When then-WVU Athletics Director Oliver Luck hired Dana Holgorsen in 2010 it was a haphazard affair. Luck identified the Oklahoma State assistant as an offensive guru and “one of the top coaches in college football.”
Whether Luck ever conducted his due diligence is anyone’s guess, since his approach to management was to shoot first and ask questions later. Additionally, Luck’s ill-fated decision to make Holgorsen the head-coach-in-waiting behind Bill Stewart was one of the epic management fails in the University’s history.
Contrast that with how current Athletics Director Shane Lyons conducted the search and hiring process to replace Holgorsen. Lyons and key staff members were on this early, not just putting together a list of possible candidates, but also collecting background information and talking with sources once it became evident that the University and Holgorsen were headed in different directions.
I understand the staff had what amounted to a “three-ring-binder” of material on each of the possible candidates.
Lyons and company were not alone. WVU President E. Gordon Gee became directly involved in the search. Gee has a lifetime of experience in university and athletics administration, knows everyone, and was eminently qualified to participate in the process.
Gee added a couple members of his top team from Stewart Hall. The Lyons and Gee teams then hit the road even before Holgorsen’s departure announcement to interview the two leading candidates—Troy’s Neal Brown and Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell. Lyons also talked with WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.
The teams spent time not only with the coaches, but also with the coaches’ wives. There were long discussions about family, the pros and cons of the job, the University community and what it means to be the head football coach at WVU.
The Lyons team and the Gee team returned to Morgantown Thursday night confident that either Brown or Fickell would be an excellent choice. Gee had a particular affinity for Fickell because he knew the coach from his days as president of Ohio State where Fickell had been an assistant, but he apparently did not force that choice on Lyons.
As we know now, the group decided on Brown, and it’s a strong choice. He has a 35-16 record over the last four seasons and is one of six FBS coaches with 10 victories each of the last three seasons, including wins at LSU in 2017 and at Nebraska this season.
He is a notoriously hard worker. Veteran Troy defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said of Brown in a 2017 USA Today profile, “He does an immense amount of research and reading. He spends a huge amount of time in trying to see how other people do things. (He’s) probably the first coach that I’ve worked for where he’s outworking me.”
These hires are often mischaracterized as a roll of the dice. Managers who conduct thorough research, collect opinions from people they respect, and ensure that the candidate is a match for the position and the culture, improve their chances dramatically of making a good decision.
Whether Neal Brown will be deemed a successful hire will be judged by his wins and losses. Let Holgorsen win ten games next year at Houston while WVU goes 6 and 6 and fans will be complaining that Lyons let Holgorsen get away. That’s just how it goes.
However, it is evident that Lyons, Gee and their closest advisors conducted a swift and professional search for the next head football coach at WVU.