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June 15, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN - Luck has a lot on his plate as new AD

MORGANTOWN — Having been selected as a Rhodes Scholar finalist while an undergraduate quarterback at West Virginia University, it was not at all surprising that Oliver Luck would make a literary reference on the day he was ceremonially introduced as the Mountaineers new athletic director.

“The author Tom Wolfe is wrong,” Luck said to a packed house that included many Morgantown and WVU luminaries from real estate mogul Perry Petropolis to Final Four basketball coach Bob Huggins. “You can go home again.”

In many ways, if home is where you hang your hat, helmet or “loden hut”, as they say in Germany, then this is home to Luck, who grew up in Cleveland, played college ball in Morgantown, played professionally in Texas, lived in Germany, where his two daughters were born, and England, where his youngest son was born. He then settled in Houston before being named to replace Ed Pastilong after his 20-year career as athletic director had ended.

His return was nostalgic in some respects, for even though he has served for the past year as a member of the Board of Governors at the university, it has been while located in Texas. Now, quite suddenly, having interviewed only last Wednesday, he will be calling Morgantown his home again.

His once jet black hair is now flecked with gray, although at 50 he is in good enough shape that he still could wear the original No. 12 jersey that he wore in the Peach Bowl back in 1981 which was given him by WVU President Jim Clements.

He is going to need to be, because things are moving fast on the college athletic scene, with conference realignment having begun and with changes coming almost hourly.

That would be enough for any new athletic director to have on his plate before he takes office, that coming on July 1. Even then he is going at it part time as he has business to wrap up in Houston.

Now, another problem has become public.

While this in no way is as threatening as the potential for disaster from conference realignment, it seems that the chance of NCAA discipline of the WVU football program exists and, to make it even more intriguing, it is the first shot fired in what promises to be an instate war with Marshall.

A Huntington newspaper, identifying no source and without so much as courtesy phone call to the WVU administration or the football coach staff, ran a Sunday story claiming the Mountaineers have self-reported using two extra coaches on the field in violation of NCAA rules.

According to the story, this was a carryover from the Rich Rodriguez reign at WVU, something which he has been charged with doing at Michigan. According to the story, Pat Kirkland and Dale Wolfley, two men in administrative posts and not allowed to coach, were doing on-field coaching.

Here’s the kicker. No one at WVU would so much as deny the story, even anonymously or off the record. They claimed, from the school president to the adminstrators of the athletic department, that they were forbidden by NCAA rules from making comment, but somehow left no doubt they are livid about the story.

When one realized the head coach at Marshall is Doc Holliday, a long-time WVU assistant who left the program back when Don Nehlen was retiring and then was snubbed when Bill Stewart was named over him as Rodriguez's replacement after he had spent time at North Carolina State and Florida, there is much suspicion that he may have been behind the planting of the story.

Considering Holliday also has hired away some of WVU's graduate assistants to work in his program, one can assume that the first shot in what could be a hot rivalry has been fired.

Certainly, it would be to Holliday’s and Marshall’s benefit as a recruiter in the heart of recruiting period to have word circulated that WVU could be facing NCAA sanctions. Take that along with the suspicion that the Big East could be hurt worse than any other conference by realignment and you can see Marshall might feel it can benefit from any perceived weakness at WVU.

It would have been nice to have Stewart, President Clements, Luck or Pastilong say what they really were feeling about the entire situation, but they bit their tongues and said nothing. You can rest assured that any negotiations for an extension on the contract for games between the two teams in the future will be contentious at best.

It could have been worse, of course, for Luck could have been blindsided by the story, as it doesn’t seem that it was brought up during negotiations for his A.D. job, but he did say he was aware of the situation through his role as a member of the Board of Governors.

Whether there really is any evidence that WVU under Rodriguez or whether Stewart continued to break the rules will not be known until the NCAA acts. One suspects that WVU, which does seem to genuinely seem to care about compliance, did nothing that it considered to be illegal.

Asked if he was concerned about the situation, President Clements replied:

“There are a lot of things I spend a lot of time thinking about from the success of our student-athletes in the classroom to the health of them on the field to conference realignment. There are a lot of things run through my head during the day.

“When I arrived here a year ago I had the view this was a great institution with well run programs and I’m convinced we do things the right way.”

A nice statement, but not an answer to whether he is concerned or not.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at

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