The Times West Virginian


March 30, 2014

FURFARI COLUMN: Who’s next on Oliver Luck’s hatchet list?

MORGANTOWN — Who’s going to be next on Oliver Luck’s sad house-cleaning list as West Virginia University’s athletic director?

Craig Turnbull, the outstanding head coach and builder of the Mountaineers’ wrestling program for 36 years, was notified on Friday afternoon that Luck shockingly announced that his contract will not be renewed on June 30 for next year.

If memory serves, the highly successful and classy Turnbull became the fifth WVU head coach and a sixth key veteran employee to be fired since Luck took over as A.D. a little more than three years ago.

Turnbull, who’s 61 and certainly not ready to retire, led his teams to an overall record of 287-214-9 in dual meets.

Numerous individuals among his wrestlers earned All-American and other honors, including three-time NCAA champion Greg Jones, who is currently an assistant coach.

I am absolutely appalled by such treatment as Luck seemingly, in my opinion, unjustifiably dishes out. And obviously the Board of Governors at WVU allows the former Mountaineer quarterback a free reign.

That’s not surprising, though. The Ohio native is a former BOG member who helped select WVU president Jim Clements, now in the same position at Clemson.

Those two men permitted free spending (like money was going out of style) while they worked together on athletic matters.

Hopefully, Dr. E. Gordon Gee, who is now the WVU president, will attempt to end what many people consider as wrongdoing in the athletic department.

Coincidentally, I had interviewed Coach Turnbull in the beautiful Wrestling Pavilion last Wednesday afternoon by previous appointment. It was one of the most interesting interviews I’ve ever had.

And we happen to be close longtime friends since the well-liked Erie, Pa., native first came to Morgantown as an assistant to Frank Liechti.

Taking over the wrestling program in 1979, Turnbull prepared his teams to fare reasonably well — and with class — in the Eastern Wrestling League as well as in various tournaments, including the NCAA.

In that connection, may I ask if the Big 12 Conference (which I still don’t think WVU should be in) is so great, why doesn’t it have more than just four teams in wrestling?

We can’t ask Luck, who receives an annual base salary of $700,000. He really hasn’t had very many press conferences at which all reporters could question him.

It really makes one wonder at times what he really does in his job to earn his high salary?

You may recall that Luck fired the late Bill Stewart as head football coach. The West Virginia native had teams that posted three consecutive 9-4 records.

And Luck reneged on a scheduled fourth year at the helm with Dana Holgorsen as “head coach in waiting.”

Holgorsen’s success as an offensive coordinator in Texas and at Oklahoma State apparently is what attracted Luck’s interest to hire him here.

But after going 10-3 with Stewart’s recruits in 2011, Holgorsen started 5-0 and No. 5 national ranking in 2012 and then flopped to a 7-6 finish.

Then who can ever forget the totally unacceptable 4-8 finish in 2013? The Mountaineers are actually 6-14 for their last 20 games.

Meantime, Luck saw fit to fire Greg VanZant as head coach in baseball after the 2012 season. Luck didn’t even give him an opportunity to see if he could win in the Big 12. VanZant was a third baseman as a player here and later as an assistant coach before taking over the program in 1996.

More recently Luck’s hatchet ended the 35-year employment of the popular Mike Parsons. He served as deputy director of athletics under Ed Pastilong and then Luck. I understand that there also have been at least two other changes, forced or voluntary, in two so-called minor sports.

It’s certainly a growingly sad situation to this longtime WVU sports observer.

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