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Making Sense of the WVU Grid Situation

January 1, 2011
By DOUG HUFF

BILL STEWART.

I've had some time to digest the recent change-in-leadership of the West Virginia University football program.

And here are seven factors I feel figure into the decision by first-year WVU Athletics Director OLIVER LUCK to replace the Ohio Valley native with incoming offensive coordinator DANA HOLGORSEN.

(1) Stewart's loyalty to his assistant coaches, particularly offensive coordinator JEFF MULLEN, was a major factor. With the offensive production not keeping up with the stout defensive play, the head coach probably should have changed the staff makeup before this season.

(2) A weak Big East Conference this season should have been the time for WVU to make a major national position move. Instead, after the Mountaineers gave host LSU all it could handle, the team struggled in Big East losses to Syracuse and Connecticut. That's when Luck made his move to change the leadership. By the way, the "weak" Big East Conference so far has three bowl winners in Syracuse, Louisville and South Florida. Only a distracted, less-than-focused WVU team bowed in the postseason with the new AD prowling the sidelines ala the Dallas Cowboys' JERRY JONES. Also, one of WVU's season victims, 9-4 record Maryland, which also fired its coach, won its bowl outing.

(3) Luck said he wasn't influenced by major contributors to WVU in his decision to make the coaching change. But new WVU President JAMES CLEMENTS was a major part of the decision and it would be hard not to believe he wasn't influenced by some of the "big money" people involved with WVU. I know when Stewart was hired after saving the program from an embarrassing 2008 Fiesta Bowl loss to a highly-favored Oklahoma team following the exit of the former coach, there were some disgruntled "money guys". As I noted at the time, the only way to go for Stewart after that "high" was down. Nothing was going to be good enough for some people.

(4) The presence of current Mountaineers basketball coaches BOB HUGGINS for the men's team coming off a Final Four season, and MIKE CAREY with an unbeaten women's team currently ranked in the Top 10 in the land. Of course, it's what have you done for us lately. Stewart has a 70 percent winning percentage at WVU compared to 62 percent for Carey and 72 percent for Huggins.

(5) The season ticket factor. Luck noted, in his reasoning for the coaching change, that WVU home game season tickets have lessened since Stewart took charge. That's true since the most season tickets in history were sold in Stewart's first season, 2008, following the major bowl win over Oklahoma. Since then, WVU felt it opportune to raise its financial donation amounts to qualify for season tickets which has soured many long-time WVU supporters, who have opted to buy single game tickets during poor economic times. Now, the season ticket totals are back down from the record year to when the previous coach was in charge.

(6) The "Ghost of Rich-Rod." It's hard to us to understand why the previous coach, RICH RODRIGUEZ, and the newly-named coach are given transitional time to succeed but Stewart, with three straight 9-win seasons, wasn't afforded the same courtesy. Rodriguez won nine games only once in his first four seasons and was embarrassed in three straight bowl losses by scores of 41-7, 48-22 and 30-18. Then, quarterback PAT WHITE came along for three seasons and Rich-Rod became a super coach or maybe an ex-coach in a few days. Now, Luck cautions Mountaineers fans shouldn't expect miracles right away. "There will be some growing pains," the new AD notes.

(7) The coach-in-waiting for the 2011 season in which Stewart will finish his head coaching tenure as his replacement, Holgorsen, runs the offense. Luck says he is following the same model used in recent years by Wisconsin and Oregon. However, there's a major difference: the Wisconsin and Oregon coaches voluntarily relinquished their positions to become athletics directors. The WVU situation was handled poorly.

Have a happy and prosperous 2011.

 
 

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