Luck on WVU Positioning, Holgorsen
A lot has changed with the West Virginia University football program since then-WVU director of athletics Oliver Luck handed the Mountaineer future to Dana Holgorsen in 2010.
The one thing that hasn’t changed is that WVU remains without a national championship, as the words uttered by Luck that day still echo through the Puskar Center.
“My goal is to win a national championship at West Virginia University,” Luck proclaimed that December day.
The truth was, the national championship – even the Big 12 championship – did not come in the eight years that have transpired since, an uneven run for the WVU football program that twice won 10 games under Holgorsen but never reached the heights Luck expected.
So now that the Holgorsen Era is over with 61 wins and 41 losses, much excitement and much disappointment, how does Oliver Luck look back upon his hire and of setting such a high bar for his football coach to shoot for?
“The goal of every athletic director should have is to win the National Championship, right? That’s why you tee it up… it’s why you play the games,” Luck said last week from his office at his own new challenge, President and CEO of Vince McMahon’s renewal of the XFL.
“I don’t know how many schools there are in college football but it’s everyone’s goal,” Luck continued. “Obviously, that didn’t happen. Nobody’s won a national championship at WVU. I hope that changes going forward.”
So where is WVU in the college football echelon as it brings Neal Brown aboard?
“Now I will say, it’s obvious Dana did not reach that goal but moving into the Big 12, based on how the system works in today’s era with the playoffs, West Virginia is in position to win a championship,” noted Luck, who spent five years as West Virginia’s A.D. (2010-14) before accepting a job as an executive vice president for the NCAA. He left that position last summer to become the commissioner of the XFL.
“It’s basically impossible to win the national championship, based on the last five, six, seven years, for a school not in one of the Power 5 conferences to win a championship. (Holgorsen) helped us get comfortable in the Big 12.”
The Big 12 was not the Power 5 conference most convenient for WVU, but it was the one that would take the Mountaineers, and Luck had the foresight not to hold out for a dream in the ACC or the Big Ten.
The hiring process for Holgorsen was something of a mess, as WVU already had a coach, Bill Stewart, who had made himself a Mountaineer legend by beating Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl when WVU was teetering on a precarious ledge following Rich Rodriguez’s sudden departure for Michigan.
That win in the desert earned Stewart the Mountaineer coaching job and three 9-4 seasons probably should have allowed him to keep it.
But Luck felt WVU needed to upgrade things heading into a new conference. He tried to ease the pain on Stewart and the public relations mess he was creating by giving Stewart another year, as Holgorsen was supposed to serve as “coach in waiting.”
But that wasn’t on Stewart’s agenda, and Holgorsen did nothing to help himself with an ejection from a West Virginia casino, a totally immature approach for a man starting a new job.
Stewart then went to the press with other Holgorsen transgressions and before long it was an unworkable situation, with Stewart ultimately being forced into retirement.
Luck stuck with Holgorsen, cast his reputation with him, hoping he would mature into the job.
“I think anyone who becomes a head coach for the first time has lot to learn,” Luck said last week. “I heard that from lots of coaches that they were never quite prepared to be head coach. It’s a different job.
“In the time I was there — and I can’t say I watched him closely since then — he did a good job of maturing and understanding the obligations that exist at a flagship school like West Virginia.
“He’s grown and developed in that,” added Luck.
Now Holgorsen is an experienced coach going into a new job, leaving behind a program that still hungers to lose the rap of being the winningest team in college football without a national title.
Does Luck think they are in a position to do so?
“It’s hard to draw conclusions from a relatively small sample size,” said the 1982 WVU grad. “If you go back and look at it, if you want to win a national championship, you have to be effectively in a Power 5 conference, you have to get to the title game and then you have to win that game.
“That’s not easy when you look at the schools who are the perennial favorites in this era and even before. What do you have to do to win? You have to recruit 4- or 5-star athletes, you have to coach them up, have a program in place that consumes a lot of dollars and uses those dollars intelligently and have great facilities.
“You need great fan support, you have to have the right culture.”
To Luck, it is as it was.
“It’s no different than it was 10 years ago,” he concluded. “We’ve come close. Don Nehlen came close. Rich came close. Dana had a chance this year to come close, but I thought he underachieved with the talent he had on board.”