Cook: Is WVU's Holgorsen next?

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Monday, Jim Tressel.

Today, Dana Holgorsen?

These aren't good times for college football coaches in our little corner of the world. Tressel, an amazing winner during his 10 seasons at The Ohio State University, resigned Monday, presumably under pressure, amid increasing evidence that he was running a rogue program. Holgorsen, the head coach-in-waiting at West Virginia, could be the next to go after a Huntington, W.Va., newspaper column over the weekend detailed a number of his alleged alcohol-related incidents.

There was no way Tressel could keep his job at Ohio State.

There is no way short of rehab that Holgorsen should keep his job at West Virginia if the allegations against him are true.

College football was rocked by Tressel's resignation. The man won 106 games at Ohio State, seven Big Ten titles and the national championship in 2002. He was 9-1 against hated Michigan. His winning percentage of .828 was better than that of Woody Hayes (.761), who remains an iconic figure in Buckeye Nation more than 32 years after he coached his final game.

But all the winning wasn't enough to save Tressel, who lied to his Ohio State bosses and to NCAA investigators about what he knew about six of his players selling or trading memorabilia in 2009 against NCAA rules. That led to a five-game suspension for him at the start of the 2011 season with the possibility of more punishment for him and the university when the NCAA investigation is finished.

Then, last week, former Ohio State wide receiver Ray Small went public that "everybody" on the team sold memorabilia and received discounts on cars. Some players "don't even think about NCAA rules," Small told the Ohio State student-run newspaper.

Other Ohio State players quickly defended Tressel and ripped Small as a disgruntled player with a grudge. Many of their comments were similar to those of former star defensive end Cameron Heyward, the Steelers' No. 1 pick in the April NFL draft. "Sad day to be a Buckeye," Heyward wrote on Twitter after Tressel's resignation. "Coach Tressel, you will be missed. No one understands what that man has taught me and done [f]or me."

The troops rallied around Tressel in similar fashion when former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett -- a star on the 2002 national championship team -- later said he was provided with improper benefits by Tressel and his staff. Tressel survived those allegations. He did not survive as coach this time. It was bad enough that he put Ohio State in this jackpot. It was much worse that he didn't tell the truth about it. He had to go.

Holgorsen's case is different. He appears to be battling personal demons, not professional ones. He was hired from Oklahoma State in December to be West Virginia's offensive coordinator in 2011, then take over as head coach from Bill Stewart in '12. The university gave him a six-year, $14,275,000 contract.

Columnist Chuck Landon wrote in the Huntington Herald-Dispatch that Holgorsen had the reputation of being "a partier" when he took the job and has lived up to it since he arrived in Morgantown. Landon alleged Holgorsen has been involved in at least three and perhaps as many as six alcohol-related incidents in the past six months. The latest happened about 3:20 a.m. May 18 when an apparently intoxicated Holgorsen refused to leave a West Virginia casino, prompting police to be called. No charges were filled after Holgorsen finally left the casino and waited outside for a taxi.

West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who hired Holgorsen, acknowledged that "inappropriate behavior did occur" in the May 18 incident. Holgorsen, who put Luck and the university in an embarrassing spot, released a statement saying, "I learned a valuable lesson from this incident. I will not put myself in that situation again."

That promise isn't good enough if the other allegations against Holgorsen are true. If he has a drinking problem, he needs to admit it and get help. It could -- make that, should -- be his only chance of keeping his job.

The latest incident alone has damaged Holgorsen's ability to lead young men. A college coach doesn't just preach discipline and accountability to his players, he demands it. How can Holgorsen expect the Mountaineers to follow him when he can't control himself?

That's why Pitt had to fire its football coach, Michael Haywood, Jan. 1, just 16 days after he was hired from Miami of Ohio to replace Dave Wannstedt. Haywood, hired by athletic director Steve Pederson to tighten team discipline, which had slipped under Wannstedt, was arrested Dec. 31 on a felony domestic abuse charge.

That prompted Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg to quickly and correctly determine that Haywood couldn't be the face of the Panthers' program.

Holgorsen will be lucky if West Virginia president James Clements doesn't reach the same conclusion about him.


Correction/Clarification: (Published June 1, 2011) A story in Tuesday's editions about West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen incorrectly identified the newspaper of columnist Chuck Landon, who works for the Huntington (W.Va.) Herald-Dispatch.

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com .


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