STILLWATER, Okla. – Dana Holgorsen's stay at Oklahoma State was brief. His impact was immense.
Between his offense developing into one of the nation's best and his presence allowing Mike Gundy to get out of offensive meetings and focus on the big picture, Holgorsen helped the Cowboys take a big step toward their first Big 12 championship a year ago.
It also served him well, with his 10-month stint in Stillwater providing the platform that helped him get his first head-coaching job at West Virginia.
"I think it worked out good for everybody," Holgorsen said.
Holgorsen returns to Oklahoma State on Saturday as an opponent, his Mountaineers (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) trying to break a three-game losing streak against Gundy's Cowboys (5-3, 3-2).
This time, for a change, someone has to walk away a loser.
When Holgorsen arrived at Oklahoma State, the Cowboys were entering what was supposed to be a rebuilding year after starting quarterback Zac Robinson finished the most productive career in school history and Dez Bryant and Russell Okung were picked in the first round of the NFL draft.
Instead of a step back, Oklahoma State took a leap forward with Holgorsen installing the wide-open offense he'd learned from Mike Leach at Texas Tech and used to rack up big numbers at Houston. Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon went from unknowns to first-round picks, even though Holgorsen didn't stick around for their senior years to see it firsthand.
"When we hired Dana, that was a good move," Gundy said, stating the obvious at this point. "Not the most popular at that time but it was a very good move, in my opinion."
Gundy, who had been the offensive coordinator under Les Miles at OSU, had remained involved with the game-planning until he hired Holgorsen. It wore on him.
"I think Mike wanted to go to where he could be more of a CEO-type head coach as opposed to being in the offensive room for 18 hours a day, trying to get the offense better," Holgorsen said. "I think he's done a tremendous job of that if you just look back at since he made that switch, they've won an awful lot of ball games."
Indeed, the Cowboys are 28-6 since the switch, including the best season in the program's history last season as Todd Monken picked up where Holgorsen left off. One of Holgorsen's many quirks was that he never used an actual playbook, so Gundy and Monken had to do their best to duplicate it without anything on paper.
"We've just kind of taken it and we've changed some of the routes and some of the ways we do motions and some of the play-action stuff. You've got to make it your own, like he did. Now it's ours and it's Oklahoma State's offense," Monken said. "When I leave, they'll probably hate half the stuff I'm doing and change all of that, too."
For now, though, there's not much difference between what Geno Smith is running at West Virginia and what Oklahoma State has run with three different quarterbacks this season — with it still up in the air whether Wes Lunt will be able to start or third-stringer Clint Chelf will get the call on Saturday.
"I've watched a couple of their TV copies here, and I can call out about 90 percent of their plays, so I'd assume that's something that is on their mind as well as it is on our mind," Holgorsen said. "We have to be careful what we do from both an offensive standpoint and a defensive standpoint."
The connection goes beyond just Holgorsen and Gundy. Joe DeForest, who was Oklahoma State's special teams coordinator and a defensive assistant for the past 11 years, now runs the Mountaineers' defense. Holgorsen's running backs coach, Robert Gillespie, served the same role on the Cowboys' staff for two seasons. West Virginia quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital and graduate assistant Andrew McGee also came from OSU.
"They would be much more familiar with us, obviously, than we are with them. They've been here. We only know them. We don't know their players," Gundy said. "But once the game gets going, in most cases you actually forget who's on the other side."
That might be a bit of an overstatement. No one at Oklahoma State has forgotten the Red Bull-drinking night owl whose fingerprints are all over the program to this date.
"He had his own way he liked to do things, and so what I tried to do was just stay out of his way and let him do his job because what I needed him to do was be productive for us," Gundy said. "There's traditional coach thoughts that we all have. ... Some people do things a certain way because that's the way they've always done it. Well, he goes against a lot of things, and that's OK."
After all, the Cowboys now have Big 12 championship rings and a Fiesta Bowl trophy they might not have had if not for Holgorsen.
All that matters Saturday is who wins a single game with a bearing on the conference standings and bowl scenarios.
"I think there's always a competitive nature. I think anybody that says that there's not a competitive nature, they're crazy," Gundy said. "But you end up coaching against guys you know all the time. ... Now, Dana's a little different because he was here. But once the game gets going on, you forget who's over there and you certainly can't do anything any more or any less."