The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

December 20, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU move about more than football

MORGANTOWN — There are days in this sportswriting business, and the last week it’s been a whole lot of them, where things come at you so unexpectedly, so rapidly and from so many angles that you don’t have time to think.

Instead, you rely on kneejerk reactions and far too often the emphasis is on the jerk.

That is why a quiet weekend was necessary, to sit back and think about the delayed action firing of Bill Stewart and the hiring of Dana Holgorsen as West Virginia University’s football coach.

As is usually the case in situations like this, the analysis becomes quite myopic, with the emphasis on only the situation as it relates to the here and now, narrow in scope and tied in only to the effect it will have on a WVU football program that may be dreaming bigger than circumstances allow it to dream.

With some down time, however, there were quiet moments to consider just what athletic director Oliver Luck was really trying to do when he replaced Stewart, who had won nine games for three straight years, beaten Pitt twice and stunned Oklahoma, with a young, ambitious coach who is being touted as an offensive genius but has yet to win his first football game as a head coach.

The kneejerk reaction, at least from this corner, was that the move was a step in the right direction if the WVU football program was to grow, but if a national championship were indeed the goal, Stewart had to be replaced: a. immediately and not after a year, and b. with a proven coach.

That view has not changed. However, out of those quiet moments came another theory that insists the plot to overthrow Bill Stewart in an effort to win a national football championship was only a part of the equation.

Indeed, as often happens with deep thinkers such as Luck, a quarterback who nearly became a Rhodes Scholar during his days here and whose genes were passed on to a son who was not only talented enough to play major college quarterback and become a Heisman Trophy finalist but intelligent enough to do it at Stanford, this was done not in a narrow context, but in a far vaster context.

This, in fact, was not really about the future of West Virginia football, but more about the future and survival on the top level of the West Virginia athletic department.

Oliver Luck and the powers that be obviously have a grand scheme laid out at WVU, one that could not be imagined by those who are familiar with the program and its place in college football. Even as the changes have begun, the fact is that the WVU program is trying to move into the elite status that is occupied by the likes of Ohio State, Texas, Alabama, Michigan and Notre Dame in college athletics.

It has been happening almost on yearly basis around the athletic compound at the Coliseum and began, in reality, when the department began to shrink and five sports were dropped amid great criticism, an outcry over the perennial national champion rifle team that caused the school to reinstate it.

Buildings began to sprout up everywhere. A gymnastics building was built. A soccer field for rapidly improving men’s and women’s soccer teams was constructed, along with a practice field. A wrestling building was added to the aging Natatorium and Shell Building.

Then money was raised for a new basketball practice facility that will house both the men’s and women’s programs in first class style.

When this is completed and the Coliseum freed of those programs, rest assured that an announcement will come that the old Coliseum will be reconfigured and high-revenue suites added there, right about where Bob Huggins’ office sits.

At the same time, make no doubt that the football stadium is in for its new round of luxury suites, perhaps where the press box now sits, perhaps across from the press box.

To make this work, however, the football program has to be generating far more excitement than it has over the past couple of seasons. As Luck pointed out when making the announcement of his coaching change, the road to greatness grew a lot tougher with the addition of TCU to the Big East.

Everyone in the conference is going to have to raise its level of play or simply cede the BCS bid to the Horned Frogs and to raise the level you need to add to revenue both through suite sales and donations. With Mike Puskar aging and no long with his close ties to the athletic department through Ed Pastilong, it is necessary to woo some of the other big-time donors who left when Stewart was hired back into the fold.

This has become as much a money grab as it is an upgrading of the football program, the upgrade being done solely because it is in search of a lot more cash to finance facility upgrades.

The question that must be answered becomes this: Is this really the time and way to gamble, with the economy still on shaky grounds, with an unproven coach and with TCU entering the conference?

One suspects there’s a large segment of the population that would advise WVU to proceed with caution, but the fact of the matter is that each day it appears Luck was brought in by university President Jim Clements to make just such a gamble to put WVU among the nation’s elite.

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

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