the time was right as well. He was kind of in the market for a job after — when he was at Cal and their head coach got let go. So he was kind of looking. They wanted to keep him. He had plenty of options out there. He was one of the hottest, most sought after offensive coordinators in the country last year, and we were fortunate to get him. It helps when his wife is from West Virginia.
But I thought the time was right. I was able to get him — I was awarded a five-year contract. So I just kind of took a look at where we were at as a program. We’ve been improving over the last three, four years. I feel like the way to continue to improve is to focus on some of the other areas. You know, our recruiting is probably better than it ever has been, spending a lot more time with that. The fund-raising aspect of it, facilities, coaching and retaining coaches is a big thing. So I’m going to be able to do a lot more of that stuff. And just overall game management and player management and coach management on game day is something I’m going to really focus on.
Q. Dana, I just want you to expand on that thought that after six years you finally feel like a Big 12 member.
DANA HOLGORSEN: There’s just nothing — there’s no surprises anymore. We know how to travel. Our fan base knows what to expect. Our players walk into the building, and they look at — I’ve got pictures of nine different stadiums on our wall. They used to sit there and study them, and now they don’t even really look at them because they understand what the opponent is, they understand what the facilities are.
There’s an aspect of the — the monetary aspect of it as well. We’re finally a full-fledged member. That makes a big difference when you get that check. So there is — there was a lot of time when we weren’t getting that check obviously. It just feels like we belong. I feel all the programs — and it’s not just what we’re doing in football. It’s all the programs and just the overall athletic department in general.
I think Shane Lyons is doing a great job as our athletic director, and we’ve got things headed in the right direction. I just feel like there’s a lot of momentum right now.
Q. Speaking of transfers, the NCAA will start looking at possibly changing some things down the road, such as permission to contact, graduate transfers count for two years. Do you have any thoughts on that?
DANA HOLGORSEN: The NCAA looks at things all the time, so I don’t pay attention to anything that they’re looking at. They’re not going to listen to us anyway. I will — when they change rules, I will learn the rules and I will abide by the rules. Until that happens, I’m not going to worry too much about it.
Q. Dana, the importance for your program and the timing that you had with Will Grier’s eligibility being settled this summer and your thoughts on the impact he can make right away in teaming with Spav?
DANA HOLGORSEN: It was critical that we got him when we got him. We had Skyler coming back for another year, but our quarterback depth was not good. So getting him was awful big. It didn’t take long for us to figure out that he’s a really good player. He’s got that starting quarterback trait. He’s a coach’s kid. He’s a winner. He’s always up at the office. He doesn’t have a whole lot of extracurricular activities other than his wife and little girl. He’s about to graduate. So he’s on track with that as well. He’s kind of got things together right now.
Got the locker room ready to roll. He gets them out there and watches film with them and throws a lot of stuff with them. He controls the huddle. He does everything right. The timing on getting him was critical because we knew he’d be eligible right now. I knew there were some NCAA hoops we had to jump through, but I knew we could do that, get him eligible for Game 1, and he’s ready to rock and roll.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Bob Stoops’ decision to step down at his age. I’m wondering if that symbolizes sort of a changing mindset in your profession in terms of mindful of your health, not wanting to coach deep into your life, as opposed to perhaps other eras and that kind of thing.
DANA HOLGORSEN: Admirable. It was a little startling when I just first heard it, but then after I kind of just sat there and talked about it and talked through — talked to some people and thought through it, it’s incredibly admirable. Family and friends is very important to Bob. Bob’s a guy that I look up to. I’ve spent a lot of time with him just in the coaching circles, fortunate to be able to spend some time with him. I know family and friends is very, very, very important to him.
He’s accomplished everything that he can accomplish. What more can he do? He’s got the program in a great spot, did it to where nobody lost their job. He was able to watch his boys play high school football. It’s just everything about what he did is incredibly admirable to me.
Q. Big 12 coaching, all the coaches are the youngest staffs in the country, the youngest overall. I think it’s 46.5 years. You’ve got three new coaches coming on board. How do you see the Big 12 rebooting itself, so to speak, in their image, or in a much younger image?
DANA HOLGORSEN: I don’t know that the age has anything to do with it. I don’t think about it that way. Heck, I don’t even know how old I am. I don’t pay attention to — I guarantee you that Coach Snyder doesn’t pay attention either.
I don’t know if that does anything for our image. I know you guys want to make a big deal about a couple of hot new coaches coming in. They’re just coaches to me. I’ve known both those guys for a long time, and they’re just coaches to me.
I think our image needs to improve by just continuing to win games. That’s what needs to happen. I think we closed the year out very well, won a lot of games in the Bowl games, and obviously we didn’t do our part on that, but we did win ten and finish in the top 20. So it’s a new year. Let’s get out there, and we’ve got some very high profile games coming up. Game 1, we play Sunday night primetime Virginia Tech. You want to reshape the image of the league, you need to win games. That’s what it’s about.
Q. Outside of Grier, looking at the rest of the quarterbacks that you have on the roster, kind of what’s your evaluation of the guys that you’ve added, what you’ve seen from the spring, and then go forward after Will’s time is done, your level of confidence in those guys going forward?
DANA HOLGORSEN: I think Jake’s done a great job of coming in and focusing hard on just quarterback recruitment. That’s one thing that I think was overlooked on my part just a little bit when it came to — with me being the coordinator and the quarterback coach, get pulled in so many different directions, I don’t think I did a fantastic job of that.
Chris Chugunov is our backup. He’s going into his sophomore year. He’s a 4.0 guy that has experience and has taken a lot of reps. Went off and signed David Isreal, a junior college player out of Kansas, who has a redshirt and three years to play. Not sure quite what he can do yet. We’ve got to get our hands on him in August. And then Jake’s done a good job of bringing two more kids in, a transfer out of Miami, Jack Alison, who’s got to sit, and now we’ve got a commitment right now as well.
So the room for the future, to me, looks really healthy, as healthy as it’s ever been. I feel like we got a good starter, a good backup, and then we’ve got a question mark at third.
Q. You coming from Oklahoma State, coaching under Mike Gundy, what do you feel was the biggest takeaway that you learned from him that you’ve applied to your program successfully at West Virginia?
DANA HOLGORSEN: Mike’s really good at old school, tough, discipline stuff. Just the relationship he has with Rob Glass was really fun to watch. Those guys, the way they practiced and the way that they developed their players in the weight room and from a practice point of view from the toughness aspect of things is probably the main thing that I took out from them.
Q. Good morning, Coach. How does Will Grier starting open up the offense for you this year compared to last year?
DANA HOLGORSEN: He’s a little bit more of a pocket guy than Skyler was. Skyler was tough, gritty, could run the ball, did a great job in the run game, which we’re going to continue to do. We’re going to run the football. We’ve had a 1,000-yard rusher for the last five seasons, and we’ve got the Big 12 leading rusher returning. So we’re going to run the ball, and Will understands that and understands the run game. Probably not going to run him as much as we ran Skyler. He’ll fool you with how athletic he is, but I’ve got to protect him as well.
But the pocket aspect of this is going to be better. He’s a better pocket passer. He can sit in there. He’s tall. He can go through his reads, and he can make every throw.