Dana Holgorsen calls out WVU fan attendance

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At just about 11 pm for the past few nights, my Twitter feed has blown up with the same set of rumors.

“Source tells me Mike Slive is in Morgantown. WVU to SEC is a done deal.”

“Been told to expect an announcement about SEC membership tomorrow.”

And on and on it goes. As the great West Virginia sideline reporter Jed Drenning relayed, “Some moments are truly special. I’ll never forget where I was all 17 times West Virginia was officially-unofficially invited to the SEC.”

Indeed, the Mountaineer faithful have opined over the last several weeks that West Virginia would be a solid addition to the SEC as the league’s 14th member to the point of some truly believing everything they read. After all, did you not see College GameDay live from Morgantown? Did you not witness the 13,000 fans packing the Mountainlair plaza and the over 60,000 who crammed into Mountaineer Field sporting gold?

It was a big-time atmosphere. A cultural ying to the SEC’s yang. How could they say no?

But then, this past weekend, West Virginia laid an egg. A crowd of roughly 46,000 — 14,000 less than capacity — showed up to a cold, rainy and overall dreary afternoon to watch the Mountaineers lay 55 points on Bowling Green. Speaking with the media on Tuesday, coach Dana Holgorsen said that’s not acceptable.

“Whatever our expectations are with our players as far as preparing every week and going to the games and playing our best – I highly encourage our students and support to take the same approach. You only have seven opportunities a year.   What’s so hard about it? Was it too cold?  It wasn’t too cold for our players.  Wasn’t too cold for our coaches, managers or trainers.  They were out there.  So, why did we have 20,000 less people out there this week than last week?

“We’re all talking two weeks ago about how much difference the fans and crowds going to make to the LSU people. Well, LSU played well in front of 62,000 of our people and then turned around and went home and played a 1-4 Kentucky team at noon with 95,000 people there. You want to talk about an elite program?  That’s one.  I don’t know about this place.

“All I heard about was about how much this meant to everybody across the state of West Virginia and this was the NFL team here in town and we’re going to be there to support you. Having 40,000 people at a game isn’t doing that.  The only thing we can do about it is fix it.”

To be fair, it’s hard to get excited about playing Bowling Green and Norfolk State, the two home games that hosted crowds of 51,000 or less. It’s almost equally difficult to get amped for Big East conference play. There just aren’t any great teams or marquee games.

Asking people to come out in force for Cincinnati or UConn? Even AD Oliver Luck, a smart businessman, has to know that’s a stretch.

But Holgorsen was brought in for a reason: to re-energize Mountaineer Field after it was lulled to sleep over the past three years under Bill Stewart. So far, WVU’s offense has responded accordingly. Geno Smith is a top-five passer in college football and points are bountiful.

The WVU Mantrip, a new pre-game festivity created by Holgorsen, is an exciting way for fans to interact with their team before the game.

If West Virginia’s fans are as passionate and loyal as they claim to be, and if the quality of the product has been raised, then I agree with Holgorsen that there needs to be a reciprocating level from those in the stands. Holgorsen is candid, so it’s not really his M.O. to implore, but his sentiment is valid.

A consistent 60,000 in the stands won’t get WVU an invite to the SEC, but it will show they have the atmosphere to hang with it.

(Big thanks: WVMetroNews) 

Pitt hires WMU’s Cory Sanders as safeties coach, promotes Charlie Partridge

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It’s taken a little longer than he would have liked but Pat Narduzzi finally has a complete coaching staff.

Pitt announced on Saturday morning that Cory Sanders was joining the program as the Panthers 10th assistant and will be coaching the safeties. The veteran was most recently at Western Michigan in 2017 and also has head coaching experience at the Division II level.

“Cory Sanders really impressed us during the interview process,” Narduzzi said in a statement. “We will be adding a young, up-and-coming coach who has outstanding football knowledge and really excels at teaching the fundamentals. Cory is also a relentless recruiter with a great eye for evaluation. He is a great addition to our staff and now gives us two coaches—along with Archie Collins—who will focus on the secondary.”

Collins, who was hired late last month, is set to focus on coaching the cornerbacks and also heads to the Steel City from a directional school in Michigan (Central, in this case). The pair will essentially split the job that former assistant Renoldo Hill handled before he left to join the Miami Dolphins staff.

The school also announced that defensive line coach Charlie Partridge was being promoted to assistant head coach after his name surfaced in connection to several openings this offseason. Paris Johnson, a former graduate assistant for Narduzzi back at Michigan State, was named assistant director of player personnel as well.

Purdue QB David Blough cleared for spring practice

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In a stark change from most offseason news in the sport, Purdue has something positive personnel-wise to hang its hat on moving forward.

By way of the Indianapolis Star, head coach Jeff Brohm revealed Friday that David Blough is “way ahead of schedule” and has been cleared to participate in spring practice, which kicks off this coming Monday, for the Boilermakers.  Just how much of a participant the quarterback will be remains to be seen, though.

“He’s doing a great job and he will be out there at spring practice and will be participating,” Brohm said according to the Star. ‘Whether it will be fully that remains to be seen. He will be out there Day 1 and doing some portions of practice.

“We’ve got to make sure we protect him, especially in 11-on-11 settings. We’ll see how the first week goes if we can progress on that.”

Blough suffered a dislocated ankle in a November win over Illinois and missed the remainder of the 2017 season.  At the time of the injury, it was thought that it and the subsequent recovery process would keep the junior out of spring practice.

Blough had started the two games leading up to his season-ending injury, with Brohm confirming that the rising senior will be the starter as this offseason kicks off in earnest.  Elijah Sindelar, who reclaimed the starting job after Blough’s injury, will miss spring practice as he continues to recover from a torn ACL on which he played for the last month of the regular season plus the Boilermakers’ bowl game.

Illinois adds longtime NFL assistant; DC Hardy Nickerson given beefed-up title

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There was some movement on the coaching staff front for Lovie Smith Friday.

Illinois announced earlier today that Gill Byrd has been hired by Smith as the Fighting Illini’s safeties coach.  Byrd will also hold the title of passing-game coordinator.

“I’m very pleased to have Gill Byrd join the Illini coaching staff,” said Smith in a statement. “We’ve spent several seasons together in the NFL and I envision Gill bringing a great combination of knowledge and enthusiasm to our program. He will be a terrific influence on the young men he coaches, and, as good a coach as he is, he is probably an even better person.”

Byrd, who played his college football at San Jose State, has spent the past 19 seasons at the NFL level, coaching defensive backs during stops with the St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, most recently, with the Buffalo Bills last season.  This will mark Byrd’s first-ever job at any level of college football.

In addition to the hiring of Byrd, the football program also confirmed that Hardy Nickerson has been given the additional title of assistant head coach.  Nickerson has served as the Illini’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for each of the past two seasons.

Texas to give Todd Orlando raise to $1.7 million per year

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Everything’s bigger in Texas — including the raises.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the University of Texas System Board of Regents are set to approve several athletics-related contracts next week, headlined by athletic director Chris Del Conte’s multi-million dollar six-year deal and a hefty raise for Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.

Orlando, who joined Tom Herman when he came over from Houston prior to last season, was already one of 15 assistants who were making over $1 million in 2017. He was courted by several programs this offseason however and the cost to retain him on the 40 Acres didn’t come cheap as his amended contract is set to pay him a reported $1.7 million as part of a new four-year deal.

Also on tap for the board? The Statesman notes that new offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Herb Hand has a three-year contract awaiting approval worth nearly $640,000 annually.

While all those new contracts do add up for the Longhorns, it’s not like the burnt orange can’t afford it all as one of a handful of programs who topped $200 million in revenue last year.