WVU Sports with Tom Bragg

Long read: Dana Holgorsen’s tour de force

The entirety of the experience of being a football player at West Virginia University begins here, inside the head coach’s office, where, with rare exceptions, every prospective player must meet with Dana Holgorsen before he’s offered a scholarship.

Whether it happens or not, the participants eventually leave the office. The door swings open and, bam, there it is, a massive, wall-length mural across the hall that serves as one of the many recruiting reminders for the Mountaineers.

 

fballfacilities09_MM

 

The sight of Andrew Buie, Will Clarke and Karl Joseph in their gold, blue and white uniforms, respectively, is supposed to stick with a recruit. Same goes for the Big 12 logo and the photographs of WVU’s NFL players that are in the background of the mural.

“The uniforms are new, the Big 12 is still new and then we promote the heck out of our NFL guys,” Holgorsen said. “It’s all recruiting. They see the new uniforms, they see the Big 12 and they see the NFL stuff. It matters.”

And with that, Holgorsen is off and running on a tour of his facility and all the new elements he’s introducing to his current and future players.

There are two entrances to the team’s headquarters at the Puskar Center, and the one on the right side of the building is the one visitors use most. The entry way has photo exhibits on the right and left side when you walk through the doors. On the right is the one with aerial photographs of the other nine Big 12 stadiums.

 

 

“That makes sense for our guys now. That makes sense for our guys now,” Holgorsen says, pointing first at the photo of Texas’ and Oklahoma State’s stadiums before flipping over to Oklahoma’s stadium and stopping his index finger there.

“This doesn’t make sense to them, but it does give them a little bit of something to look at,” he says. “Obviously, it’s good for recruiting, but it’s more important for our guys to see that.”

On the opposite wall in that hallway is another display. It has three sections. The first has photos of the Mountaineers going through the pregame Mountaineer Mantrip. The second one is the dominant feature, an aerial photo of Mountaineer Field and the striped stadium during last season’s Baylor game. The third has photos from the field of postgame activities.

 

 

“This is all new,” Holgorsen says. “The Mantrip is game day.”

He moves along to the stadium shot.

“That’s the actual atmosphere,” he said. “That’s an unbelievable picture.”

He finishes with the postgame pictures.

“Then after that, this is what happens after the game,” he says. “We win. We’re happy. We high-five fans. We sing ‘Country Roads.’ “

Holgorsen continues on, now strolling through the wing of offices for the offensive coaches. Pictures of current players line the wall, but the nameplate for every picture doesn’t have the player’s name. It instead has “T.E.A.M.”

That’d be the season’s acronym for toughness, effort, attitude and Mountaineer mentality.

“I tried for it not to be too individualized,” Holgorsen says.

 

 

A space in the middle of that hallway has brown leather sofas on one wall and a flat screen television mounted to the wall with an Xbox on the shelf right below.

“I want the players to hang out here,” Holgorsen says.

Holgorsen opens a door and his offensive coordinator, Shannon Dawson, is watching film at the head of a long table that seats a few others from the staff a day before preseason camp starts.

“This used to be a G.A. office,” Holgorsen says. “Now it’s for the offensive staff, so they’ve got plenty of good space.”

Holgorsen spins on his heels and heads the other way, back down the hallway with the coaches for the offensive assistants, past the main entry, through the lobby with his office and the marquee mural and toward the offices for the defensive assistants. That wing has more sofas, another flat screen television and another Xbox.

He stops along the way when he sees Nana Twum Agyire, a sophomore cornerback who was the scout team’s defensive player of the year last season. “Chume!” Holgorsen shouts. He kids the walk-on for not being around, but defensive coordinator Keith Patterson appears out of a hallway, says Agyire has been watching film and tells Holgorsen that’s where he’ll be if the head coach needs him.

This is the third time Holgorsen has stopped or has been stopped to interact in, what, five minutes.

“We’ve got a good group to work with,” he says. “And people like to be around here.”

Holgorsen finds another door and pushes it open, though this one’s empty. It’s probably smaller than the one Dawson and the others were in on the other side of the building. If it’s bigger, it’s not by much.

“Get this,” Holgorsen said. “This used to be the old staff room. We’d have upwards of 30 people in here. Thirty people in here. To try to have a staff meeting. So I turned this into the defensive staff meeting room. Now they have plenty of room.

The tour heads toward what used to be the wing for the Mountaineer Athletic Club, which is now in the Coliseum. Holgorsen pulls open a set of glass double doors and unveils the swank staff meeting room.

 

 

 

“We made this so we can actually have staff meetings so everyone can function,” he said. “Everyone can say, ‘You’ve got the nicest facility in the country.’ I don’t care if I have the nicest facility in the country. I just want to be comfortable.”

Considering what surrounds it, it’s a pretty impressive feature. For whatever reason, the conversation switches to Oregon’s new and ridiculous facility.

“I ran across it on Twitter a little bit,” he says. “I turned it off.”

Holgorsen whirls again and looks through a wall of windows down into the renovated weight room.

“It’s functional,” he says. “It was the worst weight room in all of college football. The absolute worst.”

He wants to show it off, and the easiest way to get there is to walk through the team’s meeting room and down a stairway in the back of that room. In the middle of the team room, Holgorsen stops.

“Now this is by far — look, I do some of this on purpose, but this is by far the absolute worst team room in all of Division I,” he says.

It’s a strong statement, so strong one wonders if it’s actually happening on the record.

“It’s the absolute worst team room in all of college football,” he repeats.

 

 

Holgorsen scrambles to make a point.

“Sit right here,” he says, pointing to a random seat in the back row on the right side of the room. He takes a seat directly in front of the one he had just pointed to.

“Can you see?” he says.

You cannot see around Holgorsen, who isn’t a large person, and you cannot get a clear view of the projector screen at the front of the room on the right side. If there were more people in the room, the projector screen on the left side of the room would be hard to see, too.

“That in itself right there is ridiculous,” Holgorsen says. “Can you imagine Quinton Spain sitting in that chair? It’s unbelievable, but that’s why I’m out raising money to get a team room we can function with.”

Holgorsen said there are “huge” plans for a new team meeting room.

“I’ve got about half the money raised,” he says, adding that Matt Borman, the MAC’s executive director, has been his co-pilot for this mission.

The fundraising, Holgorsen says, consists mostly of just asking people for money.

“It’s the same thing we did for the weight room,” he says. “It was the worst weight room in all of Division I football. What do you do? You raise money to get it to where it’s functional. Are there bigger weight rooms? Yeah. Are there better or more functional weight rooms? I have a hard time saying there’s something that’s better or more functional.”

Holgorsen now heads down the stairs to the weight room and past two more of the reminders that are sprinkled throughout the facility.

 

 

“The guys need to embrace it and understand it, so the more of it they see the better,” Holgorsen says.

On the way to the weight room Holgorsen detours and enters the lounge outside the locker room. It used to be the room where postgame interviews were held, but Holgorsen nixed that so his players cold have a space all of their own.

“Now it’s something they’re proud of,” he says. “There are four DirecTV boxes, Xboxes, more NFL stuff on the wall.”

Holgorsen points across the room, beyond a pool table and a ping pong table, to a wall that carries another recruiting reminder: The path to the NFL begins at West Virginia.

 

 

In the corner of the large lounge is a mini barber shop, complete with an appropriate chair.

“That’s a huge thing in recruiting,” Holgorsen says.

Now he’s in the locker room, which he’s hardly had to touch since arriving in December 2010.

“I’m happy with this,” he says. “There’s plenty of room.”

Holgorsen yells out to Aaron Malik, an assistant equipment manager who’s in the locker room prepping helmets for the first practice.

“Does the sound system work?” Holgorsen asks. “Have they gotten the plug-in thing to work? Oh, they did?”

He pulls out his iPhone and attaches it to a connection mounted to the wall. It’s supposed to pump music into a speaker system that will make the locker room shake before a game and after a victory.

“I told them if this didn’t work, I was going to …” he says, his threat interrupted by the music.

“That’s pretty good, huh?” Holgorsen says.

He spends the next 1:20 talking to Malik and a handful of other players who are in the locker room and have been Pied Piper’d by Holgorsen.

Blame it on his A.D.D.

He’s now sailing out of the locker room, but not before spotting offensive linemen Nick Kindler and Curtis Feigt heading toward the field with their baseball mitts.

“What are you guys going to do? Play some catch?” he asks. “That’s interesting. Don’t hurt yourself.”

Finally, Holgorsen is in the weight room. Despite the scope of the project, it’s basically the same size as it was before, but it features a much smarter use of space.

 

 

“It was like three different levels before,” Holgorsen says. “It was old turf and it was sloped. There were walls that separated everything and platforms that raised everything up. Now everything is flush, it’s one level and it’s open.”

High above the weight room floor and the brand new equipment are two rows of windows. They used to be problems.

The lower row of windows serves as a wall in hallways upstairs in the Puskar Center.

“You had people going through the halls up there to their suites and they’d stop and pound on the windows,” Holgorsen says. “We had guys in here getting loosened up trying to get ready for a game and you have that?”

The the second row of windows serves as a wall outside the stadium.

“And there, you had people in the concourse outside up there pounding on those windows,” Holgorsen says. “So what we did was we frosted those windows so the people in the concourse can’t see in — but we still get a little natural light in here — and now we’ve got a button we can push and it pulls down a shade there so the people inside the building can’t see down in here. Now the players have 100 percent privacy before the game.”

 

 

His attention returns to the weight room. He turns to a side wall near the field and a wall with more player murals.

“You make that wall only if you’re an All-American,” Holgorsen says.

 

 

In the corner is a tribute to former defensive end Bruce Irvin, who helped fund the project. It’s where the All-American wall and the front glass wall meet.

 

 

The front wall is further out than it was before.

“We lost about 15 yards of practice field,” said Holgorsen, who believes the field is already too small for practice purposes, “which is good. I don’t ever want to practice in there. The fact we have to practice in here 90 percent of the time is a flaw.”

He abbreviates that tangent and gets back to his tour. He stands near the front of the room in the center of a large open area.

“On game day, I’ll bring them right here and give them my last remarks, which always takes about 10 seconds because I’m not a big rah-rah guy,” Holgorsen says. “So I give them my last remarks and this is where we’ll come out of before the game.”

He walks out the doorway in the middle of that glass wall at the front of the room. For the first time in a long time, the Mountaineers will not come out of their familiar tunnel to the field, but from the weight room entrance behind the end zone.

Holgorsen says the entrance will have other features for the fans.

Inflatable helmet?

“Yeah, inflatable helmet,” he says.

Really? A reincarnation for the prop Holgorsen retired two years ago?

“No,” he says. “But this will open up, so we’ve got a good area to come out of here and it’s all opened up for everyone to see. I didn’t like that we were hidden before. Half the people couldn’t see you. Here, 90 percent of the stadium can see you. I’m real fired up about this, real jacked up about this. The players are going to love it. We’ll be completely hidden from everybody at first until we hit the field. We’ll probably make some sort of a tunnel, probably have our banner, and the whole thing will be filled up with smoke.”

As happy as he is about that, he can’t contain his pride and enthusiasm for the weight room.

 

 

“This was No. 1 on my list,” he says. “No. 2 is a team room, a theater-style room. The staff room was important. The staff room was more important than this. The offensive and defensive rooms and all that, we nickel-and-dimed that together, but this was a major project. The practice facility will be a major project.”

And does Holgorsen have any idea when, where or how a practice facility might come to fruition?

“No,” Holgorsen says with a sigh. “I don’t have a plan for that. I have a plan for a team room. I have a plan for position rooms. I don’t have a plan for our practice facility.”

Holgorsen is heading for a set of stairs back to the main floor and stops at the unfinished offices for the strength and conditioning coaches. WVU has four full-time coaches and the coordinator.

“They have nicer stuff than I do now,” Holgorsen says. “But those guys meet as much as we do. In fact, they’re meeting in that corner over there right now.”

Sure enough, there’s a huddle in the Bruce Irvin corner.

Holgorsen is now back upstairs and in the middle of the area with the meeting rooms for specific positions. Individually, the rooms are big enough with nice equipment.

“Here’s the problem,” he says, opening one door and stepping inside the room for the offensive line. “The music (in the weight room) is on and …”

Holgorsen starts pounding a wall.

“I can punch a hole through that right now and it really wouldn’t take that much,” he says. “So when the offensive line guys are in here talking, the running back room can hear everything. So now they’re trying to out-talk each other. Nothing is soundproof. The concerns here are obvious. I don’t think I can get these done in a year. We can get the team room done, though.”

The team room, or lack of an acceptable one, certainly rankles Holgorsen.

 

 

Right now the room with the projector screens that lower to cover dry erase boards has two sections of theater style seats. There are 10 rows of seats in each section, but they’re all on the same level. It’s where the whole team meets for team meetings and it’s where the offense and/or defense will meet when the coordinators want to meet with their parts of the roster.

When those occasions overlap, the room is separated with a retractable wall that folds up into the back of the room.

“I seriously doubt there’s another one of these in the whole country,” Holgorsen says as he pulls the wall out a few feet and then pushes it back into hiding.

Holgorsen wants to keep the room and divide it with a permanent wall that, ideally, will be soundproof. The seating will have to be redone so there’s an incline that gives the players in the back row the same unobstructed view the players in the front row have.

Additionally, there will be a new team meeting room by this time next year. Holgorsen leaves the meeting room, heads down a hallway and opens a set of doors to a loading dock outside above  a parking lot and a dumpster.

 

 

“This is a future project that’s going to take a while, but basically it’s all right here,” Holgorsen says. “It’s like a $4 or $5 million project, but we can take all this land right here and utilize this land as a theater-style team room. What we have is not functional. I’m not asking for Oregon-type facilities. I’m asking for us to be able to function, and right now, we can’t function like I want to.”

Holgorsen is soon back in his office and flipping through a packet of pictures of theater-style meeting rooms in the SEC, Big 12 and ACC and even at Memphis.

“Memphis!” he said.

Then it’s back to a chair behind his desk, finishing where things normally begin.

“If you want to talk about suites, scoreboards, paint, any of that stuff inside the stadium, talk to Oliver,” Holgorsen says, deferring to his boss, Athletic Director Oliver Luck. “I worry about the day-to-day. I want to be able to meet. I want to be able to lift. I want to be able to practice. All three of them were issues when we got here, but we’ve done some pretty good work on two of them so far.”

Thanks to @melmoraes for the photographs.