INDIANAPOLIS — Some coaches never get to the Final Four.
Make that most coaches.
Bob Huggins waited 18 years to make a return visit.
And then there’s Jim Clements, West Virginia University president.
He walks in the door, flips his hat on the rack and wonders, “What time’s the next flight to Indianapolis?”
Or so it seems.
Ten presidents of the school have come and gone since Jerry West led WVU to the Final Four, interestingly enough in the first year of Elvis J. Stahr Jr.’s term as president of the school, just as Da’Sean Butler and Huggins have led WVU to the showcase of college basketball in Clement’s first season.
“It’s been great,” Clements said on Friday, just before boarding a plane to come to the Final Four. “WVU is a special place. This is the first year and we’re going to the Final Four, President Clinton is coming on campus for graduation, we have reached all-time high in research funding and we’re launching our strategic plan for the future.”
The only thing missing is soup for lunch.
Clements takes no credit for what has happened since he arrived with the school in turmoil over first the Rich Rodriguez debacle, then the Heather Bresch mess, but certainly the image of the university has been rescued rather quickly and efficiently.
“I knew what I was getting into when I came here,” Clements said. “I also know there were a lot of good people, dedicated people. I saw a university with a lot of potential, but I’m just one guy out of thousands.”
He is, however, the only one carrying the title of president, and with that comes the heat in the kitchen, as well as the praise for a job well done.
Certainly, this run to the Final Four has been a huge boost to the school.
“Between the time we won the Big East Tournament and the Final Four our Internet hits on admissions has gone up 22 percent,” Clements said. “After we beat Kentucky, one of my son’s friends in Maryland sent an e-mail and said ‘I want to be a Mountaineer.’”
Right or wrong, all sides of a university benefit from athletic success.
Huggins addressed that when asked about how the role of a college coach has expanded over the past 10 years.
“I think we’ve always been a promotional arm of the university. Not the promotional arm, but a promotional arm.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was more expressive on the subject.
“If you’re at a school for a long time, you become much more than just a basketball coach at the school; you become an ambassador for the school. Like in my situation, I’ve been here for years. In addition to being head coach, in my contract I’m special assistant to our president. What does that mean? Well, it covers a whole bunch of areas.
“So when you’ve been there a long time, you’re the institutional memory in some case for how people handle things throughout the school.”
While this is all well and good, coaches often rise to heights reserved for far more important people and their pay goes through the roof. In Krzyzewski’s case, it’s more than $4 million a year.
If West Virginia wins the NCAA’s, will Bob Huggins be in Clements’ office seeking a raise?
He can’t ask for an extension, seeing as it’s hard to give a man with a lifetime contract an extension.
Clements is aware of the possibility.
“Huggs is a very loyal person,” Clements said, perhaps diffusing any effort Huggins might make to threaten to leave. “The way compensation works, it is based on your peer group. You cannot compare him to people in the university, but to other coaches on a national level.”
And national champions are paid like national champions, which could mean Clements will have to make some adjustment with Huggins’ salary.
The question is whether it makes economic sense, and it’s possible it does.
“It helps with fundraising,” Clements admitted. “It helps with visibility and with image. The benefits of something like a Final Four run are enormous. I can’t imagine putting a dollar value on it.”
Let’s just hope that Clements was far-sighted enough to include a bonus for himself if the Mountaineers win a national championship.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.