What a week!
What a week?
How about what a year for the West Virginia University football program in particular and the WVU athletic department in general? In a normal year the football staff would finish recruiting in February then begin preparation for spring drills that begin in March. Coaches then continue to work on recruiting and hit the fundraising golf circuit as they eye the beginning of fall practice in August.
In 2011 things have not been normal. It all started in December of 2010. WVU athletic director Oliver Luck had seen enough of head coach Bill Stewart to know that Stewart was not who he wanted to be the head coach of the Mountaineers.
Instead of just firing Stewart, Luck goes out and hires a young offensive coordinator to serve as the head coach in waiting for a season. Most of the time when a college athletic director designates a head coach in waiting, the guy on the wait list has been in the program for a while. Even in those cases the scenario rarely goes off without a hitch.
Luck’s way may have been a first. How could bringing in a new guy named Dana Holgorsen to work under Stewart for a season and then replace him be a workable idea? As we have come to find, it was not a workable idea. The only reason anyone thought it might work is, because Stewart is a loyal Mountaineer and he said he would make it work. Still, doubts persisted.
The doubters turned out to be correct, because following spring practice reports surfaced that Stewart had asked at least two West Virginia beat reporters to “dig up dirt on Holgorsen.” The allegation was neither proven, disproved nor denied, but they did lead to the resignation of Stewart and the ascent of Holgorsen as the head coach. Some used the failed attempt of the head coach in waiting to point as a failure on Luck’s part. Smart money always figured Luck merely bowed to other pressure to allow Stewart one more season instead of firing him after last season.
With all that in the rear view mirror it was time for Holgorsen to focus on coaching and installing his high-powered offense in Morgantown. He has done that, albeit with mixed reviews. While the offensive numbers have been good, the defense still struggles to replace seven starters from last year. That leaves WVU with a 6-2 record following a 41-31 win over Rutgers last Saturday in a blizzard.
It was a great win considering the team was down 31-21 at the half, but came out in the second half and took the game away from the Scarlet Knights in miserable conditions. As it stands going into this week’s home game with Louisville – WVU, Pitt and Cincinnati control their own destiny for the conference championship. If any of those three teams win the rest of their league games, they win the Big East championship and a BCS bowl berth.
For West Virginia a Big East title will likely be its last. Last week WVU was invited and has accepted membership into the Big 12 conference, but that was not without plenty or drama. Sources from the Big 12 and WVU were confirming on Tuesday that a deal between the conference and WVU had been done and a press conference would be held Tuesday afternoon to confirm.
Those plans were derailed late Tuesday when the Big 12 said they wanted more information from WVU. In the interim, reports surfaced that the Senate Minority leader from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell, had intervened on the behalf of Louisville and WVU’s invitation might indeed be pulled in favor of the Cardinals.
West Virginia senators Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin entered the fray. Rockefeller made a few well-placed phone calls; Manchin went more on an attack of McConnell via a press conference in Charleston on Wednesday and on television and radio outlets on Thursday. During the two days of posturing the suspicion was that both Louisville and WVU would be invited to the Big 12. On Friday the Big 12 announced WVU would be invited and Louisville would not be. WVU is thought to be a replacement for Missouri and the numerically challenged Big 12 wants to remain at 10 teams for now.
The plot thickens even more. WVU and the Big 12 announced that WVU would begin their membership on July 1, 2012. That date doesn’t jive with the Big East requirement of a 27-month notice before joining another conference. The Big East has said they will hold WVU to the requirement. Monday afternoon WVU filed suit against the Big East Conference for breach of contract and permanent injunctive relief. The complaint was filed in Monongalia County. A trial by jury was requested.
Big East commissioner John Marinatto responded with surprise that WVU would employ such a tactic. This promises to be interesting. Ask your favorite attorney, but the indication I have received is that this action will not likely see a courtroom, but is designed to expedite a monetary resolution.