Wild and wonderful West Virginia
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Wild, yes! Wonderful, not so much if you're talking about the current state of affairs with the West Virginia University football program.
It all began to unravel for the Mountaineers back in 2007, not exactly on the field of play as it did on the sidelines where head coach Rich Rodriguez was failing to live up to lofty expectations with the talent he had recruited, and actively searching for a way out. Rich Rod, who had put up an impressive record at his alma mater, ended up taking over for Lloyd Carr at Michigan and promptly fell on his face in front of all his detractors. Add to that the litigation that provided a terrific byproduct and consumed so much effort and resources, and by then West Virginia football was on shaky ground.
Then came the announcement that, rather than go through an exhaustive national search for a replacement, WVU Athletic Director Ed Pastilong decided to retain Bill Stewart, who had guided the squad to a stunning 48-28 win over third- ranked Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl.
Stewart had nearly a dozen previous coaching stops during his career, reaching as high as the Canadian Football League level, and seemed like he could maintain the program's above-average production and did just that. However, a 28-12 record over the course of three-plus years simply wasn't good enough and again the Mountaineers were on the hunt for a different leader. Losing back- to-back bowl games certainly didn't help Stewart's case.
With Pastilong, who had joined the university as a recruiting coordinator in 1976, announcing his retirement in February of 2008 (effective in 2010), another major change was about to befall the folks in Morgantown.
Welcome Oliver Luck, a former quarterback for the Mountaineers (1978-1981) and father to Andrew who is a standout signal-caller in his own right at Stanford. The elder Luck was a Rhodes Scholar finalist at WVU three decades ago and after spending some time in the NFL, also earned a law degree. The one-time general manager of the Frankfurt Galaxy of the World League of American Football, and president of the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer, took over for Pastilong in 2010 and one of his first orders of business was to find a replacement for Stewart.
Even though Luck had an extensive employment record and was a world traveler, understanding Morgantown and West Virginia at-large is a completely different situation.
West Virginians have been beaming with glee about the problems that have beset the Ohio State football program because there is a rivalry that exists between the two fan bases within the Mountain State, even though the two schools don't operate within the same conference. But now the tables have turned and WVU has taken over the news cycle for all the wrong reasons.
Luck thought he had found the answer to West Virginia's coaching issues by bringing in former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, expecting he and Stewart to work in concert. Luck came right out and told everyone that he didn't think Stewart was the right man to lead the Mountaineers to a national title, yet for some strange reason he thought enough of the man to keep him on as a lame-duck head coach for the 2011 season.
That's right, Stewart was being asked to work side-by-side with his successor and Luck didn't think there would be any issues with such an arrangement. Really? I understand that these guys are supposed to be professionals and put the good of the team and the university ahead of their own ambitions, but human nature says otherwise. It's like a woman asking her husband if it would be okay if her boyfriend moved into their house, and then also set a date for when their marriage would be dissolved 12 months down the line. Who in their right mind would agree to such a ridiculous scenario?
Perhaps the dynamic with the coaches would have been much more amicable had Holgorsen been a long-time associate of Stewart's and they had grown together within the structure of the program over the course of several years. Not announcing that Holgorsen would be the "coach-in-waiting" could have also been a consideration, but nobody said AD Luck was actually a Rhodes Scholar.
Then again, the Texas Longhorns recently proved that the idea of ushering in a new era of football while the current head coach's body is still warm doesn't always work as Mack Brown's apparent successor, Will Muschamp, was hired away by the University of Florida.
Now comes the news that Stewart had been trying to build a "case" against Holgorsen as to why their relationship has been strained and why the new man in town might not be the best choice for the future of WVU football. There have been claims of behavioral issues in public on the part of Holgorsen that might not exactly endear him to Mountaineer Nation, all because Stewart wasn't comfortable with the plan laid out before him. Word is, Stewart is the one who had tried to subvert the proposed ascension of Holgorsen to head coach by reportedly having members of the media unearth potential damaging information.
Last week, Luck tried to put an end to all the whispers and innuendo by unceremoniously distancing the school from Stewart. It was reported that Stewart was dismissed for "conduct detrimental to the university", but the public is being asked to accept the notion that the coach actually resigned. Again, another reason why no one in this mess can be believed and/or trusted.
To further muddy the waters, someone, somewhere even had the gall to propose that maybe this would be the perfect opportunity to welcome Rich Rodriguez back to the fold. Hard to believe that the family feud that ensued following his resignation a few years back could be glossed over, but stranger things have certainly happened.
They say that West Virginia is "Almost Heaven", but I can think of more than a few people who have a different opinion right now.
06/15 13:15:50 ET