Oliver Luck’s Newest Challenge Is As Commissioner Of The XFL
The long and winding road Oliver Luck has followed through life has taken just another twist, and this one, like so many others, is breaking new ground.
Indeed, the one-time West Virginia quarterback who helped Don Nehlen establish his program right at the start as Nehlen began his Hall of Fame career as WVU coach, has left his job as the NCAA’s top compliance executive in Indianapolis to take on maybe the biggest — and most bizarre — challenge of his life as CEO and commissioner of Vince McMahon’s reincarnation of the XFL.
Why, you ask?
Perhaps you must look to Luck’s career path to understand.
He has always been chasing rainbows, so to speak.
When he left West Virginia, after passing for 5,765 yards and 43 touchdowns while quarterbacking them to the first signature victory of Nehlen’s career, a 26-6 triumph over Florida in the 1981 Peach Bowl, he went to the Houston Oilers to begin a professional career.
While there, he did double duty. While backing up Archie Manning and Warren Moon, and after he had been one of the few football players to ever also be a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship while at WVU, he went to law school.
He graduated from the University of Texas Law School with honors in 1987 and again took a spur line to success, accepting a fellowship to study the European Union and its legal system in Germany.
In 1990, Luck’s career took another turn as he was the Republican nominee for Congress from West Virginia’s Second Congressional District, which included his alma mater, but was defeated by incumbent Democrat Harley Staggers Jr.
It was said at that time his ultimate goal was to become governor of West Virginia and possibly wind up in the Senate, but that defeat left him looking for the road out of town and out of politics.
Always willing to take a chance, Luck returned to Germany to take over as general manager of the Frankfurt Galaxy of the fledgling World League of American Football. After that league suspended and then folded, he moved on to the Rhein Fire as general manager before becoming the league’s president as it became NFL Europe.
In 2001 he returned to the United States and Houston and took on yet another out-of-the-mainstream challenge as CEO of the Houston Sports Authority, which led in 2005 to becoming president of the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer and helping them into a new downtown soccer stadium, BBVA Compass Stadium.
Just shy of eight years ago, Luck was selected to replace Ed Pastilong as athletic director at WVU, where he called on all of his background and lead the transition of WVU from the crumbling Big East into the Big 12.
It was hardly a simple chore, for he had to refurbish facilities, do away with a group of stagnant coaches and then live through what was a farcical coaching change from Bill Stewart to Dana Holgorsen, Stewart fighting for a job he really hadn’t lost with three straight 9-win seasons.
At first Holgorsen was announced as “coach-in-waiting,” an effort to make the transition smooth but there was nothing that could make this transition a smooth one and Stewart eventually “resigned” and Holgorsen got the job.
As you can take from this, Luck is a mountaineer climber, always trying to the scale the next tallest peak.
“Oliver is a guy who always wants more,” a former boss once said of Luck, according to the Indianapolis Star. “He always wants the next challenge.”
From the quarterback through a coaching change, into pro football while attending law school, to Europe to establish American football, to politics, to running sports facilities to running a MLS soccer team to athletic director, to the NCAA… Luck was always a man with an itch that needed to scratched.
But this is a step beyond.
He is joining McMahon, the WWE impresario, as he tries to re-establish his failed XFL. McMahon and NBC joined forces in 2001 to start this new league, one with a lot of bells and whistles but not with the blessing of the NFL, and it made through only one year.
But now, set to begin in 2020, it is being revived, minus many of the bells and whistles, coming at a time when the NFL’s popularity is ebbing.
McMahon puts it this way:
“The game will be faster, the rules will be simpler. The XFL will be fan-centric with all the things you like to see and minus the things you don’t, with no doubt a lot of innovations along the way.
“We will present a shorter, faster paced, more fan friendly and easier to understand game. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still football … but it’s football reimagined.”
And Luck will be in charge.
“Football has been a constant in my life for more than 30 years, and I am thrilled to have the unique opportunity to reimagine the game,” Luck said in a video put out by the league. “I’m excited to present a dynamic version of America’s favorite sport. Like you, I want a fast-paced, high-energy, authentic yet simpler game.
“We intend to deliver that and so much more. Our games will be affordable for the entire family, and our teams, players and coaches will be a sources of pride for local communities around the country. Just last week, we distributed our proposal to 30 markets across the country, and we are working hard to select the right homes for our inaugural eight teams in 2020.
“This will be a labor of love, as I get to combine my experiences as a football player and a football executive to create something that fuels your passion and makes you proud to be a fan of the XFL. Thank you.”