Familiar face, unfamilar role for Joe Wickline at West Virginia

The last time Dana Holgorsen and Joe Wickline were on the same coaching staff, they created something football had never seen before.

During the 2010 season, Oklahoma State debuted the Diamond, a three-running back pistol formation that has been used in various levels of football during the last five years. The duo helped transform the Cowboys' offense, combining a Mike Leach-style Air Raid attack with a downhill running game to help spark an 11-2 season.

Now, the pair has been reunited at West Virginia with Holgorsen as the head coach and Wickline joining as offensive coordinator after two seasons at Texas. Much like they did during their time at Oklahoma State, Holgorsen and Wickline will look to weave the best of both worlds into one explosive package in Morgantown. As a member of his third different Big 12 program in a matter of four years, Wickline will see some familiar faces at West Virginia while playing an unfamiliar role.

“Coach Wickline is going to coach a position, overall head things up and be the coordinator,” Holgorsen said.

It’s a unique situation with offensive line coach Ron Crook returning after West Virginia’s offensive line paved the way for Wendell Smallwood to lead the Big 12 in rushing in 2015. The Mountaineers’ 228.23 rushing yards per game was 16th among FBS teams, making it obvious major changes up front were not needed.

Yet Holgorsen saw the value of having over 50 years of offensive line coaching experience -- between Wickline and Crook -- in the Mountaineers coaching staff after Wickline’s contract was not renewed at Texas following the 2015 season.

“I have always said, the offensive line is the hardest position to coach,” Holgorsen said. “I am looking at 20 bodies on my sheet that are going to be at O-line in the fall. If you put one guy in charge of 20, that is not fair.”

Thus, Wickline takes a new role at West Virginia, taking over the hybrid fullback/tight end position while chipping in with his years of experience coaching the offensive line in different situations.

“He is handling all the hybrid guys offensively,” Holgorsen said. “He is going to take all of that and work with it. He watched all of our cut-ups, and he is going to put his spin on it. That has always been a position that was overlooked a little bit.”

Cody Clay was quietly one of the Mountaineers’ best players while manning the fullback/tight end role during the last few seasons. Now, with Clay completing his eligibility, Elijah Wellman and Michael Ferns are among the players who will be under Wickline’s tutelage as West Virginia aims to replace Clay, a three-year starter.

“He (Wickline) will be able to coach all of the O-linemen at times with these specific guys,” Holgorsen said while pointing out the hybrid fullback/tight end position often lines up alongside the tackle. “He will be able to do some backfield stuff with these guys, and then he will be able to tie everything together.”

The former Oklahoma State and Texas assistant will also play a key role in trying to improve West Virginia’s pass protection, an area Holgorsen identified for improvement this offseason. According to ESPN Stats and Information, West Virginia allowed pressure on 25.3 percent of its pass attempts, the worst percentage since Holgorsen’s arrival in 2011.

“Looking back on our stuff throughout the year, I don’t think we did a very good job with that,” Holgorsen said. “Wick is really going to help us with some tackle situations with the protections. He has coached a lot of All-American and All-Pro tackles, so he will help with that.”

As Holgorsen enters the most important year of his tenure at West Virginia, it could be a familiar face that helps take West Virginia’s offense to another level.

“I have a lot of respect for Ron Crook, he’s one of the best in the business,” Wickline said. “We aren’t going to reinvent the wheel, we may have moved the spokes around but we aren’t going to reinvent the wheel here. We can work on technique, fundamentals, reads, snap counts, cadences; we can help those guys.”