By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
There was a tweet early Monday afternoon as the news of West Virginia University President Jim Clements’ departure to take over the same job at Clemson that pretty much summed up everything you need to know about Clements and what is really important when it comes to those two universities.
“I was fond of Clements, great guy, but someone remind him what that score was again. 70-33.”
The reference, of course, was to the Orange Bowl on the night of Jan. 4, 2012, and it was made by someone who sort of tied together everything that WVU is about — Jeff Braun, a starting offensive lineman on that football team and a person who posted a 3.21 grade point average while being named numerous times to the Garrett Ford Academic Honor Roll and twice being named a Big East Academic All-Star.
Certainly, when Clements came in to take over at West Virginia, he did so in the midst of a transitory time and, to be honest, the transition had hardly been going along very smoothly either on the academic administration side or on the athletic side.
In April 2007 Michael Garrison had been named to replace David Hardesty as president of the university, but his term survived only nine months before he stepped down to end a controversy surrounding the improper awarding of a master’s degree to then-Gov. Joe Manchin’s daughter and stirred far further by the sudden departure of football coach Rich Rodriguez, triggering a $4 million lawsuit over a buyout clause in his contract.
“After careful reflection, I have determined I am the one person who is uniquely situated to stop this dialogue with my decision,” Garrison told the school’s Board of Governors. “It is the most difficult decision I have ever faced. But it is a clear decision with a clear outcome.”
A search led them to Clements, who came forth as the school’s 23rd president on June 30, 2009, and walked into a situation that involved not only the degree scandal and the football coaching situation that would only come apart, but also had to hire a new athletic director.
A year and a half earlier, Ed Pastilong had announced that his term as AD, during which he had led WVU into the Big East, would end in 2010.
It was, to be sure, a jumbled situation into which Jim Clements stepped forth on all sides ... and it would only grow in magnitude.
Indeed, Clements found himself at the helm not only at a time when a new athletic director had to be named, but then a new football coach while, at the same time, the Big East conference was coming undone, forcing WVU to make a move to the Big 12.
All things considered, the Big 12 was not a perfect fit for WVU either geographically or in putting it with schools of like interests, but it was the realistic move left open to Clements if WVU were to continue to take part in big-time college athletics.
There is a certain irony in this aspect of Clements’ career at WVU and move to Clemson, for the ACC refused to take WVU as a member because of academics, yet one of the ACC’s
most prominent schools, Clemson, would take WVU’s president as its own.
Clements certainly moved forward in the WVU athletic department, perhaps making his most powerful moves in this area.
Clements’ decision on an athletic director was to prove to be a dynamic one, for whether you like or dislike what Oliver Luck has done since being named to the job, you certainly can’t accuse him of doing nothing.
Indeed, under the Clements/Luck umbrella, WVU moved from the Big East to the Big 12, hired Dana Holgorsen as football coach to move that program forward into the Big 12, and pushed through not only a new baseball stadium but one big enough and good enough to draw a minor league franchise to Morgantown, while hiring a new coach for the team who seems one year into his time here to have been a coaching star of the future.
Clements/Luck, too, have found new sources of revenue in both the football stadium and basketball arena, changing seating plans and adding beer sales, things that will allow the school to compete in the Big 12 alongside some really rich and successful universities such as Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
Again, the fit really isn’t right, but there wasn’t any other avenues open for WVU to go down.
But now the school comes to another crossroad. Just a week ago it seemed as if Luck were leaving for the AD job at Texas, a negotiation that drew all attention away from Clements’ quiet negotiations with Clemson.
Now you ask who replaces Clements — and don’t think that it could not be Luck, himself nearly a Rhodes Scholar, owning a law degree and a great deal of business and economic experience and obviously possessing ambitions beyond WVU AD.
Certainly Luck would be worth considering by a group of which he once was a member, the WVU Board of Governors.
If Luck were not named to the job, would he be willing to work for a different president as athletic director or does he move forth to the next step in his career?
Whatever way it shakes out, one thing would be nice to come of it, and that would be a yearly football game between WVU and Clemson ... or maybe even Clements pushing to get WVU moved into an expanded ACC sometime in the future.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter at @bhertzel.