The West Virginia University football team wasn't the only thing making news Friday, as the Mountaineers prepare to take on Texas Tech later today. WVU Director of Athletics Oliver Luck was creating headlines of his own.
The university offered Luck an amended employment agreement that will take effect Monday. It will extend his contract from 2015 to 2017 while earning him a salary bump to $550,000 annually. The agreement also provides a maximum performance bonus, which is capped at $150,000 per year.
Those are some pretty impressive numbers. Maybe not enough to rival what WVU quarterback Gino Smith has been able to post with his on-field action, but Luck should be compensated for a program - and an entire athletic department - he helped to rebuild from the ground up.
To be honest, I wasn't very supportive of Luck, when he first was hired in his lead role on June 9, 2010. His record as a WVU quarterback was impressive, and so were his experiences with the Houston Oilers and later his time in sports management.
The qualifications were more than there. Perhaps I simply didn't fully trust Luck. His vision for WVU athletics, while grand, seemed too ambitious and too fast-tracked to become a reality for Mountaineer fans.
This, coupled with the change from Bill Stewart as the head football coach at the university, made me a skeptical, somewhat disheartened fan. This skepticism translated not only to Luck, but also to head football coach Dana Holgorsen, Stewart's replacement.
I was extremely saddened to see Stewart moved from the head coaching spot. His famous "Leave No Doubt" motivational pre-game speech before the Mountaineers played Oklahoma in the Jan. 2, 2008, Fiesta Bowl remains legendary. Stewart was tapped as interim coach to lead the team from the sidelines after Rich Rodriguez abandoned us for golder and bluer pastures at Michigan in December 2007. After the game and the Mountaineers' 48-28 victory, Stewart was given the head coaching job the very next day.
I greatly admired Coach Stew, not only for his knowledge of the gridiron, but also for his faith: in God, in West Virginia and in my beloved Mountaineers. As a mother to two sons who play sports, Bill Stewart was a man to whom I would have entrusted my children's athletic future.
Maybe he wasn't the greatest strategist in the history of the game, but he was a great, great man. I felt - and still do - that winning isn't everything.
Winning does count for something, though, and the time has come for me to admit I was wrong - both about Luck and Holgorsen. They, too, are great men. They have excelled in propelling WVU athletics forward.
It's not just because WVU now is in the Big 12 Conference versus the Big East. It's not just because money is flowing for the athletic programs. WVU reports Luck has overseen several major capital projects, hired new head coaches and been involved in the best fundraising year in the athletic department's history - generating some $22.7 million this past year.
It's not just because of the numbers Holgorsen's expertly crafted offense put up last season or the record-breaking stats this year has brought thus far. It's not about the wins, either.
That all matters. It's just not the whole story. For the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say, I had to take a closer look at the integrity of Luck and Holgorsen. Rather than find their sense of moral compass lacking, I found that I severely underestimated them as leaders, as mentors to these young, impressionable athletes.
Their style may vary greatly from Bill Stewart, but it brings no less value. While I still mourn the late coach's passing, I think Bill would be proud of what the football team and WVU athletics have become, and of the newfound respect we've gained on a national platform. This transcends sports and elevates the state as a whole, and I tip my cap to those who made this possible.
It's been quite a journey since Luck took the helm. Prior to his new deal, Luck was in his third year of his original five-year contract. Now his reign is cemented for another two years.
"Oliver Luck is a true leader. He has brought stability, momentum and energy to his position. He is someone we want on our team for many more years to come," WVU President Jim Clements said in conjunction with the contract announcement.
Yes, Jim, we do have a leader in Luck. And in Dana, too. I'm glad I'm finally able to join so many other West Virginians and see their potential, and to acknowledge the good they've done for this great state. As they have earned respect for West Virginia, so too have these men earned my respect for them.