The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

December 18, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN: At WVU, with change comes drama

MORGANTOWN — Say what you will about West Virginia University’s athletic department, and these days I suspect there’s a whole lot you are saying about it, there’s nobody in the country who can change coaches the way this school changes coaches.

And isn’t that good thing, huh?

Some schools — like say, Pitt, they announce one day that they are firing their coach, hold a press conference, the coach is there, do a search, hire another and hold a press conference with their new coach not too busy with the job he’s about to leave to take part in the press conference.

It doesn’t work that way at West Virginia. Not ever.

Our state university turns it into a soap opera — this time, last time, damn near every time.

Think back to how Bill Stewart got his job, the one he just lost.

Well, didn’t really lose, considering that the man who has been fired is coaching the team this season … and if you don’t think that’s going to make for a soap opera unlike any you’ve ever seen, then you don’t know a thing about coaches and players and fans and administrators.

One would actually say this is most convoluted, impossible situation he’s ever seen, until he thinks back to that last year-long fiasco that was Rich Rodriguez’s departure.

That’s right, year long!

You might remember the tear-filled meeting he had with his team as the media waited for white smoke or black smoke to come from the papal chimney as to whether or not he would take the job of head coach at Alabama, a job that his neighbor, Nick Saban, eventually wound up taking and winning a national championship at.

Nice call, Rich.

Then the next year, of course, there was Rodriguez again in a tearful meeting with his team, sneaking out the back door into a waiting car which whisked him away to Michigan, resigning from WVU and leaving his team stranded before a Fiesta Bowl meeting with Oklahoma.

He didn’t even show the loyalty to his team that future WVU coach Dana Holgorsen is showing — and Holgorsen isn’t the head coach at Oklahoma State, but the offensive coordinator.

Of course, Holgorsen has all the appearances of a hired gun coach, not the hometown kid who made good that Rodriguez was, jumping from job to job.

Holgorsen has bounced around, and he hasn’t even lost the biggest game of his life to Pitt, the way Rodriguez did.

That soap opera played right into the wee morning hours after the Oklahoma upset in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, when a room filled with power brokers and bourbon decided that doing a search with interviews wasn’t necessary to find a head coach. What the heck, quarterback Patrick White said that Stewart was the man for the job, so they gave him the job, creating a situation sure to end in some kind of failure because it had divided the entire Mountaineer community.

No way Stewart could match what Rodriguez had done, but they had to know that, yet he came close and apparently did nothing to do away with whatever illegal practices Rodriguez may have been carrying out. That now has the school looking at potential NCAA violations.

So, it appears, you have had the last two football coaches hired without a search or string of interviews, Oliver Luck hiring the man he set out to hire and the faction hiring Stewart, raising their glasses, shouting “Cheers” just before someone had to say, “Let’s have another shot.”

But neither of these reaches the heights — or is it depths? — that the school went to in trying to replace Gale Catlett. Perhaps it was because they were like five or six years too late in replacing Catlett, but that’s a matter of opinion — mine.

Catlett, as you should remember but probably have chosen to forget, was in the midst of going through a Big East season in which his team won just one game when he left the team for health reasons.

First they thought they had Bob Huggins ready to come home, went to Cincinnati expecting him to sign the contract they had drawn up, and were rejected at the front door. So they wound up settling on Dan Dakich, a fine young coach out of Bowling Green, a Bobby Knight disciple, who came to Morgantown with unmatched fanfare, a Coliseum press conference with the pep band and students present.

All the normal words of love between coach and school and school and coach were spoken at that press conference, all the booster’s hands shaken, and then Dakich went to work.

For eight days.

Discovering that things weren’t as they had been presented to him and with his contract still unsigned, Dakich walked out of his office one day, left the keys to the executive bathroom on his desk, and went back to Bowling Green, an embarrassment saved only by the unexpected hiring and success of John Beilein.

Of course, keeping Beilein happy wasn’t possible, and he jumped ship to Michigan, but that’s another tale, entirely.

So what do you have now in football for 2012? You have a head coach in name only and an offensive coordinator who really is the head coach. You have Bill Stewart, who apparently was put in such an untenable position that he had to deceive the media and his assistants, especially offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen and offensive line coach Dave Johnson, who were to be fired.

You go into a bowl game in total disarray among players and coaches, with everyone looking over his shoulder, a group of seniors who had already gone through the Rodriguez mess now caught up in another for their final game.

And why did all this happen? Economics and politics, for it was not really about football at all, and that’s the sad state of affair you have at your state university right now.

Handled properly, firing Stewart when Oliver Luck thought he had to go, would have been fine. That’s an athletic director’s job.

Few would have argued had he just called him in on Nov. 14 and said “you’re fired.” But to let him win four straight games to end the season, then to decide to keep him around for another year is … uh … um … Dakichian, to create a word.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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