Genesis of an Aerial Empire
By Will Gregory
Admit it. When you saw “Genesis” in the headline to this story you were probably expecting a Phil Collins wisecrack.
Collins, after all, is on the growing list of look a likes I’ve seen mentioned this week when Dana Holgorsen’s name comes up. For whatever reason folks tend to see a wider variety of things when they look at Holgorsen than they do when taking a Rorschach test.
Some of the names on that list have been flattering, some have been anything but. For those scoring at home, I’ve so far read at various places across the cyber landscape Holgorsen’s appearance compared to Kelsey Grammer, Roy Munson from ‘Kingpin’ (think
New WVU Offensive Coordinator and Head Coach in Waiting, Dana Holgorsen.
Woody Harrelson with a comb over), Matthew McConaughey, Krusty the Clown, actor Will Patton, Jimmy Buffett, Larry from The Three Stooges, Jame Gumm from Silence of the Lambs (It puts the lotion in the basket!), Ron Howard’s brother Clint, and even Kevin Costner.
What I see when I look at Holgorsen is pretty simple. Incredible output and a track record of offensive football that has most of Mountaineer Nation frothing at the mouth.
A coach doesn’t just flip a switch and watch an ultra productive system materialize out of thin air. Being able to produce high-end results in excess is developed over a period of time with each level of success forming a foundation for the next. A common trait shared by many dynamic performers is quite simply positive production – and newly acquired West Virginia Offensive Coordinator Dana Holgorsen has that in spades.
The Mountaineers new OC and future Head Coach has been producing all the way back to his college playing days at Iowa Wesleyan two decades ago. Holgorsen was a receiver for the purple and white clad Tigers from 1990-92. He stayed in his hometown of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa and started his playing career for Coach Hal Mumme and Offensive Coordinator Mike Leach before ultimately finishing with Coach Charlie Moot.
Though it’s unlikely you’ve ever heard of it, Mount Pleasant is famous in some circles for being the home of the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion. This celebration of antique agricultural equipment takes place every Labor Day weekend and brings in crowds of over 100,000. From 1989-1991 old Internationals were still polished but a new piece of equipment was rolled out and Hal Mumme was behind the wheel.
It was called the Spread Offense.
While Glenville State College and signal caller Jed Drenning were creating their own version of the spread east of the Mississippi in the early 90s, they had a watchful eye on what Iowa Wesleyan was accomplishing in the Midwest plains. Coaches Leach and Mumme’s squad led the nation in passing offense in 1990 behind quarterback Dustin Dewald (avg. 39 completions per game). Under Mumme and Leach the Tigers literally threw offensive caution to the wind. In fact, in one game against Harding College in 1991 Dewald established an NAIA record with 61 completions on an eye-popping 86 attempts. Holgorsen played a part in that record setting performance nineteen years ago by hauling in seven receptions for 107 yards.
Drenning recalls following that offense. “At Glenville State we stepped off the bus throwing the football back in those days. We threw coming out and we threw going in. We lived by the pass so it stands to reason we would post some pretty big numbers,” recollects Drenning, who threw 63 times in the 1993 NAIA Championship Game in Oklahoma.
“I think for the better part of my career at Glenville we were number two in the country in passing, but we could never grab that top spot. I remember that every time I saw the national stats posted there was one team we could never catch and it always seemed to be Iowa Wesleyan,” said Drenning.
“They had a QB named Dewald who was lighting it up and a great group of receivers that included a couple guys named Bruce Carter and Dana Holgorsen. The staff included Hal Mumme and Mike Leach," Drenning continued. “Of course it wasn’t until years later as the careers of a lot of those guys really took off that I started to connect the dots and realize that what I was tracking back in those days was the genesis of that whole system made famous at Texas Tech.”
The 1989 thru 91 seasons are often cited as the most successful in Iowa Wesleyan history. As an Iowa Wesleyan Tiger, Holgorsen racked up 145 career receptions for 1,711 yards and 12 touchdowns in three seasons. Those numbers rank Holgorsen sixth on IWC’s all-time receiving list for both receptions and yardage.
Not only did Holgorsen equip himself as a dangerous slot receiver, he impressed Hal Mumme enough that after graduation he was given a job at Valdosta State with Mumme and Mike Leach. While working on the offensive staff at Valdosta he helped in the development of record-setting QB Chris Hatcher. Under the tutelage of Holgorsen in 1994, Hatcher connected on 74.7% of his throws and tossed 50 TDs with just nine interceptions en route to capturing the Harlon Hill award as the top player in NCAA Division II football.
A year before Head Coach Hal Mumme took over for Bill Curry at Kentucky, Holgorsen left Valdosta and went to Mississippi College and then to Wingate University before reuniting with Mike Leach at Texas Tech in 2000. Coach Holgorsen spent the last three seasons as Offensive Coordinator for Houston (2008 & 2009) and then Oklahoma State in 2010. His offenses have finished the season ranked #1 nationally in Total Offense for three consecutive seasons.
Whether it was playing receiver for one of the most prolific aerial attacks in college football history or spear heading his own offense as a coordinator, each stop along the way for Dana Holgorsen can be characterized in a very similar fashion as his college days.
Productive. At a record-setting clip.
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(Stats courtesy of Iowa Wesleyan SID - Adam Glatczak)