MOUNDSVILLE - A sign leading into Grand Vue Park, the last road for this particular group of West Virginia University coaches and administrators on the 2011 Mountaineer Caravan, said it all too well Tuesday afternoon: ''Rough Road Ahead.''
Imagine what West Virginia Athletics Director Oliver Luck was thinking when he saw that message just before pulling into the park's Banquet Hall for an annual visit with the Marshall County Mountaineer Athletic Club.
PHOTO BY JIM ELLIOTT
West Virginia University Athletics Director Oliver Luck speaks during Tuesday’s annual Marshall County Mountaineer Athletic Club visit at Moundsville’s Grand Vue Park.
It's been an interesting time for Luck, who's had an eventful first full year on the job, including recent weeks in which he has been trying to sort fact from fiction regarding countless reports and allegations focusing on the university's football coaches. Luck is trying to find out who is leaking information on the coaching situation, looking both outside and inside his own department for answers.
It was along those lines, fittingly, that one of the former Mountaineers in attendance asked prior to the event that it be sped up because he and his wife wanted to watch an afternoon soap opera.
When it was Luck's turn to take the podium, he cautioned that man: ''If you have to get home and see the soap operas, just stay,'' he said. ''All you have to do is follow Mountaineer football to get enough soap opera in you.''
It was a rare moment of levity involving the football coaching staff for Luck, who'd already spent part of his day talking to a Pittsburgh-based radio station about a claim made by a former WVU beat writer hours earlier that head coach Bill Stewart had called him in December and asked him to ''dig up dirt'' on Dana Holgorsen, the school's brand new offensive coordinator and Stewart's eventual successor.
That particular topic was never broached during the event, though Rudy Zatazelo, a former WVU athlete and longtime John Marshall High School golf coach who served as emcee for the event, threw in a few light-hearted jokes on the subject of recent allegations concerning Holgorsen's partying habits.
Stewart spoke, but it was exclusively on the upcoming season and how it's his hope that a young defense can be helped out by Holgorsen's explosive offense and that special teams is more of a factor in 2011. It was clear, when he was approached later, he was going to talk only about his football team.
When pressed into commenting on the increasing number of allegations, Luck referred to a statement released by the school Tuesday afternoon.
"There have been various reports, much speculation, and rumor around our football program and coaches,'' he said. ''But I want to make it clear that I consider these to be personnel matters and while I take them very seriously, I am dealing with them internally and privately and I will not discuss them publicly.
''What I will say is that our athletic department coaches and staff are clear that their focus is on the program, the team and a successful season.
''My expectations of all our coaches and staff have not wavered; that is to run a clean and honest program with the utmost integrity and professionalism. Anything less is unacceptable and will not be tolerated."
Other than that, Luck, who was accompanied by, among others, Stewart and head men's basketball coach Bob Huggins, offered some insight into how his department operates during turbulent times like these.
''There's a lot of moving parts to any athletic department,'' he said. ''We've got 17 sports, almost 500 student athletes at any one time, a variety of coaches, and we're in what most people would call a high-end regulated industry. The Big East has rules, we have, obviously, a lot of university rules, regulations, and policies that we have to be mindful of. We're going to stub our toe occasionally because nobody's perfect; we're all fallible in some respect. All we can do is be forthright, be upfront, try to do things with integrity. And that allows you to sleep well at night, even when you are facing some challenges.''
Challenges? There's no way Luck saw all of this coming when he concluded a coaching change was in order but opted for Stewart to stay on for a season and be something of a mentor for Holgorsen, the ''head coach-in-waiting.''
Luck was asked during the Pittsburgh radio station interview if he thought this particular setup, rather than just a swift change at the head coaching position, was a mistake.
His response was that, essentially, everything can be second-guessed, but he's not sure he'd go the same route again if a given a do-over.
Stay tuned, Mountaineers football fans. However unfortunate, these are the days of your lives.
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org