Why Shane Lyons Won the WVU Coaching Derby
While Dana Holgorsen got what he wanted in taking the head football coaching job at Houston — most notably a more metropolitan area, personal access to a billionaire, a contract with more guaranteed money and a much less difficult schedule — there’s no doubt that West Virginia director of athletics Shane Lyons, and by extension WVU, was the big winner in the coaching swap. West Virginia’s search, pursuit and landing of Neal Brown was a textbook execution.
That’s not to downgrade Holgorsen’s winning percentage in the affair he started after attempting to leverage a contract extension with WVU. It wasn’t a total head-to-head contest with Lyons, other than in the attempted power plays which he and members of his cadre attempted in order to force the West Virginia AD to extend his contract, guarantee more money, or both. (More on that in a moment.) There can, in coaching changes, be more than one winner. The Red Bull champ was in that column in a number of ways. Still, there were countering losses, including the step down in conference affiliation, that can’t be ignored.
Lyons, on the other hand? Success all around. Let us count the ways.
– He showed strength in not caving in to the ham-handed attempts by the Holgorsen camp to force an extension. He looked at the value Holgorsen had brought to the program, the success rate he produced, and determined that a lengthy extension, or a return to a fully-guaranteed contract, simply wasn’t fair to WVU. He didn’t draw a hard “no” line during this process, as there were some offers made and negotiations conducted, but he wasn’t going to make a bad decision just to make the problem go away.
As a numbers man, he’s well-versed in performing cost-benefit analyses, honing that ability during his three years at Alabama before making the move to WVU. He’s made the call in retaining, extending or letting coaches go. In this case, the numbers weren’t right, but his decision was.
– He was ready to go when Holgorsen showed signs of departing. He already had a list of potential candidates (something every AD should do) but he acted quickly upon it. In conjunction with University president E.Gordon Gee , talks with those individuals commenced immediately. There was barely time to try to identify private planes upon which they might be traveling to visit with Neal Brown and Luke Fickell, who were the top two under consideration. Even in today’s fast-paced world, the speed with which he got the job done was remarkable.
– He reportedly didn’t employ a national search firm or consultant. While he certainly talked with multiple people to receive input, he didn’t waste money on hiring an outside firm. This was a good decision on multiple fronts. First, it saved money. Second, who from the outside would know more about WVU, or what sort of candidate might have the best chance of success there? Granted, a consultant might have a little more information on a potential candidate, but it was clear Lyons and Gee and their list, and it’s tough to think of anyone within reach that should have been on it.
– He clearly established parameters and let fans know of those, albeit in general terms of the direction in which the search would proceed. Those included “a proven record of competitive success, a passion for the student-athlete, emphasis on academics and a strong work ethic. We will move quickly to bring him to Morgantown.”
It also was known that head coaching experience was important, as he did not want to endure an on-the-job training period such as WVU had to endure with its previous head coach.
– Finally, the money. It was becoming evident that Holgorsen’s job security was tenuous, given the combined factors of less than optimal record, a reducing buyout, and a bit of a strain in relations. While not a fait accompli, it was very likely that another down year in 2019 would have led to a dismissal, even though West Virginia would have been on the hook for a buyout of some $4.7 million after the season was completed. Instead, Lyons and WVU will get paid $1 million in buyout money by Holgorsen, a net difference of $5.7 million. Add in the money saved by not hiring consultants, and that figure probably reaches close to $6 million.
Of course, the final evaluation will come with the results of Brown’s tenure at WVU. That can’t be judged until at least three or four seasons have passed. But in this, the run-up to his hiring, there’s already one clear winner.