The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

June 9, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU’s public image takes a national hit

MORGANTOWN — Forget for a moment your allegiance in this coaching controversy that has emerged at West Virginia University. Forget what you have read and what you have heard, the rumors and innuendoes so mixed with facts that no one can separate them.

Instead, focus on the effect this has had upon Mountaineer nation, for this has been truly a public relations nightmare for the school and the state.

This was brought to light by defensive end Bruce Irvin on Tuesday during interviews with WVU players, who have gathered for the start of their summer workouts.

“Crazy,” he said. “I watched College Football Live on ESPN this morning. We ain’t never on there, and there we were for the first 10 minutes.”

They were talking not about Dana Holgorsen’s innovative offense or about Jeff Casteel’s novel 3-3-5 defense.

They were talking about the coaching mess that has emerged and becomes more entangled on a daily basis.

It almost doesn’t matter where you look.

The nation’s media are latching onto this and painting it in a far from flattering tone.

Dennis Dodd, the respected senior writer from CBSSports .com, began his Tuesday story by quoting Mike Leach, formerly Holgorsen’s boss, as saying the goings-on seemed “underhanded and hillbilly.”

Then there was this headline:

“More Coach Drama in West Virginia.”

Was that in Sports Illustrated? No. The Sporting News? No.

It was in The Wall Street Journal, symbolizing the way the school’s public image is falling almost like a bankrupt stock.

USA Today is covering it. It’s getting so much play that Athletic Director Oliver Luck can expect a thank you note any day now from Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee for distracting national attention from his troubled football program.

Perhaps the worst unintended result of this may be found in the area where it was supposed to make the biggest improvement — on the field.

Indeed, it has to be difficult for recruiters to be selling your program to high school kids and their parents while this situation continues to swirl.

And what of the players, who currently don’t even know for certain who will be the head coach come the season. One can’t even assume it will be Bill Stewart or Holgorsen, considering the cryptic answer Luck gave to 93.7 The Fan during a Tuesday morning interview.

Asked whether he was worried that he would not have a head coach going into the 2011 season, Luck said, “No, not at all.”

But when the host said, “So, one of these guys will be head coach?” Luck was evasive.

“Well. I am not worried about the Mountaineers going into the season without a head coach. That won’t happen.”

He did not say it would be one of the two men who have been front and center.

Meanwhile, the players are trying to go through summer drills, maintaining this is not a distraction.

“We read it on the Internet, but we don’t really discuss it,” Irvin added. “It’s not a big deal to us. It don’t matter to us if Mike Montoro’s coaching us next year. We’re still going to go out there and handle business like we planned on doing.”

Montoro is the member of the sports information staff in charge of football, and his name has not been mentioned in the coaching discussion.

“It’s unfortunate. You never want this type of publicity for your program. But we’re not going to let it bother us. We still got to go,” Irvin said. “There’s been a lot of talking going on. I love Coach Stewart and I love Coach Holgorsen. The players aren’t focusing on that. We are focusing on winning the Big East and getting to a national championship. It’s irrelevant to us right now.”

“I understand it’s June and there’s no football,” offensive lineman Jeff Braun added. “I understand the fact that everybody wants something to talk about. They just want a story. No matter what happens, I don’t care. We could have no coaching staff this year. We’re still going to field a team, and I’m still going to go out there and play and I know all my teammates are.”

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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