I’ve been around the figurative block a few times now, so I know that every season is different. There are new players and coaches and schemes, new opponents, new venues and sometimes new conferences. There is never a continuity of circumstances when you’re dealing with 100-some players, 10 coaches and then 12 or 13 or 14 opponents who, by the way, are experiencing a lot of changes, too.
So while we might talk about how 2012 was a lot like 2004, how the preamble to the 2013 season isn’t much different from the one in 2005, the conversation only goes so far because, really, they aren’t alike at all.
And this is why coaches stand atop the bully pulpit and proclaim, without fail, that it’s a new year and how the past is in the past.
Dana Holgorsen has played this part perfectly so far, but, boy, after five days, four practices and two press conferences, it seemed like he’s trying to put a lot of distance between his second team and his third team.
“It’s much more settled, much more my program than it ever has been,” Holgorsen said last week. “I don’t know how to say this without sounding, not arrogant, but optimistic. I don’t want to sound optimistic. I want to sound like the world is coming to an end, the sky is falling, the walls are crashing in on top of us, whatever.
“I want everyone to think that, know what I mean? I want everyone to think we’re lousy.”
He wants that to be the perception – or, more accurately, to continue to be the perception – because it is not the reality. Had it been? Was he not looking over his shoulder to monitor half a coaching staff he didn’t hire and agreed to keep for a season? Wasn’t he sidestepping the issues that come from rolling into a new conference with all the momentum and swagger that a program could want and that an opponent could despise?
And isn’t that all gone?
“The truth of the matter is I feel pretty good about where we are right now,” he said. “I’m looking forward to coaching this team more than I have the previous two teams.”
Again, I want you to consider that for a moment. It’s not a hollow quote or one quickly crafted for the team’s media guide. There’s some depth it that you have to stop and examine — and I’m sure you will.
I mean, the guy had a lot to like about the last two teams.
Let’s simply assume he was pumped to be a head coach for the first time in 2011. I also think, in a weird sort of way, that Holgorsen embraced the chaos that preceded it. I think he feels comfortable in a corner and feels better when he’s punched and kicked his way out of the crowd. If he’s proved people wrong on the other end of things, that is probably multiplied — and I don’t think that’s an unusual trait in coaches.
In fact, I think it’d be a flaw not to feel that way.
But still, that season presented a set of circumstances to really anticipate, though different elements than the ones that were nevertheless appetizing a year later.
Really, what wasn’t to like about the way the table was set in 2012? He had a new contract. He had an overwhelming collection of offensive talent in his hands, the Orange Bowl in his back pocket and the Big 12 in his immediate future. No, nothing went as planned after that 5-0 start and top-five ranking, but when it all began, it had to look pretty inviting.
And this — this collection of unknown players and position battles amid dreary expectations — is what he looks forward to coaching most.
So to embrace the present, he’s had to push away the past. And he’s done just that.
That’s from the first press conference on the first day, and it’s seemingly simple stuff, but it set a tone that he’s since sustained. He made some optimistic points about how much better equipped his defense is and the amount of players and talent he has there, which is much the same on offense. That, in essence, is what excites him as a coach and he highlighted it before the innocuous, if not obvious follow-up question.
There, he made it clear he’s not going to discuss last year’s team.
On Monday, he was back at it again, this time espousing the need for leadership and the virtues of those who are to exhibit it.
And Holgorsen buried the lead with a front-loader.
“We’ve talked a lot about that with our group and we started our meeting last Wednesday with that very same subject,” Holgorsen said. “What defines a leader? What’s the definition of a leader? You can’t find it. It’s not in any book. It’s not in the dictionary. It’s not the same very year.
“What I’ve told our guys this year is we’ve got to develop leadership. That’s for certain. It was a big issue with last year’s team – and I mean issue in a bad way.”
“…issue in a bad way.” As opposed to issue in, say, a Sports Illustrated swimsuit way.
Here’s the best part, and when the front-loader enters the picture. Holgorsen went on for more than a minute after that, discussing how quarterbacks are often leaders and that a backup quarterback could be a leader if he accepted and advanced the role, but also stating that he didn’t want his three passers worrying about that today and … wait, what was that he said about leadership issues last season?
Ah, but we are sage and shrewd and not so easily misled. He was surely aware he’d piqued our interest, but supremely confident he wouldn’t go where we all wanted to go.
And we asked.
That’s three instances, so far, in which Holgorsen has exhumed something for examination before discarding it over the wall he’s constructed between the past and the present. Each time he’s solidified that wall with his refusal to peek over it, which is fine in that it’s a reminder or an acknowledgement, if not a sealed indictment, that last year had its flaws and that they must not be forgotten, never mind repeated.
That’s what matters. I often hesitate to put words in Holgorsen’s mouth, because he does a find job rolling them out on his own, but I feel that’s the point of this exercise in agenda setting. WVU is determined to make this season something that last year was not.