By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
When Oliver Luck took over as athletic director at West Virginia University, he stated openly that he wanted his athletic department to go after national championships.
Well, Ollie, you got your wish.
Now, maybe you ought to dig into all that cash you’ve been raising and come up with rewards.
True, it hasn’t been Dana Holgorsen or Bob Huggins who brought him those titles, not even his nationally acclaimed rifle team that has taken down more national championships than even John Wooden’s UCLA basketball teams did at UCLA.
No, this a “team” that works in an office that might be 15 feet by 12 feet, to be generous, a team that draws no crowd, yet it’s a team that has been almost as vital to the success of the athletic department over the years as the coaches themselves.
We’re talking about Joe Swan’s publications branch of the sports information office that quietly was honored this past week with four “Best in Nation” honors from CoSIDA, the association of sports information directors.
The 2010 women’s soccer guide earned best in nation, and its magazine-style cover was recognized as “Best Cover in the Nation.” Authoring and designing the publication was Tim Goodenow, WVU’s assistant sports publications director. The cover photo was taken by Brian Persinger of WVU Photographic Services.
The 2010 volleyball guide, authored by former graduate assistant Kelly Tuckwiller, who is off in the real world now for about a week or two in a new job, and the 2010-11 wrestling guide, authored by former graduate assistant Ira Green and current graduate assistant Daniel Whitehead, also received “Best in the Nation” accolades.
“Any time you get a letter saying what you did is the best is a pretty good feeling … a pretty good feeling,” Swan allowed as he took some time out from putting the finishing touches on what has been a more-difficult-than-usual football media guide.
Most everyone is familiar with the work Swan’s group does, for the football and basketball guides are big sellers and make a good deal of money, although times are changing in this industry as well and the guides are now online at the price of $0.00, something that is sure to change once Luck gets around to that.
But the extent of the work this group does is not well known, for it puts out a guide for all 17 varsity sports in addition to a whole lot of other items.
“Schedule cards, posters, parking passes, business cards, MAC publications, the varsity club … when I started here, I had a full head of hair,” said Swan, whose hair has receded as the work load grew.
“Our office is two guys working full time putting out this much,” said Swan.
And that is a small office compared to schools like Ohio State, Notre Dame and Texas.
The media guides offer pretty much everything you wanted to know about every program … the score of every game over the years, the bios of the players and coaches, who their high school coach was, what they did in high school, awards, Hall of Famers.
It is a sports Google for WVU fans. True, putting it together has almost been a matter of updating over a long period of time as things became stagnant at WVU, but since Luck came in there has been a whole lot of coaching bios to change and stats to look up.
The football guide has had to be completing reworked, even to the point that they had to begin looking at the records section again.
“We expect, with Coach Holgorsen’s offense, we’ll have to go look up some records we haven’t looked at in a long time,” Swan admitted.
The media guide has always been a book that serves a pair of masters. It presented facts to the media, while coaches used it as a recruiting tool, so much that it became a part of a recruiting war, Texas actually getting up to 480 pages while WVU’s guide had expanded to 368 pages in 2004.
The NCAA stepped in, limiting the pages to 218 so the richer schools did not have an advantage in what they could put out, and now they have limited the books’ use in recruiting, keeping them from being given to recruits.
Because it has so many rules and is so important, it is run past nearly every eye in the school, often even being sent to the president’s office for approval.
The cover, of course, is an important aspect of the book, and Swan and company have had some wonderful covers, but in his mind none better that the one that had a football on the cover, one that looked and even felt like a football.
“We could have bought stock with that grain, but we didn’t do that,” Swan said. “We created a dye and stamped the ball on there. It was really neat.”
The information comes from many sources, including sheets filled out by the players, which sometimes gives them some interesting answers.
“My favorite comes every year,” Swan said. “We ask, ‘What’s your favorite holiday?’ Someone wil always answer, ‘My birthday.’”
Of course, sometimes you just get things wrong, but to date Swan’s group has not been able to match the guffaw Florida pulled when it ran a picture of its mascot on the 2003 cover.
There was one problem, though.
The Gators had a picture of a crocodile on the cover.
That really was a croc, you might say.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com. Twitter @bhertzel.