West Virginia AD Luck wants improvement

Bob Cohn
| Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, 7:33 p.m.

West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck pronounced his football program in “good shape” even though the Mountaineers went 4-8 and lost six of their last seven Big 12 games in 2013. They are picked to finish eighth in the 10-team conference this season.

“I think we've improved our quality,” Luck said. “We've got a bunch of guys who gained experience last year. I think the kids are excited. I think we've got a great group of coaches, I really do. What I need to see and what I want to see, and I certainly think it's shared by our fan base, is improvement.”

There is much to improve upon. The four wins were the fewest since 2001. WVU went 2-7 in the Big 12 and lost to Kansas, the Jayhawks' only conference victory. The defense finished near the bottom of several statistical categories. The offense sputtered.

Entering his fourth season, coach Dana Holgorsen has been mentioned on several “hot seat” lists of endangered coaches. Asked if he would cast a vote of confidence, Luck responded, “I'll stick with (what) I've said the last couple of months. We want to see improvement. I'll leave it at that.”

Holgorsen, who has three years and base salaries totaling $8.6 million on his contract beyond 2014, said the difference from last season is like “night and day” in terms of talent and experience.

“We're better at every position,” he said. “We're working with 85 scholarships for the first time in four years. We're not having to march 10, 15, 20 freshmen out there. ... I see improvements from the starters or the backup at every single position.”

In 2011, Holgorsen's first season, the Mountaineers won the Big East co-championship and crushed Clemson in the Orange Bowl. But times, and conference affiliations, have changed.

WVU is 6-12 in the Big 12. Average attendance last season was the lowest since 2003, and current season ticket sales are down about 10 percent.

“We would have certainly liked to have done better, but I didn't have any expectations we would roll through the conference,” Luck said “It's an adjustment. I think our kids are starting to understand that it's a really deep conference and we have to bring our A-game every week. I think that's a change of mentality from the Big East.”

Luck acknowledged the disenchantment of some fans but added, “I think they appreciate that we're moving into the deeper end of the pool. They want to see a better performance, no question about that. But I think they understand that we've gone through a tough transition.”

Luck would not set a desired win total. One reason, he said, is the “brutal schedule.” WVU opens with No. 2 Alabama on Saturday in Atlanta, and starts conference play on Sept. 20 at home against fourth-ranked Oklahoma. The Mountaineers also face 10th-ranked Baylor, No. 20 Kansas State and traditionally potent Big 12 foes Texas and Oklahoma State.

Holgorsen promoted Tony Gibson from safeties coach to defensive coordinator, the fourth in four years, and defensive guru and former longtime Penn State assistant Tom Bradley joined the staff. That created instant speculation that he might become the next head coach.

“I've heard all the chatter,” said Luck, who pursued Bradley for two years. “I would never bring a coach in or recommend a coach or instigate anything unless the head coach feels comfortable with that person and that person fits in with the staff.”

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com.

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