Holgorsen maintains game isn't personal
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said his rivalry with Pitt coach Todd Graham is blown out of proportion, dismissing the perception the two will be heated rivals on opposite sidelines Friday in the 104th Backyard Brawl.
"It's completely irrelevant. It's highly blown out of proportion," Holgorsen said Monday.
Holgorsen was the offensive coordinator at Houston in 2009 and accused Pitt's Graham, then the head coach at Tulsa, of having his players fake injuries to slow the Cougars offense.
"There's coaching rivalries every week," Holgorsen said. "With me being in a new conference it doesn't exist as much as it had previous stops. Last year in the Big 12 where I was at, I was going up against guys I'd known for a decade. I've known Todd Graham for three years."
The subject of rivalries among the coaches came up just briefly Monday, but Holgorsen was adamant it's not what it seems.
"It's about the kids, not the coaches," he said. "Our job as coaches is to get the guys ready to play. There's a whole bunch of coaches out there who do the same thing. ... It's about playing with a bunch of effort and giving it all you've got."
Graham said he respects Holgorsen as a coach and put the focus back on the game.
"He is one of the best offensive guys I have gone up against. His staff, with coach [Jeff] Casteel [the defensive coordinator], I have nothing but respect for them," Graham said. "[I have only been mad] when they beat us. I respect this game. I believe this game is about the 2011 West Virginia Mountaineers against the Pitt Panthers. It is the Backyard Brawl. That is what it should be about."
Graham said any competitive feelings would exist regardless which coach he was facing in an important game.
"I am also a fierce competitor, so obviously we compete. Whether it is [Louisville coach Charlie] Strong or coach Holgorsen or whoever I'm going against, we are competitive," he said. "Other than that, I think that is what everyone else makes of it. From my end, there is nothing but respect for coach Holgorsen, coach Casteel and the people there."
Holgorsen spent much of his weekly news conference speaking about how he will get his team prepared for Friday's showdown.
The Mountaineers are coming off an open week -- the most recent time that happened they were blown out by Syracuse.
This game is important for West Virginia (7-3) for multiple reasons -- most notably, the Mountaineers' Big East title hopes are on the line.
A loss would mean a BCS bowl game is out of reach, even in the log-jammed Big East.
"Yeah, I mean we're going to coach pretty hard this week. Good news, we're going to work tirelessly, work a lot of hours and watch a lot of film, and do our absolute best to put the proper game plans in and try to keep our kids accountable for watching the film and getting the message across," Holgorsen said.
Graham was on the West Virginia staff in 2001 and '02, and Pitt assistants Tony Gibson, Tony Dews and Calvin Magee were on the Mountaineer staff as recently as '08, Rich Rodriguez's last year at the helm.
Holgorsen was asked if those coaching ties could give Pitt an advantage, particularly knowing what West Virginia does on defense.
"It could help. They may overthink it too," Holgorsen said. "You only got 20 seconds in between plays, or 25 seconds. ... So you've got to get things communicated quick. I encourage 'em to try and pick our signals because that means they're probably focusing on the wrong things. We're not going to pick their signals. We're going to line up and play football."
First Published November 22, 2011 12:00 am