Sources: Stewart's contract on hold; WVU investigating leaks
MORGANTOWN -- West Virginia University is searching for anonymous contributors to newspaper stories it says contain "blatant inaccuracies" about the football team's head coach-in-waiting and offensive coordinator, Dana Holgorsen.
Two senior university officials told the Charleston Daily Mail the scope includes members of the entire football program as well as other athletic-affiliated organizations.
The timing of WVU's internal inquiry, which is a normal procedure in response to such incidents, coincides with a pause in the concluding phase of Coach Bill Stewart's separation agreement with the university.
Two sources said the contract has been awaiting signatures for weeks but has been tabled as the athletic department determines who has and has not participated in fabricating stories about Holgorsen and compromising the coaching transition.
Holgorsen said he didn't want to comment because he didn't want to become involved.
WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck would not acknowledge the university's search and suspicions, which are said to be more specific than expansive.
President Jim Clements was in Washington, D.C., for business Monday but relayed through Becky Lofstead, his assistant vice president for communications, that he would not comment on the reported inquiry.
"He has the full confidence in Oliver Luck and any dealings he may have related to personnel matters in his athletic department," Lofstead said.
Holgorsen, 39, was formally hired Dec. 16 from Oklahoma State to replace Stewart following the upcoming season. To facilitate the transition, Holgorsen was given authority to structure the assistant coaching staff on the offensive side.
He replaced four assistants. Three of his new hires -- offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, inside receivers coach Shannon Dawson and running backs coach Robert Gillespie -- were people he formerly coached or coached with previously.
Stewart's modified employment agreement was signed Dec. 7 by WVU's general counsel, William Hutchens, and Stewart's representative, David Hendrickson, the member-in-charge of the Charleston law office of Eckert, Seamans, Cherin & Mellott.
One university source said that agreement does not serve as the formal document, which in this instance is to serve as a separation agreement. That contract would define how WVU and Stewart are eventually to part ways.
Hendrickson could not be reached for comment, and Stewart was not immediately available for comment Monday. Luck said he couldn't talk about Stewart's contract.
"We don't discuss personnel matters," the athletic director said.
WVU officials in March first became aware of some alleged incidents that were said to involve Holgorsen. WVU began to look into the alleged incidents, beginning with a party in Wheeling before the start of spring football.
The event, which started at a cabin at Oglebay Resort & Conference Center and later moved to the Wheeling Island Hotel, Casino & Racetrack, is organized annually by area WVU boosters. They invite the coaching staff and other members of the program, as well as other athletic department and university employees and representatives.
WVU officials found no reason to believe Holgorsen acted inappropriately there, sources said. In subsequent weeks they looked into other alleged incidents at Bridgeport's Pete Dye Golf Club and Morgantown's Waterfront Place Hotel, where Holgorsen lives.
Again they found no substantiation, and one person familiar with the process said the officials grew suspicious the stories being spread were coming from within.
Holgorsen then was involved in an incident at the Mardi Gras Resort & Casino in Nitro. After 3 a.m. on May 18, Nitro police were called for help in getting a patron to leave the building. Police records said casino security reported Holgorsen was "refusing to cooperate with the casino's management."
After the incident was reported, Holgorsen issued an apology for his actions, which Luck labeled as "inappropriate behavior." Holgorsen was not punished.
Ten days later -- and three days after the episode was reported -- a column in the Huntington Herald-Dispatch alleged that Holgorsen had been involved in "at least three and perhaps as many as six alcohol-related incidents in the last six months, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation."
The column identified eight incidents, including one in a Huntington establishment after a Houston-Marshall football game in 2008, when Holgorsen was working for the Cougars.
Two other allegations were said by sources to deeply anger WVU's leadership. The column said Holgorsen's behavior compelled President Jim Clements to threaten Luck's job after Clements allegedly ordered Luck home early from the Big East Conference meetings in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
The university already was convinced there was nothing to the Wheeling, Pete Dye and Waterfront Place allegations, but it then researched the alleged Huntington incident. Again, they concluded there was nothing to it.
The Daily Mail reported last week a colleague of Holgorsen's at Houston said Holgorsen took the team charter flight back to Houston the night of the 2008 game.
A WVU source last week called the reported rift between Luck and Clements an "outright lie" and said a plane ticket for Luck's return flight from Florida was booked weeks earlier so he could be in town for a WVU rifle team fundraiser that night.
On Monday, Lofstead said, "President Clements did not summons Mr. Luck back from Florida and the Big East meetings or make any comment about his job related to the reported incidents." It was the university's first on-the-record rebuttal.
Sources said the university earlier tried to determine who was spreading the false accounts of Holgorsen's behavior and now has resumed that investigation.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142.