The Times West Virginian

December 5, 2013

FURFARI COLUMN: The sweet and bitter about Oliver Luck

By Mickey Furfari
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — OK, so athletic director Oliver Luck admittedly remains confident that third-year head coach Dana Holgorsen and his staff can turn around West Virginia University’s sinking football program in 2014.

He made that public with a statement of six paragraphs or so to the West Virginia media on Tuesday. I wish he had seen fit to call a press conference, as WVU President Jim Clements did some three years ago to announce joyfully the former Mountaineer quarterback’s appointment as athletic director.

Had Luck called a press conference Tuesday, reporters could have asked questions and, hopefully, received some answers other than “no comment!”

Under Holgorsen’s leadership, the 2013 team finished a totally embarrassing, unacceptable 4-8 in its second year of Big 12 Conference competition. It is only the fifth time of WVU football history of 121 years that the institution has suffered as many as eight setbacks in one season.

What’s more, five or six of the defeats came in, obviously to most fans, what were considered winnable contests. And WVU was the favorite in the final two games lost to Kansas (31-19) and to Iowa State in triple-overtime (54-46).

There are growing numbers of WVU football fans, including rapidly decreasing longtime season-ticket buyers and alumni. who find that totally unacceptable and embarrassing.

Yet Oliver Luck, for whatever reasons, apparently sees no need to change the makeup of the school’s highest paid football coaching staff in history. This, in the wake of what likely will go down in the record books as one of the worst seasons ever.

This program is one that averaged 10 wins a year from 2005-2010. Then Holgorsen went 10-3 in 2011, his first year as a head coach, with the late Bill Stewart’s recruits.

However, WVU has gone 6-14 in the last two years after that sparkling 5-0 start and No. 5 national ranking in 2012.

That’s when probably what will become the most memorable collapse in the school’s history followed.

In my opinion, Luck now has made just another of numerous decisions that are unpopular with thousands of people who are vitally interested in the welfare of their alma mater, both academically and athletically.

Make no mistake, Luck, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, was a student-athlete who earned a lofty legacy, respect and pride as quarterback in 1978-79-80-81.

As a team captain, he led the 1981 Mountaineers to a 9-3 record, including a 26-6 win against highly favored Florida in the 1981 Peach Bowl in Atlanta.

To this day, the legendary coach Don Nehlen says that tremendous triumph and the 41-27 victory over No. 9-ranked Oklahoma at Norman, Okla., to open 1982 put Nehlen’s growing program at the national level.

I also remember how proud I was to be present in New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel’s mammoth ballroom that December 1981 night when Oliver Luck was addressing an overflow crowd as honored spokesman on behalf of 11 scholar athletes being feted by the National Football Foundation and Football Hall of Fame ceremonies.

Besides Luck’s proud parents, the WVU delegation included West Virginia Gov. Jay Rockefeller, WVU President Gordon Gee, athletic director Fred Schaus and Nehlen.

And I remember seeing how proud those people were hearing other coaches congratulating Nehlen in particular as they walked out that night.

So while Oliver Luck left WVU with a pleasing departure as a student-athlete and scholar, so many things seemingly have backfired on the athletic director’s dream of winning a national championship in football. WVU couldn’t be further from that at this point, in my opinion.