MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Saying his leadership style “is not to come in just to make change,” Shane Lyons anticipates a three- to four-month evaluation period before plotting a course for West Virginia’s football program.
Coach Dana Holgorsen’s job appears safe for now after this season’s 7-6 finish, but West Virginia’s three-year record of 18-20 in the Big 12 era doesn’t mesh with a new athletics director bent on competing for national championships.
“I firmly believe the university has that ability,” Lyons said Monday afternoon. “It has the fan base, it has the support. It’s just a matter of being able to recruit and get the best players there.”
Lyons prioritized “helping Coach Holgorsen as much as I can” with regard to facilities and recruiting upgrades, a process that begins with 90 to 120 days where Lyons vows “to listen and learn what’s going on.”
Holgorsen’s current contract runs three more seasons through 2017, fueling speculation he might be granted at least a one-year rollover that extends through the four-year recruiting cycle.
For Lyons, who was a graduate student the year West Virginia lost to Notre Dame in the national championship Fiesta Bowl, the ultimate goal is “getting this program back to where we want it to be.”
His homecoming launched by a conference call, Lyons discussed coming full circle from 1988 WVU graduate to opening 2015 as the school’s new AD. He weaved recollections of growing up in Parkersburg, noticing “the Flying WV” on every street and, of course, the mandatory references to singing John Denver’s anthem.
For 26 years, Lyons has climbed the ranks in the NCAA, weighed in on ACC decisions and, most recently, overseen the daily athletics operations for the University of Alabama. Throughout that career, he made at least two trips home each year. On the most recent Christmas visit, WVU president Gordon Gee met Lyons in Parkersburg for an informal interview that verified their mutual interest.
Now Lyons said his wife, a Wisconsin native, and their two children are “very excited to become part of the Morgantown community and part of Mountaineer Nation.”
Recalling the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game last August between the Mountaineers and Alabama, Lyons said: “You leave West Virginia but West Virginia never leaves you. It never ceases to amaze me, when you hear “Take Me Home Country Roads,” how the hair on the back of your neck stands up.”
Apprised in November of Oliver Luck’s pending departure for an NCAA post, Gee began researching candidates from across the nation and compiling a list of potential replacements, many of whom had no inclination they were being vetted.
“I will tell you very honestly and very candidly, Shane was at the very top of that list,” Gee said.
Lyons’ appeal went beyond his West Virginia ties.
“He’s had a tremendous national reputation,” Gee said. “People know him, and know him well. He has a network—he can make a telephone call to almost anyone in this country and they will answer it.”
Inclined to integrate athletics into the campus framework, Gee gave Lyons the shared title of associate vice president, a move that “grants him immediate access to all assets and aspects of the institution.”
Asked whether his leadership approach more closely mimicked Ed Pastilong’s conservative style or Luck’s revenue-driven tenure of rapid change, Lyons answered: “I think it’s in-between the two.”
Citing the importance of collaborative relationships, both internal and outside the department, Lyons said his job is to look at WVU athletics “not as it is, but what it should be in the future.”