By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The truth be known, Oliver Luck did not come in and find the West Virginia University athletic department in a state of disarray in 2010, when he was hired as athletic director.
It wasn’t in need of a respirator, and no one had been called to administer last rites.
Eddie Pastilong had served it well during 20 years, but things were beginning to creak with age. Rust was showing here and there and the world, to be honest, was spinning faster than Pastilong was able to keep up with it.
A change wasn’t essential, but Pastilong had announced his resignation at a time when the school’s upper management was in turmoil, and when Jim Clements took over as president, he felt it was best to bring in his own man, even though Pastilong was willing to serve on.
Clements went off on a search of an athletic director and knew the minute he stumbled upon Oliver Luck that he had his man, a one-time West Virginia quarterback, an NFL player, a near Rhodes Scholar who had become a lawyer, president of NFL Europe, a civic leader in a major city, Houston.
He came with energy, fresh ideas, imagination and a son who was destined to become the No. 1 draft choice in the National Football League.
His only failure, it seemed, was in not directing that son, Andrew Luck, to West Virginia to play his football.
As noted, there were no fire alarms going off when Luck arrived —they would wait until his hand-picked football coach beat Baylor and Texas in successive weeks and downtown Morgantown was set ablaze — but it didn’t take long for challenges to present themselves.
Oh, Luck had started things himself when he decided to replace Bill Stewart, the man who had won maybe the most important football game in West Virginia’s history, beating Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl after Rich Rodriguez had blown a chance to play for the national championship by losing to Michigan and scurried out the back door to Michigan.
His search brought him to Oklahoma City one afternoon to talk with Dana Holgorsen, the game’s most dynamic offensive coordinator. Hiring him, though, would be difficult, for Stewart was as West Virginia as pepperoni roles and almost as popular … except with a certain element of the school’s top donors.
To appease all sides, he hired Holgorsen as “coach-in-waiting,” creating a situation that could not work. The feeling always has been that he knew that and figured he’d have Holgorsen coaching the team in 2011, as it worked out.
But more of that later. First there was something even more important, the collapse of the Big East around West Virginia and Luck’s ability to rescue the school from near disaster, move it into the Big 12, a far more competitive and successful football conference whose only disadvantage was one of proximity.
At the same time Luck was cleaning house, moving out some of the long-time coaches who always had enjoyed “lifetime” security at WVU … a new volleyball coach, a new baseball coach, a new tennis coach.
He presided over the completion of a new basketball practice facility that is among the nation’s finest, has signed his coaches to new contracts, strong contracts.
Fundraising reached record heights, inspired part by the football success, part by the look of a bright future, reaching $22.7 million a year ago, which was a record.
Work was begun to revitalize the football stadium, plans for new suites being studied, beer being sold there as an inventive way to attack what had been a problem with drunks in attendance at games, Luck cutting out halftime passes that allowed them to go to their cars and party away the second half.
The beer revenue was half a million dollars, the behavior at the stadium improved along with what proved to be a limiting of more potent alcoholic beverages.
Now Luck has moved beer into the Coliseum on a limited basis as he plans to begin construction of suites there, again increasing revenues.
The keystone of it all, though, is the Big 12 and the $20 million that will come annually from that television contract, something that buries the $7 million or so that came from the Big East.
There was only one problem, really, and that was that Luck made himself almost indispensable, and Clements had to find a way to assure that Luck would not be moving on.
For six months they worked on a contract extension, one that was completed this week and announced not long before cocktail hour on Friday as the football team was heading for Lubbock, Texas, and a key conference game with Texas Tech.
Luck’s contract was extended from being through 2015 to 2017; his salary was raised to $550,000 annually with his performance bonuses capped at $150,000 a year.
The contract addresses keeping him here not through a buyout clause but instead through retention bonuses that will pay him $225,000 additionally if he is employed through 2015 and another $150,000 if he is still employed on June 30, 2017.
It isn’t quite the money his son, Andrew signed for as the No. 1 pick of the Indianapolis Colts, but then again he doesn’t have to avoid any blitzing linebackers, either.
“Oliver Luck is a true leader. He has brought stability, momentum and energy to his position. He is someone we want on our team for many more years to come,” Clements said.
“I appreciate the confidence that President Clements has placed in me and the entire athletic department team,” Luck said. “We will continue to work hard as we transition into the Big 12, and will strive to represent this university and this state with the pride and passion each deserves. This is my alma mater, and I am thrilled to serve her.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.