The combatants in the Backyard Brawl are intertwined -- but this time it is off the field.
West Virginia is expressing interest in Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, a coach who was one of the top prospects for the Pitt opening.
Sources confirmed to the Post-Gazette on Monday afternoon that a high-ranking official from West Virginia's athletic department has been in contact with Holgorsen about the head coaching position at West Virginia, even as there is no current vacancy with Bill Stewart holding down that position.
Holgorsen had been among the top candidates for Pitt's job, but Monday it was confirmed he was not going to be considered for that position and that former Temple coach Al Golden was the early target of the search. Golden was hired by the Miami Hurricanes over the weekend.
The Panthers will now look to other candidates. The only other two known candidates who have had at least some degree of contact with Pitt are San Diego State coach Brady Hoke and Miami of Ohio coach Michael Haywood.
Pitt has hired a search firm -- Parker Executive Search in Atlanta -- to help identify and reach out to candidates. In that process, the school and the candidates are able to deny contact without lying.
A source confirmed it is probable Stewart will be fired if West Virginia does not win the Champs Sports Bowl Dec. 28 against North Carolina State, and a termination could happen regardless of the outcome.
West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck returned a call to the Post-Gazette on Monday, but declined to comment on Stewart's job. Stewart also declined comment.
A win in the bowl game would give the Mountaineers their fifth consecutive win after starting the year 5-3.
Stewart has a 28-11 record in three seasons as head coach at West Virginia, the second-most wins in West Virginia history through 39 games.
A source also confirmed that the pursuit of Holgorsen ramped up after West Virginia lost back-to-back Big East Conference games in late October, falling at home against Syracuse and then on the road in a nationally televised game against Connecticut.
Holgorsen and Luck have an existing relationship that predates each of their current employers.
Holgorsen coached at Texas Tech from 2000-07 and at Houston from 2008-09 before going to Oklahoma State and still maintains a residence in Houston.
In 2001, Luck accepted a position as CEO of the Houston Sports Authority before becoming president of the Houston Dynamo soccer team in 2005. He became West Virginia's athletic director in June, but still maintains a residence in Houston.
According to a source, Luck was extremely dismayed by West Virginia's attendance at its final home game this season, as Mountaineer Field had 48,386 attend the Dec. 4 victory against Rutgers. As such, Luck viewed the more than 10,000 no-shows as a barometer of a decline in an excitement level around the program.
The source also confirmed that West Virginia offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen could be a factor in the hiring. Mullen is a finalist for the head coaching job at Kent State. If he were to get the Kent State job, the source said a possible succession plan would be for Holgorsen to work under Stewart for one season as the offensive coordinator with the understanding that Stewart would retire after the 2011 season, making way for Holgorsen to become head coach.
The source indicated Stewart, whose contract runs through the 2013 season, is vehemently against such a plan.
Paul Zeise contributed to this story. Colin Dunlap: email@example.com or 412-263-1459.