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Todd Graham and Dana Holgorsen: the rivalry continues | August

HolgoCanPitt's Todd Graham and WVU's Dana Holgorsen just don't like each other. That's a-ok with me. Dave Wannstedt and Bill Stewart were always so polite and respectful; always afraid to take a gamble, either on or off the field. It was boring. But Todd and Dana are different. They just plain don't like each other:

Neither coach will admit to any distaste for the other. Pitt and West Virginia are rivals, but no coach wants to channel Woody Hayes and start feuding publicly with anyone.

“I’m not going to get caught up in that,” Holgorsen says. “He can if he wants to.”

“Any time you have two people who are competitive, you are going to have that kind of stuff,” Graham says.

“That kind of stuff” refers to a verbal skirmish between the two following the 2009 Houston-Tulsa game, won by the Cougars, 46–45. Holgorsen, then the offensive coordinator for UH, accused Graham’s Golden Hurricane players of faking injuries to slow down the fast-paced Cougar attack.

The year before, Houston had routed Graham’s squad, 70–30, so it only made sense the Hurricane would try to keep Case Keenum and his people from rolling it up again. Though some defensive coaches will tell you they absolutely instruct their charges to feign cramps and other minor maladies to derail rival no-huddle attacks’ momentum, Graham copped to no such behavior. That didn’t make Holgorsen happy. While on KGOW-AM in Houston, Holgorsen gave his opinion on the matter.

“Yeah, they were cheating,” he said. “We’ve got some inside information on how they did it.

“They’ve got a signal for it. We know they’ve got a signal for it. We see it on film that they’re actually doing the signal, and then all of a sudden, one of their guys just comes down with a bunch of cramps. He falls down and then the other 10 players kind of jog over to the sideline, and they use it as a timeout.”

As you can imagine, Graham wasn’t too happy when he heard about the accusation, which was reported in the Tulsa World. His response was measured but certainly had an edge.

“I wouldn’t have any comment on that,” he said. “We do things the right way. This place is about excellence in everything that we do.”

The next year, Holgorsen - then at the reigns of a superior Oklahoma State offense - dropped 700+ yards on a clearly overmatched Tulsa team and with three minutes to spare and a 30 point lead, dropped back and passed four times straight. And that's carried over to present, as Dana Holgorsen was asked to comment about Todd Graham being all "Dear Leader" on the cover of Pitt's media guide.




(More after the fold)


I embrace the hatred. (Here's the media guide by the way. There's a 99% chance Graham had absolutely nothing to do with who was on the cover. That's Pitt's marketing strategy this year.) Holgo seemingly likes to take shots at Graham in the media. Meh. I'm fine with it. Just answer on the field.

Graham has stayed a bit above the frey, but I'm not sure he won't try to run up the score the first chance he gets either. I'm confident in a Tommy West vs. Jackie Sherril confrontation at some point.

And on top of that, WVU is now the overwhelming favorite to win the Big East this season. May it work out as well for them as it has for Pitt in 2010 and 2009.

Pitt is ranked second, USF is third and Rutgers is eighth. Everyone in the middle is ranked "whogivesacrapyoureallgoingtoathirdtierbowl."

For understandable reasons, Graham and Holgorsen are being touted as the saviors of the Big East. I'm pretty confident that between Graham, Holgorsen and Charlie Strong at Louisville, the conference has at least two very coaches. But that's not a guarantee. There have been similarly high acclaimed coaches that have looked to the Big East as their break into the elite head coaching ranks and failed miserably.

The comparisons are easy: Todd Graham, you get to play the role of Steve Kragthorpe, your processor at Tulsa who moved on to Louisville and set the program back 8 years. Dana, you're our Greg Robinson; the top-notch, can't-miss coordinator finally ready to step up to the head coaching ranks, also known as GERG Robinson. Both were allegedly top-shelf hires; both failed miserably.

There's a lot of confidence in Holog especially. No matter that he's never been a head coach before. Or that he got drunk and kicked out of a bar like 2 months into the job. Meh. He calls plays like I do on XBox and he's friends with Mike Leech. That's enough for everyone.

But is the failure of GERG and KRAG1N1 the ending that awaits the ballad of Todd and Dana? Maybe. I'm pretty optimistic about Graham, but then again, so were Louisville fans about the time period that is now know as KRAG1N1. There's lots of reasons to believe he'll be different:

“The one thing I remember about that meeting was him telling the seniors this is not a wasted year for you; we’re going to win,” said Pitt defensive tackle Myles Caragein. “This is my fifth year, and to hear that when a lot of coaches will come in and want to do it their way and want to play younger guys, it really hit home. He said it, and you believed him. He has that certain something you can’t explain, but can only see.”

That, more than anything, is what Pitt lacked under Wannstedt. It was always an unfortunate bad break, an unthinkable bounce, a missed extra point, that kept the Panthers from truly turning the corner under Wannstedt.

There were confounding losses and gut-wrenching defeats, and not nearly enough program-defining victories. The best victory under Wannstedt was a game that likely saved his job in 2007, when seven-loss Pitt kept bitter rival West Virginia from the BCS National Championship Game with a victory in Morgantown, W.V.

This is what Graham is walking into: a mentally fragile program with years of scars and disappointment. And you know what? He doesn’t care.

They can win now.

Wait. Where's the Wannstedtesque excuse? But we're young. But we're installing a new system. Yinz know there will be growing pains. The Big East is a surprisingly tough conference.

No more.

Every year Pitt fails to make a BCS game is a disappointment until the conference gets substantially better. It was there for the taking while Louisville was mourning Petrino and WVU couldn't figure out that Bill Stewart was awful and Rutger was being Rutgers. No more. Win or go home.

It's a new system with a new coach and new attitude. Same as West Virginia. The only other team in the conference is USF and they have BJ Daniels at quarterback.

Win or go home.

And beat WVU while you're at it. Beat them bad.