By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
In the end, Oliver Luck could not say no and so it is that he is coming back to run the athletic department at West Virginia University, his alma mater.
“Of all the positions in the sports industry, I’m not sure there’s anything that compares to serving your alma mater,” Luck said Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours after he accepted the offer to succeed Ed Pastilong, who will become director of athletics emeritus after 22 years.
In many ways, this completes the life cycle, for it was Pastilong who helped recruit Luck when he came to WVU to play quarterback under Frank Cignetti and then Don Nehlen and it was Pastilong who gave Luck his first job at WVU.
“That would be watching Hawley Field,” Pastilong said.
He noted that Luck did that job to perfection.
“It’s still there,” he joked.
In those days, students would go out on the baseball field behind the Coliseum and practice their golf swing, tearing up the turf, so in a way Luck’s first job at WVU was to serve as a scarecrow.
Not much has changed.
When he takes over on July 1, his main charge is to see that the athletic department is not torn up by the current wave of conference expansion and realignment that presents a huge challenge to WVU and its conference, the Big East.
Luck will not move to Morgantown until the first of the year as he ties up his business in Houston, but both he and President James P. Clements said they did not see that as a problem.
When first approached about becoming athletic director by Clements, Luck was reluctant. While he never said no and took himself out of consideration, he knew he had a comfortable situation in Houston as president of the Major League Soccer Dynamos, a job that followed a decade as president of NFL Europe.
“NFL Europe was special in that my mother was born in Germany and left after the war. For me to go back and live there for 10 years and raise my family there was special for me personally. Coming to Houston and doing things here was special as well,” Luck said.
“But I’m not sure there’s anything to compare to coming back with the opportunity to serve your alma mater.”
And so, in the end, Clements played on his ties to WVU, where he was a quarterback and an Academic All-American.
“I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’m pretty tough,” Clements said. “We found the right person to lead the program here.”
“Jim is a silver-tongued recruiter. We need to get him more involved as long as not against NCAA rules,” Luck said. “He’s a family guy with four kids. He stressed the importance of family. I’m a family guy. I have four kids. We did a lot of thinking – ‘Can we do this? Is it possible?’”
In the end, they decided it was and Luck, who had been serving on the WVU Board of Governors for the past two years, accepted the challenge.
A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Luck quarterbacked the Mountaineers from 1978 to 1981, leaving with school records for touchdown passes and completions. He led the team to a Peach Bowl victory over Florida as a senior.
His 5,765 career passing yards still rank fourth in school history and he was a good enough player to not only be inducted in the WVU Sports Hall of Fame in 1997 but to be drafted by the Houston Oilers in the second round of the NFL draft.
He played four years in the NFL and earned his law degree from Texas during that time.
After retiring as a player, he became the head of NFL Europe and then returned to Houston and became head of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, overseeing the development and management of over $1 billion of professional sports and entertainment centers in Houston.
At the same time he raised his family, including son Andrew, who is quarterbacking at Stanford and is considered a prospective NFL high draft pick. Luck says his son is even better as a player than he was.
This move obvious initiates a new chapter in his life at age 50, a step in a new direction at a crucial time.
He is not particularly well connected on the college scene at present, saying “I wouldn’t say I have extensive contacts, but I’d say adequate.” He noted, too, that he will be working with Pastilong for the first two years of a contract that pays him a base salary of $390,000 plus incentives.
“I’m not sure having contacts is all that important. What is required now is to see the big picture, to visualize the end game and strategize how our institution will be able to maintain an appropriate affiliation in line with the values and traditions we have established over the years,” he said.
“There aren’t any easy days in college athletics,” Pastilong noted. “The fear now is once on school moves or changes conference affiliation, it could be a snowball effect.”
Even as Pastilong spoke on Thursday, it appeared that Big 12 conference was beginning to crumble, which could lead to extensive changes on the college scene and difficult challenges for Luck and West Virginia.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at email@example.com.