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WVU football: Next move is to lock up Luck

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Understand we have a natural fascination around here about contracts. They've been at the base of some memorable West Virginia University productions, impressively involving humiliation (Dan Dakich), negotiation (John Beilein), aggravation (Rich Rodriguez, Part I), duration (Bob Huggins), litigation (Rich Rodriguez, Part II) and even celebration (Rich Rodriguez, Part III).

For the variety of reasons, they're worth tracking, as recently as last summer when the delay in signing Bill Stewart's final contract was the result of the athletic department searching for whoever was torpedoing Dana Holgorsen's transition from head coach-in-waiting to head coach.

What happened Wednesday morning when Holgorsen and Athletic Director Oliver Luck signed Holgorsen's contract wasn't nearly as dramatic as any of the aforementioned. The two sides had been talking for months and could see the end just a few weeks ago.

The past few days saw the final back-and-forth volleys that eventually produced the document: six years, up to $20.5 million, rewards for Holgorsen staying and compensation for WVU if Holgorsen leaves.

That it's done is what matters, not that it took so long. Twenty months is a curious amount of time, but this had none of the warning signs of the long and contentious delay before Rodriguez was strong-armed by then-President Mike Garrison into signing his final contract in August 2007.

WVU will nevertheless have to deal with that implication, but the Mountaineers can quickly change the opinions that line up to judge them.

President Jim Clements needs to tear up Luck's contract and draw up a new one - and he'd be wise to use a buyout to protect his school if the athletic director takes a job somewhere else.

One of those ideas will be popular. WVU and its fans want to keep Luck and a new contract does just that. The other will not be popular, at least not universally, and even Clements has balked at numerous chances to talk about adding a buyout clause to a future contract.

But that's where WVU is right now and that's what WVU must to do maintain the footing it's fought so hard to find. Luck and Holgorsen are a tag team that wants to work together.

"By signing the contract - both me and Oliver - it's a commitment obviously by the university to say, 'We need to keep proceeding,' and it's a commitment on our part to get better on a daily basis," Holgorsen said.

He said nothing about a new contract for his boss, but he wants to see it happen. And it's going to happen, according to sources who say the topic has been discussed and even advanced recently.

Luck is still working with the original five-year contract he signed in June 2010. He earns $390,000 annually - the eighth-best salary in the 10-team Big 12.

Is he the eighth-best athletic director in the Big 12? Don't answer that. It doesn't matter. WVU can't pay him that way, not because of what he's thus far done and what he figures to keep doing, but because appearances matter now.

The Mountaineers have to appear to be the equal, or at least worthy company, of their new Big 12 peers, which is why Luck and Holgorsen both bragged Wednesday about how their assistant coaching salaries are in line with what Big 12 schools give their assistants.

Holgorsen is still the seventh-highest paid coach, but that's better than the ninth-highest paid. Luck is about $200,000 away from third place, where right now you can find Texas Tech's Kirby Hocutt.

There are incentives in Luck's contract to keep him happy and in place. WVU will match three-fourths of any performance incentive any of his head coaches earn, up to $130,000 in a season. If Holgorsen wins nine games in the regular season, he banks $100,000. Luck banks $75,000.

There is also a retention incentive, in which Luck gets $25,000 for every year he remains the athletic director, similar to, though smaller than, the $75,000 Holgorsen gets every year, plus the added $50,000 in March 2013 and $300,000 in March 2014.

Those are on top of two raises of $100,000 and two of $200,000, things Luck said were necessary to anchor Holgorsen at WVU and not watch him sail away to another school that will want him because of his age and innovativeness.

Well, Luck is 52 years old, just 11 years older than Holgorsen, and has a lot of time to be innovative for the Mountaineers, but also for someone else. And, please, go ahead and ask Holgorsen who he thinks should have the larger salary. Hint: He doesn't slug Red Bull.

Salary is just one part and it doesn't always cancel out ambition. People have left good jobs with big salaries many times before. Suppose one day Luck does that. Suppose he had just done it and left for Stanford.

Remember, too, that Clements himself offered up the University of Texas, which has an athletic director with a salary in excess of $1 million, as one school that will likely need an athletic director in the next few years and might look at Luck.

Clements can't allow Luck to go without money coming back to the Mountaineers. Not with the enormous raise to $775,000 he just accepted, not with the money and philosophy WVU has already sunk into the move into the Big 12.

A buyout doesn't staple Luck to WVU, but it makes sure WVU has some money to use to replace Luck - and WVU would have to spend to hire a new Luck just like it would have to spend to hire a new Holgorsen.

Buyouts for athletic directors are unusual, but they're not unprecedented and there's nothing wrong with protecting yourself. WVU did it when it asked Holgorsen to sign his new contract, but also agree to pay $2 million should he leave for another school. It would seem unfair to ask differently of Luck.

Now, $2 million seems extreme, but Rob Mullens, a Morgantown native who was hired as Oregon's athletic director four months after Luck landed at WVU, has to pay the Ducks his base salary for the remainder of the contract if he leaves early.  Say Luck signs a new deal for $500,000 and four years. He leaves after two years. Well, he owes WVU $1 million.

That's still a big bill, but the Mountaineers aren't playing the same game anymore. Times have changed and the tactics ought to, too.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.

 


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