MORGANTOWN — It was a long time ago, although not quite as long as the “four and a half centuries ago,” as Dana Holgorsen put it, that the West Virginia head football coach first crossed paths with the man who would become his offensive coordinator, Shannon Dawson.
Holgorsen was still a young coach trying to make a name for himself at Wingate in Georgia, handling the quarterbacks and wide receivers when he recruited a kid out of Louisiana who was both a quarterback and a receiver.
His name was Shannon Dawson, and Dawson says, he was not a “delusional kid” at the time.
A major college or professional football career was not in the tea leaves for him.
“I graduated high school at 5-11, 170, and I was a Division II, a Division III player really,” he said.
He wasn’t even thinking of being a football coach, either, studying science and biology, and believing he would go off and start a career like the average Joe American after obtaining his degree.
Then he played for Holgorsen.
“By the end of that first year I had my mind made up that I was going to coach,” Dawson said.
There was something about Holgorsen and his offense that won over Dawson.
“Going from the offense I played in high school to what I played for him, it made it fun for me.
“The game was fun, it was mental, it was cerebral,” Dawson said.
The two hit it off.
Holgorsen went on to coach for Mike Leach at Texas Tech with his wide open, fast-paced, high scoring offense. Leach was a protégé of Hal Mumme, for whom Dawson worked at Stephen F. Austin.
“Since then, we’ve always been in the same circles,” Holgorsen noted. “He came out to Texas Tech (when I was there) pretty much every summer. He spoke the same language. When I went to Houston, he was at Stephen F. Austin, which was an hour away, so he came down a hundred times, and we would just sit and talk football. We evolved kind of at the same time.”
Holgorsen caught the attention of the football world because he was working at big time schools like Texas Tech, Houson, Oklahoma State and setting records, turning out quarterbacks and receivers who could light up the scoreboard and play in the professional ranks.
Dawson was performing similar tricks at Stephen F. Austin.
In 2008 he inherited an offense that had averaged only 16 points a game the previous year for a winless team, turning the offense into one that led the Southland Conference in passing with 345.8 yards a game and ranked No 3 in the nation in passing. By 2009 they would become the No. 1 passing offense in the country, repeating in 2010.
Quarterback Jeremy Moses was a two-time All-American and won the Walter Payton Award as Player of the Year in FCS football.
When Holgorsen got the WVU job he had a plan in mind and it involved Dawson.
“One of the things that I always wanted to do — I did this at Houston, and I did this at Oklahoma State and I’ve done it here — is run it offensively, but be able to step in different rooms and not neglect the quarterbacks,” he explained. “I’ve always had a guy who has drilled the quarterbacks. I’ve always had a guy who, when I step out of the room, can keep that meeting going. There’s constant learning, so if I need to step into a different room, I can.”
That guy was Dawson.
Soon Dawson earned the title of offensive coordinator, which brings us to the reason we’re even discussing this.
What does an offensive coordinator do when the head coach is as innovation and involved as is Holgorsen?
How much freedom does he have with the offense?
“I give him more leeway than Mike Leach gave me, so to speak,” Holgorsen said. “I was offensive coordinator under coach Leach (at Texas Tech) for a long time. It poses its challenges. The thing with Shannon is that we truly speak the same language.”
Being in such a situation, however, there isn’t much room for Dawson to get any credit. If the offense goes as it did in 2011 it’s Holgorsen’s offense and, if someone is looking for an offensive mind to hire as a head coach or even an offensive coordinator, they won’t really have Shannon Dawson at the top of — or maybe even on — their list.
Dawson says that doesn’t trouble him.
“Two things,” he said. “One, I’m not really worried about moving up. My personal opinion is do the job where you’re at. Period. That’s my belief.
“As far working for somebody, obviously Dana is an offensive guy,” he continued. “He has the final say so, but we work together in a lot of ways.”
Dawson says he’s allowed to put his ideas forth.
“At times I have a lot of input. At times I have all. Most of the time, I would say 90 percent of the stuff we totally agree on. Ninety percent of the advice I give him in the course of a game he does,” Dawson said.
Ninety percent, not all.
“Is there a certain percent that he goes off the charts? Yes, there definitely is. He has the final say so.”
And should. It’s why he gets the big bucks.
Dawson says he doesn’t have to worry about making an impression on people now.
“You first question was how will people know what I do? Well, I did it for four or five years prior to here and was pretty successful, so it’s not like I always worked under a guy who I had to give the final say so to.
“I knew the dynamics of this job when I took the job. I’ve had a relationship with Dana for 18 or 19 years. I knew we had similar mentalities and we have the ability to work together,” he said.
“In my mind, it’s not an issue. I don’t have an ego trip as to who gets the credit for what. In the end, I just want to win the damn game. Life is good here. It’s a great job.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel