MORGANTOWN – When Ed Pastilong retired in 2010 and former West Virginia University president Jim clements searched for a new athletic director, Clements interviewed only one person. Oliver Luck was the choice all along, and ultimately needed some convincing from Clements and his wife, Beth, to take the job.
Current WVU president E. Gordon Gee must now replace Luck, who accepted a high-ranking position with the NCAA on Wednesday. Luck, who sat in the athletic director’s chair at WVU for four years and seven months, will be the NCAA’s executive vice president for regulatory affairs. Luck begins his new position Jan. 15.
Gee, who had a previous stint as WVU’s president in the early 1980s and then worked at the University of Colorado, Brown University, Vanderbilt University and Ohio State University, should have no shortage of connections and candidates who will not need as much persuading to become WVU’s 12th athletic director. Luck’s successor will be the school’s first athletic director to begin with a Big 12 affiliation, a slice of the league’s massive revenue payouts, a beneficial and lucrative multimedia rights contract, money for a nationally competitive salary and rising coaching salaries, a new baseball stadium and renovated facilities to support 18 varsity sports.
“We plan to move swiftly to find the best fit in a new athletic director to lead our programs, coaches and student-athletes into a new era of Mountaineer athletics, Gee said Wednesday.
Here is a look at some possibilities, listed in alphabetical order:
If Luck was hired by Texas in November 2013, Babcock’s name would have made far more sense then than it does now. He was regarded as one of the bright young minds in college administration when he was at WVU from 2002-07 and enjoyed close relationships with coaches and boosters alike. Babcock, though, left the athletic director job at Cincinnati in January to take over at Virginia Tech, where he has already hired Buzz Williams as his men’s basketball coach, extended football coach Frank Beamer’s contract and might have to roll up his sleeves to fix some things in the football program.
Nevertheless, Babcock, who has a master’s degree from WVU, knows the inner workings of the Big 12 after working at Missouri from 2007-11 and is respected for his fundraising, but the Mountaineers must know it would be hard to make the former JMU baseball captain pick a fourth school in four years.
WVU’s executive senior associate athletic director was named the interim replacement Wednesday, but she should not be quickly dismissed as the permanent option. Cunningham was the first person Luck hired in June 2010 and he trusted her to fix WVU’s flawed compliance operation. Those close to one, the other or both say Luck looks to Cunningham when needed and has increasingly involved her in the operations of the athletic department, which would explain the additions to expand her title. Skeptics could say the Petersburg native would have been named immediately if she were the pick, but WVU might look around and come back to realize Cunningham, who has a bachelor’s and master’s degree from WVU and worked in compliance for the Big East and Maryland, is so highly regarded for a reason.
The Parkersburg native also earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from WVU, and those sorts of ties still matter to these searches. Lyons has done quite a bit since selling back his textbooks in 1988. He began as an associate commissioner in the Big South Conference and was then in the NCAA offices from 1989-98 before breaking into collegiate administration with three years at Texas Tech. Lyons garnered the most rave reviews, though, as associate commissioner of the ACC from 2001-11, a particularly successful time for the league. As good as that sounds, it masks the obvious intrigue: He’s currently the deputy athletic director at the University of Alabama and knows how a big football program should be presented and received, the sort of designation that can help WVU as it continues to get settled in the Big 12.
He’s the people’s choice, though perhaps those people assume he’ll bring some of the flashy uniforms and Nike money with him from Oregon, where he’s been the athletic director since 2010. The doubt about Mullens is obvious. Why would he leave Oregon and all that Phil Knight swag? Mullens does have it good out west, but West Virginia is just as important to him. He’s from Morgantown and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at WVU. He’s friends with people who still work in the athletic department and there’s a thought, if not hope, that he’d like to prove himself back home and removed from the Nike affiliation so many seek to attach to any success Oregon experiences. Mullens’ past with big basketball (Kentucky, 2002-06) and a big roster of sports (Maryland, 1998-2002) has prepared him ably for whatever his future holds.
Simply put, no one’s name carries more weight when it comes to prospective WVU athletic directors. His father, Fred, was a giant in pro and college sports who was an All-American player at WVU, a winning coach at WVU and Purdue and the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Fred preceded Pastilong as athletic director from 1981-89 and Jim got into the family business not long after graduating from Purdue and receiving his master’s from WVU. He’s been the athletic director at Ohio since 2008 and spent nine years before that in charge at Wichita State. He’s made the most of smaller budgets in the past and still attracted quality coaches: Mark Turgeon and Gregg Marshall for Wichita State basketball and John Groce and Jim Christian for Ohio basketball.
West Virginia University athletic director Oliver Luck talks to Marshall University athletic director Mike Hamrick during the weather delay of the Friends of Coal Bowl in 2011. Luck is leaving WVU after accepting the position of executive vice president of regulatory affairs with the NCAA.
This article was republished with permission from the original author, Mike Casazza, and the original publisher, Charleston Daily Mail.