Wednesday, November 6, 2013

On Luck and Texas

The first thing I did when I learned that Steve Petersen had been hired to replace Deloss Dodds as athletic director at Texas was to call my good friend Yancey Stubbs.

Yancey is hard a hard one to reach. He prefers a simple life uncluttered by the  dehumanizing intrusion of electronics. No cell phones, no computers, no modern luxuries to distract his thoughts with beeps, whistles or other artificial demands for attention.

He relishes  the peace of a quiet that  promotes contemplative thought and guards his environment against the most annoying conventions of modernity to the point that the only connection he has to the outside world is a single wall-mounted phone in the kitchen.

The phone is old school. A monstrous black thing that rings with a satisfying  "brrrrnnnggg" that rambles through the old farmhouse rattling windows as it sounds the alarm.

He answers the phone on the eighth ring with his characteristic " what fresh hell is this?"

"Dorthy Parker be damned" I say.

"Watch your tongue! She was a lady" he retorts.

With our customary greeting concluded I am free to get down to business.

"Luck didn't get the job."

Silence. Only the white noise of a bad landline connection crackling in my ear tells me the call is still active.

"Is that so" he finally says.

“Thoughts?” I inquire.

Again the line goes silent. Yancey Stubbs is a thoughtful man prone to extended silences as he carefully considers his words. Most find this habit disturbing. I do not. I envy his ability to think before he speaks. 

“Maybe we just misread the situation.” He suggests.

Yancey had a point. Maybe we did all just misread the situation. Could it be possible that our opinion of Oliver Luck is somehow jaundiced?

“Not likely we misread the situation that badly.” Yancey continued.

“I mean there was so much smoke around Luck and Texas it was like the entire state was engulfed in flames. The media can be bamboozled easily enough but for nearly every media out in both Texas and West Virginia to be so wrong tells me there must have been a quick change in direction by Texas that blindsided everyone including Luck.”

Again Yancey was spot on with his analysis. Chip Brown, the usually reliable unofficial mouthpiece of UT president Bill Powers, had said in a radio interview last night that the Longhorn’s coaching staff had been told it was Oliver Luck who would replace Dodds.

I quickly filled Yancey in on what Brown had said on the radio.

“I heard that too.” He responded. “And by all reports WVU was convinced Luck was leaving. So the only thing we can deduce from what we know is that the search committee just changed their mind.”

We both paused to consider the implications.

“Committees are strange beasts.” Yancey said. “They have a way of fudging up the works due to the very nature of consensus building. I’m darn confident that Powers wanted Luck. But he gave up the right to select “his guy” when he formed the committee. An embattled president can’t ignore the recommendation of the committee he formed.”

Yancey had a point. By all accounts the University of Texas is one big jabberwocky of political intrigue.  Maybe the selection committee just liked Steve Patterson more than they liked Oliver Luck or maybe they had an agenda that wanted to hire someone who wasn’t as close to Powers as Luck.

We may never know for sure why Patterson was chosen. However I am fairly certain that Luck wasn’t overlooked because of ambiguous answers over how he would handle Mac Brown. Yancey agreed with my assessment.

“Bullsnot! Athletic directors at Texas serve many masters and can’t fire a head football coach without consultation from the president. I get the feeling the process in Texas would be even more complicated. The athletic director is nothing more than a messenger.”

Again the estimable Mr. Stubbs was on point. Rumors about Luck and expansion always fail to take into consideration the role of the president and the vast political machine running in the background of most universities.

“And whoever said Luck wasn’t hired because of his reluctance to fire Mac Brown has a short memory.” Yancey added.

Just three years ago Oliver Luck fired a popular head coach with back-to-back-to-back 9-3 seasons. Luck didn’t hesitate to make changes. He made radical changes that angered most of the good old boy network. If nothing else Oliver Luck has been an agent of change during his tenure at West Virginia University.

 “I’m glad Patterson got the job. I’m glad Luck is staying.  I paused before continuing. “How long do you think he stays?”

“Not that long. It looks like Ollie has decided he has done all he can for WVU and it’s time to move on.  I don’t think he goes out and looks for another job. I just think he takes the next position in the NFL that’s offered to him.”

Before we had a chance to continue our discussion Yancey excused himself to catch WV public radio’s broadcast of the NY Metropolitan Opera. 

I always appreciate Yancey’s insight. His comments made me recall the circumstances that brought Oliver Luck to West Virginia. Luck had resisted becoming the athletic director at WVU and it took a hard sale by WVU president Jim Clements to convince him to accept the job. 

Now, three years later, Luck had safely navigated WVU out of the dying Big East and into the Big 12. He raised record-level funds for WVU and led the fight for the new baseball stadium and improvements to both the football and basketball facilities. He tackled rowdy fan behavior by thinking completely outside the box and selling beer inside Mountaineer Field. He led the effort to increase revenues by outsourcing Mountaineer broadcasts and ended the series with Marshall.

More importantly Luck cleaned up an athletic department that was demoralized and ineffective. He worked quietly to clean up potentially embarrassing situations within the department and brought WVU athletics into the modern age. 

If Yancey is right and it’s just a matter of time before Luck leaves then everyone who cares about the future of WVU needs to understand it’s not a case of one of our own abandoning the school we love. It’s the opposite – it’s about a former Mountaineer uprooting his life in Houston to save the football program of his beloved WVU.

When he leaves it will be because he has done all he can do for WVU and that too may just be what’s best for West Virginia.

Luck has made enemies. He’s angered many of the old school set and many think that a new face in charge of the department can bring these disenfranchised Mountaineers back into the fold when their money is needed the most.

Maybe that’s true. I’m just glad we don’t have to find out right now. WVU athletics are safe under Oliver Luck’s stewardship.

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