The Mountaineer football program had a dark cloud surrounding it leading up to the 2016 campaign. The conversations questioning the future of Dana Holgorsen at WVU were heard from bars stools, within diners, to online chat forums. There were many uncomfortable sentiments about how many games did coach have to win to keep his job and who would replace the Mountain State’s coach when he was run out of town. Speculation of why he couldn’t win enough games in the Big 12 and what the next coach would do differently to turn the program around. A happier solution was found as a 10 win 2016 season was rewarded with a new contract at the end of year.
The negativity and uncertainty surrounding the program led to unforeseen circumstances, especially on recruiting. When young men are looking for where they want to spend their college football career they’re committing for multiple years. Radio station segments and articles spouting how Coach Holgerson has to win 8 games or is gone, doesn’t portray a future home players want, especially for those players with realistic aspirations of playing at the professional level. High school players want to feel connected, and that means the coach that recruits them needs to be present longer than the next 12 months. When the employment status of that coach is in question, players are hesitant to sign on.
The negative consequences of schools firing their staffs can be seen with the recent firings of Coaches Butch Jones of the University of Tennessee and Jim McElwain of the University of Florida. The 2018 classes have lost drastic talent since the departures of their coaching staffs. For example, Tennessee has lost eleven commits so far from their previously committed players.
This recruiting season has seen West Virginia go into Tennessee, a hot bed for college football recruiting and ink a commitment from an ESPN 300 quarterback Woodrow Lowe III. His commitment is the first quarterback WVU has signed from the acclaimed list of top ESPN players since 2012. Lowe’s teammate, offensive lineman Briason Mays also committed to WVU. Being able to grab two critical players from Tennessee helps to secure a brighter future for West Virginia’s program. Importantly, the Mountaineers have struggled to sign quality offensive lineman for as long as anyone can remember and Tennessee isn’t a typical recruiting ground for WVU. Whether or not the Mountaineers’ success in the Volunteer State is directly connected to the struggles and eventually firing of Butch Jones is hard to say. Regardless, the uncertainty in Vols country has helped competing schools.
The turmoil at other schools is advantageous for schools in stable situations. Take for instance recent WVU commit and ESPN 300 member, Kwantel Raines. He narrowed his final choices down to four schools (Penn State, Pitt, Florida and WVU). Pittsburgh has had what can only be described as a disappointing season and people are rumbling over Pat Narduzzi’s status. Only a few days before Raines was to make his announcement, Florida and Coach McElwain parted ways. That left only two of Raines’ four final schools with what could be described as stable coaching situations. That is a massive advantage for West Virginia and Penn State. Luckily for the Mountaineer faithful, Raines might the right choice on decision day.
The Mountaineers have inked multiple players from the highly touted ESPN 300 list for the last few years, except one. The talk and dark cloud surrounding the coaching staff and program leading up to the signing of the 2017 recruiting class likely contributed to zero ESPN 300 players committing to play in Morgantown. While WVU won 10 games during the 2016 season, many highly touted players signed early, and the successful season and contract extension came too late.
Turn to 2018 and the positive effects of Holgorsen’s long term contract are clear on the recruiting trail. Doug Belk has justly been praised for his capabilities, having four high prized athletes from Georgia commit. Coach Belk’s tales of how great Morgantown is and why they should come sing Country Roads after every victory doesn’t hit home well with recruits if they’re worried about coaching turnover. Holgerson’s contract extension makes the message that Coach Belk has been singing more likely to be well received in the Peach State.
With West Virginia’s head coach status cemented for the foreseeable future, fans can again look forward to successful recruiting classes for the Old Gold and Blue. Three players from the ESPN 300 have already committed to West Virginia. Seventeen other highly touted players on the list are considering WVU. One can only hope that the Mountaineers can lure a few more to Morgantown.