Dana Holgorsen giving up play-calling responsibilities is about like your dad giving you the keys to the Escalade to go on a date, or, in my case, the old man surrendering the Plymouth Volare (surely you remember those Ricardo Montalban commercials?).
At any rate, this demonstrates the amount of trust Holgorsen has in his new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, who just happens to be an old name to West Virginia University football fans.
Jake’s first go-around in Morgantown saw the Mountaineers win the 2011 Big East regular season title and then carve up Dabo Swinney’s Clemson team in the 2012 Orange Bowl.
The following year, WVU fans watched quarterback Geno Smith and wide receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin rewrite the WVU record book.
Then Mr. Spavital was off to spread his wings at Texas A&M, where he was immediately part of the eye of the storm with returning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel orchestrating the Aggie attack.
Although Florida transfer Will Grier
is not nearly as rambunctious as Manziel was at Texas A&M, Jake’s experiences working with Johnny Football will certainly help his developing relationship with another high-profile signal caller.
“I learned a lot that season,” Spavital admitted recently. “When I got there the circus had already begun with Johnny and all of the publicity and notoriety he got. I thought it was a great opportunity to coach a Heisman Trophy winner and to eventually call my own plays, which was the end goal for me.”
Those three years Spavital spent in College Station were extremely helpful to his career, and not only dealing with Manziel from a personality and publicity standpoint. The controversial quarterback was an extremely talented college football player who could beat you with his arm, his feet and his mind.
And Spavital was able to incorporate all of Manziel’s attributes as a quarterback into his offensive playbook.
“That year added a different dynamic to what we did offensively,” Spavital said. “It was one of the first times I had a dual-threat quarterback in that system. From and Xs and Os standpoint, we evolved in the quarterback run game and how to get him involved in pocket-movement throws, which is where I grew up schematically.”
In the 10 years since Spavital played quarterback at Missouri State, he has worked closely with some of the best offensive minds of this generation - Gus Malzahn at Tulsa, Holgorsen at Oklahoma State and West Virginia, Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M and most recently, Sonny Dykes at Cal.
All of them have their roots in the spread passing game, and in the case of Holgorsen, he put his own twist on the Air Raid passing system adopted from Hal Mumme and Mike Leach by adding a power ground game to it.
“Dana was part of the first Air Raid system when defenses didn’t really know how to defend it,” Spavital explained. “Over the years, defenses have become pretty familiar with spread systems, which I would say 90 percent of college football is the spread system now.
“Dana was at the top of his game by going back and implementing the power run game into his spread system. Now you are starting to see teams evolve to that, but I think how defenses have learned to prepare for the spread system is why Dana has evolved and why the run game is so important to what we do here now,” Spavital added.
Experiencing success with Smith, Bailey and Austin at WVU led Spavital to A&M. His success working with Manziel opened the door to managing Cal’s offense under Dykes the last two years.
Now, Jake will finally get an opportunity to call his own offense - knowing full well that one of the best play callers in college football will be managing the sidelines - and listening in on the headsets to keep up with what he’s doing.
Spavital’s experiences since he left West Virginia in 2012 make him well-equipped to handle this big responsibility Holgorsen has now given him.
“I really enjoyed my time (at Texas A&M) and it was fun coaching players (like Manziel),” Spavital said. “Luckily, the success and the trial and error I had at Texas A&M and then moving on to Cal led me back to West Virginia, which ultimately, I’m really fired up to be back here.”
Others seem to be fired up about Spavital’s return to West Virginia as well.
Earlier today, SI.com listed the Spavital hiring as one of the top 10 coordinator moves this offseason, writing: “Holgorsen’s Air Raid offenses have already been fun to watch, as have Spavital’s attacks at Texas A&M and Cal. And, as FOX Sports’s Bruce Feldman noted, the combination of them with offensive line coach Joe Wickline has been pretty prodigious in the past.”
It appears the good times in Morgantown will continue, for sure.
Holgorsen, Spavital, Wickline and the rest of the WVU football staff will be available to members of the media Thursday morning ahead of the start of spring football practice on Tuesday, March 14.
Spring work will conclude with the annual Gold-Blue Game to be played inside Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday, April 15.