Mike Casazza: WVU has a lot of work to do
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- You could devote a lot of time to the 346 words West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck penned and later released Tuesday afternoon to summarize the state of a football program he helped construct three years ago.
Or, you could simply trust me when I tell you there was nothing contained within the 17 sentences that was new or news, apart from the fact Luck granted Coach Dana Holgorsen a fourth season in 2014 and, whether it was said or not, no guarantees beyond that. And I'm not sure that's all too surprising, despite season-ending defeats to Kansas and Iowa State and the school's first losing campaign since 2001.
But, in summary, Luck said WVU wasn't very good in 2013, though a 4-8 record probably told you that. Things have to change, but you surely were aware there are "high expectations at West Virginia University for success on and off the field." Holgorsen and his coaches are eager to get to work on next season, but, gee, wouldn't you when the next game is against Ala-freaking-bama?
The seven paragraphs were part of Luck's job, a response to speculation, the sort of thing he needed to do to prove he was on top of it, which he pulled off by pointing out things we all talk about, like the symptoms of first-year players and concerns about strength and conditioning.
Yet it was long on explaining what was wrong and short on saying how those things would be fixed.
"In my opinion," Luck said, WVU is best served by trusting continuity and having faith in processes set in motion a year or two or three ago and by continuing to improve the program's facilities.
Status quo isn't going to fill stadiums or sell season tickets.
Luck knows a properly sized indoor facility doesn't complete passes up the sideline, a meeting room doesn't make open field tackles and artificial turf on a grass practice facility doesn't run the ball more than five times in the fourth quarter.
Everything is about recruiting, and right now Holgorsen and his assistants are doing their most important work since this started in December 2010. Kids will commit and maintain commitments to WVU. The best of the bunch will want to be a part of a turnaround Luck and Holgorsen believe is coming.
But anything short of a contract extension won't stop the negative recruiting waged against the Mountaineers. It won't keep college and high school coaches, guidance counselors, parents and grandparents from giving players something to think about as they decide their futures.
This wasn't a tactical strike for fundraising, either. Holgorsen has harped on facilities long enough and donors have been asked to give long enough that Luck wasn't stirring the pot for contributions, even if he signed off by asking for "your continued support as we move forward to a brighter future."
So if there was a point, what was it? Call it what you want - hot seat, ticking clock, sand through the hour glass - but Luck won't be devoting another 2,052 keystrokes to the same topic next December. It's now or never for Holgorsen, and though Luck remains Holgorsen's best and strongest ally inside the university, Holgorsen is more on his own now than ever before. He's not all alone and he'll need and receive Luck's help, but what happens to Holgorsen next is up to and is about him.
And it has to be this way. As Missouri and Texas A&M flourish in the SEC while WVU flounders in the Big 12, as teams like Duke and Marshall win without elite facilities, the explanations and excuses the Mountaineers like to trot out lose some sway. They're valid, though to an extent and one that diminishes daily. Everyone knows that. WVU finally conceded the point, even if without saying it.
Luck put his initials next to continuity and strength and conditioning, but made it clear it's ultimately Holgorsen's decision, which means the outcome for standing pat or making changes is also his. Luck highlighted first-year players, which means they better be better as second-year players. Luck twice mentioned high expectations, first overall and then of 2014, and he underlined the latter by saying, boldly and bluntly, "We simply must get better."
That's not simple, though, and Luck and Holgorsen know that just as sure as Holgorsen grasps everything else Luck said. The Mountaineers open 2014 with Alabama and before October play a Maryland team that smothered them in 2013 and an Oklahoma team that, well, is Oklahoma. Facility improvements, if they happen, can't make a dramatic impact that quickly. Coaches are a lot like players in that both need time to develop.
And though maybe Luck didn't say a whole lot, he said it all when he admitted, "we have a lot of work to do."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.