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Coaching staffs’ history provides backstory to Stillwater showdown

Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire

Coaching staffs can change with the calendar and can be as tight as families or as contentious as divorce court. The hires, firings and advancements can cross-pollinate friendships and relationships which often wind up on opposite sidelines.

No. 10 West Virginia comes to Stillwater Saturday (11 a.m. CST, FOX) to face Oklahoma State. Cowboys coach Mike Gundy is going for his 100th victory and two men who helped boost that win total work for the Mountaineers.

During the 2009 season, Gundy began to realize that being Oklahoma State’s head coach and offensive coordinator wasn’t working. That season the Cowboys finished 70th in total offense and 99th in passing offense while scoring just one touchdown in its last two games.

Gundy then made what he has described as the best hire of his coaching career by bringing Dana Holgorsen from Houston to run Oklahoma State’s offense. In 2010 Cowboys 11-2 and were third nationally in total offense, second in passing and third in scoring.

In that one season, the Oklahoma State offensive room featured the coaching odd couple of the wild and crazy Holgorsen – his approach to life resembles his fly-away hair – and Joe Wickline, the buttoned down, all-business offensive line coach. The opposites attracted and Holgorsen’s wide-open offense fit perfectly with Wickline’s linemen.

Holgorsen parlayed his success in his one season in Stillwater into the West Virginia job. Wickline stayed at Oklahoma State until 2013, when he was hired by new Texas coach Charlie Strong. That move led to a breach-of-contract lawsuit.

After two seasons in Austin, Wickline was dismissed and joined Holgorsen in Morgantown. Wickline’s title is offensive coordinator/offensive line coach, but the Mountaineers’ offense is Holgorsen’s show as an in-game play caller. Holgo’s coaching staff is all about collaboration, especially on the offensive side, so titles don’t matter.

“Regardless of the personalities or any of that stuff, it’s the knowledge and the working relationship that mattered,” Holgorsen said. “We worked wonderful together at Oklahoma State. I understood what he was trying to do. He understood what I was trying to do.

“I knew what I was getting when I hired him. We needed help with game planning and pass protection. He’s brought exactly what I thought he would.”

The Mountaineers rank No. 10 nationally in average total yards (510), with 303.5 through the air and 206 on the ground.

Former Texas assistant coach Joe Wickline is part of the coaching drama which will unfold in Saturday's West Virginia-Oklahoma State game. (Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire)

Former Texas assistant coach Joe Wickline is part of the coaching drama which will unfold in Saturday’s West Virginia-Oklahoma State game. (Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire)

Wickline is considered one of the nation’s top O-line coaches. In his 91 games at Oklahoma State, the offensive line allowed 86 sacks. In the 33 games since his departure, the Cowboys have given up 95 sacks. Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph has been sacked 22 times including a season-high five sacks last Saturday against Kansas.

“You’re not going to be able to win games getting sacked five times,” Gundy said.

Which brings us to the Cowboys’ offense against West Virginia’s defense. The Mountaineers are allowing 17.8 points a game, which for a Big 12 defense is akin to allowing single digits. The last two games, West Virginia has held Texas Tech and TCU to a total of 27 points. Through six games, WVU has allowed just eight plays of 30 yards or more.

Rudolph and Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich will try to solve the Mountaineers’ unique 3-3-5 defense.

“They’re able to drop eight people underneath, most people drop seven,” Yurcich said. “But at the same time, it’s an eight-man front. So they’re taking away an extra gap. Regardless of what formation you’re in, they’re usually going to outnumber you from a (player) standpoint.”

West Virginia is one of the seven unbeaten teams among the Power Five Conference schools. Holgorsen is well aware, though, that Oklahoma State presents a challenge.

“They had an unfortunate loss early in the year, if you can consider it a loss,” Holgorsen said, referring to Oklahoma State’s controversial loss to Central Michigan. “This team could very easily be sitting at 7-0.”

Speaking of 7-0:

That’s exactly where Holgorsen and West Virginia want to be when they exit Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday afternoon in Stillwater.

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