West Virginia are the new guys on the block in the Big 12, but its coach has been around the Big 12 block plenty. Dana Holgorsen did stints at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State (with Houston in between) before being named the Mountaineers' head coach.
The Mountaineers kicked off spring practice Sunday, but he took some time over the weekend while in New York for the Big East men's basketball tournament ("It's a great event. ... It's the Garden, man, and it's right in the heart of the Big Apple," he said) to talk to ESPN.com.
Portions of this interview were cut for length.
We missed you in the Big 12 last season, but it looks like we're getting you back, finally.
Dana Holgorsen: Yeah, I was only gone a year.
What's been the best part of this whole transition process?
DH: The transition really takes place next year, not this year, so we really haven't been -- it hasn't been a whole lot different right now. We're excited about it, no question. What's cool about it is I know what we're getting into. I've been at every venue, and I've seen every team. I know what's out there and I know what we've got to do to get better and be able to compete.
Missouri talked a bit about shifting its recruiting focus some from Texas into Atlanta and Florida. What have you guys done that you wouldn't traditionally be doing this time of year?
DH: Nothing, really. Our recruiting base is still going to be the same recruiting base. We have been getting into Texas some little bit and we'll continue to get into Texas. You've got to focus primarily on the Dallas and the Houston area that have the airport next to it so you can get back and forth pretty quick, so we're just going to go get a lot out of Florida. I think we took 12 out of Florida this year. There's a whole lot of pretty good football right around here in Pennsylvania and Ohio and Maryland and Virginia and we don't need to change where we recruit too much.
Seems like every school that leaves a league -- Nebraska and Colorado, for instance -- faces a different set of challenges. What do you see ahead as the biggest challenge for West Virginia?
DH: I don't care where you're at, everybody's challenged in facilities. You've got to make sure that you have the best and going into the Big 12, all Big 12 schools' facilities are as good as there is in the country. You've got to be able to keep up with whatever the other schools are doing just based on the recruiting aspect of things. That's a challenge that everybody has to figure out. Other than that, the program is in great shape, our kids are good and the support is good, where we're at and all that is in pretty good shape. It's just trying keep up with what everybody else is doing. It's an arms race, you know.
The history you do have in this league, where will that show up the most and be an advantage vs. entering this league with a coach that wouldn't have the experience you do?
DH: Like I said a minute ago, I just know what we're getting into. I'm very familiar with what every team does and I've hired a lot of coaches who understand how things work in the Big 12 and what schemes are and what players are like and what the atmospheres are like. There's not a whole lot of unknowns when it comes to me going to play other teams and other venues and all that. There's a whole lot of unknowns for the rest of the league having to come to Morgantown, because nobody's ever been here. So, I feel like that's an advantage for us.
You guys are obviously a big geographical outlier. You hear Louisville and Cincinnati's names come up when people talk Big 12 expansion. What are your thoughts on Big 12 expansion, specifically as it relates to other Big East teams?
DH: Obviously, it came down to Louisville and West Virginia to get in this past time, so if they do expand, I would assume that Louisville would be the first team that would get in. From a geographical standpoint, I think it'd be fantastic. The one thing that I think is pretty cool about 10 teams is you play every team. When you start getting into 12 teams and 16 teams, you don't play everybody. Last year in the Big East, with eight teams you played everybody and everybody knew who the best team was based on head-to-head matchups.
Back on the field, Jeff Casteel is gone, but with Keith Patterson and Joe DeForest taking over the defense, what can we expect?
DH: Familiarity with who we're playing is incredibly important. They're going to understand that side of the ball, the people and the players, the atmospheres, I mean, that was one of the reasons we hired who we hired; they were going to be familiar with the teams we're going to play. It's all about the one thing Joe preaches more than anything, which is not to worry about giving up a play. Everybody's going to give up a play in the Big 12. The offenses are so good, but if you give up a play, it doesn't mean that you're going to lose a game. Oklahoma State was fantastic with that last year with him and (defensive coordinator Bill) Young. They just keep playing and make a play at some point to win the game, get turnovers and play with tremendous effort no matter what happens.
The 3-3-5 stack has been pretty ingrained in West Virginia's identity. With the new guys coming in, does that mean the 3-3-5 is officially dead at West Virginia?
DH: Yeah, what's always given me the most problems is the 3-4. It's just a lot of movement and a lot of stemming and showing looks and not necessarily what you line up in is what you're going to get. I think the 3-4 gives you the best opportunity to do that. So, Oklahoma State did that a little bit with Joe, but Keith Patterson, from a front standpoint, has been doing that. I've coached against him the past four years at Tulsa, and between the two of them, they're going to put something out there that's pretty tough to play against.
Anything else I should know?
DH: (Quarterback) Geno (Smith)'s playing well. For his first offseason -- we didn't really have him last year because of a foot injury -- we're getting a lot of work out of him right now and he's really improving himself from a physical standpoint. I can't tell you how special I think Tavon Austin is. He's one of the most dynamic guys I've coached. We should get a little bit more out of him next year than we did this year. Those two guys are special. They've got a chance to make a difference in this league.
I'm excited to see those guys on a week-to-week basis. I'll be heading your way next month. I've never stepped foot in West Virginia, so I'm looking forward to it.
DH: It's a unique place, it really is. It's really, really, really pretty. There's all kinds of stuff going on and it's probably the best-kept secret in the United States. These people are pretty passionate. I'm telling you, you're going to see nothing but blue and gold when you step in this state.