By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
On paper, this week’s regular season-ending matchup between one-win Kansas and a disappointing West Virginia football team that went from national championship contenders to battling for bowl eligibility would seem to be nothing to get yourself riled up over.
Yet somehow, in the midst of the final weekly Big 12 coaches conference call, Kansas coach Charlie Weis and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen, each dubbed offensive genii at times during their coaching careers, found reasons to fire invisible darts at each other.
It wasn’t like a Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier attack, be it a war of words or a battle in the ring, for it was more subtle, more read-between-the-lines jabs than anything else, which will serve the purpose of offering some spark to what shapes up as a game that would be little more than a tribute to the Mountaineer seniors and an emotional goodbye to the likes of Geno Smith and Tavon Austin.
In truth, Smith and Austin were at the heart of this little spitting match that transpired.
Near the end of his interview time, Weis was asked about Austin’s touchdown run on the touch pass and his punt return and if it was simply a matter of speed.
Here is his answer:
“He is faster than most people in the field,” Weis began, “whether they line him up in backfield or they motion him across the formation where they do that little touch pass they do where the shotgun snap goes to the quarterback and he doesn’t even keep it in his hands, just taps it forward to him — which counts as a completed pass, by the way.
“Just take two plays from that game last week, take the punt return and that little pass in the flat on the left-hand side where everyone had angles at him and he just outruns everyone. That’s not coaching now. I’m sure everyone would like to stand in line and take credit for that. That’s just unusual talent and unusual speed. He’s just a very dynamic player, whether they line him up in the backfield and give him the ball or play him at wide receiver. No matter where he is, he’s a pain in the butt you always have to account for.”
But it appears Holgorsen was on the line listening to such talk and bristled when he heard it, and wasn’t going to let it slip by.
First he was knocking the idea that a pass that almost didn’t involve the quarterback of a foot and a half would go into the books as a 75-yard touchdown pass, that being one of Holgorsen’s best and most creative plays.
Then to come back and say “that’s not coaching now” and add that he’s sure everyone is lining up to take credit for it ... well, Holgorsen was ready to offer his own sarcastic view of this coaching matchup.
It did not take long for Holgorsen to get his point across.
Someone asked him, in light of his team’s ability to stay together and break out of their five-game losing streak at Iowa State if he thought Kansas, with only one non-conference victory this year, would also be determined in this final game or simply mail it in.
“They are going to coach them up,” Holgorsen began. “We’re going to be at a major schematic disadvantage going against their coaches.They have coaches with tremendous pedigree that have coached everybody in the world and that have coached for decades and decades, so we’re going to have to regroup real quick, come together with a good game plan and be able to play at the highest level.
“Our coaches are going to be challenged this week to be able to match what we’re going to go against,” he concluded.
On the surface, certainly, that is a complimentary statement and, in many ways, quite honest, for it is a veteran staff with great accomplishments ... but coming in the light of Weis’ remark about how there was no coaching involved in what Austin has done, there was certainly some acid applied along with the words.
The truth is, this is an intriguing coaching matchup between a young upstart of a coach in Holgorsen, who in 1993 began his coaching adventure at Valdosta State in Georgia while Weis was joining the New England Patriots’ new head coach Bill Parcells in jumping from the New York Giants.
In 1997 Holgorsen was coaching quarterbacks, wide receivers and special teams at Mississippi College — not the University of and not Mississippi State — while Weis moved with Parcells to the New York Jets to coach tight ends for a year before becoming an offensive coordinator.
In 2000 Holgorsen finally hit the big time as inside receivers assistant at Texas Tech while Weis moved back to the New England Patriots to serve as Bill Belichick’s offensive coordinator, where he would be part of three Super Bowl championships while developing a quarterback named Tom Brady.
Weis, of course, went off on his own and became Notre Dame’s head coach where he developed quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Jimmy Claussen, along with wide receiver Golden Tate, but after two BCS appearances the bottom fell out and his contract at his alma mater was not renewed.
Now he’s at Kansas, trying to revive that program from the ashes, ironically without a quarterback that can run his passing game.
And here it is, three years after his departure and Notre Dame is playing for the national championship, with many of the players he recruited, including All-American linebacker and Heisman Trophy candidate Manti Te’o from Hawaii.
Weis has not had much to say about the revival in South Bend.
“The most important thing for me is to make sure I stay low profile and don’t try to take accolades for their success,” he said Monday. “I think it’s real easy for a guy in my position to sit there and say, ‘Yeah, they’re all my kids they’re winning with’ and be jealous and bitter and all that other stuff.
“Take Manti, for example. I love Manti. Manti and I will be close the rest of our lives, as will his family and I, but I think it’s important for me to understand it’s their team, not my team. I have to worry about Kansas, but there’s a lot of young men having a lot of success this year that I’m very, very happy for.”
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.