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Chuck Landon: Surreal WVU tale a classless soap opera

Dec. 18, 2010 @ 11:54 PM

It's all a matter of trust.

As in, lack thereof.

That is the core of the surreal soap opera that West Virginia University's football program became last week.

The almost daily turn of events ran the gamut from outrageous to shameful to unethical and back again.

Imagine first-time, first-year athletic director Oliver Luck telling veteran head football coach Bill Stewart he was going to be fired and offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen and offensive line coach Dave Johnson also would be fired, yet never actually using the word "fired."

Instead, Luck sugar-coated the situation with such words as "transition" and "reassignment" rather than call it what it really was.

Stewart was fired. Mullen was fired. Johnson was fired.

That's the reality whether Luck wants to admit it or not.

Then, there's the timing of these terminations.

Luck met with Stewart on Nov. 14 -- the day after WVU defeated Cincinnati -- and told the Mountaineers' head coach he was finished regardless how the rest of the season went.

Ditto for Mullen and Johnson.

And, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper which broke every single story on these developments, Luck asked Stewart if he wanted to tell Mullen and Johnson or preferred Luck to handle it. Stewart reportedly told Luck he would inform them.

Well, Stewart didn't lose another game, finishing 9-3. Stewart also didn't tell Mullen and Johnson they were fired.

Perhaps, Stewart believed capturing part of the Big East conference championship and having a realistic shot of winning 10 games with a victory over N.C. State in the Champs Sports Bowl would save their jobs.

He thought wrong.

All three were canned last week and Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen was anointed as the savior a little more than one week before Christmas Day.

How symbolic.

The problem is Johnson turned down two jobs, including an offer to become head coach of an NCAA Division II program, because Stewart wasn't upfront with him.

How shameful.

Remember the trust issue?

Johnson couldn't trust Stewart. Stewart couldn't trust Luck. And nobody could trust WVU President James Clements, who signed off on all this unseemly timed business.

That trinity -- the coach, the AD and the holy Prez -- puts the "dis" in disingenuous.

All this lack of trust should supply Holgorsen with some food for thought. Better watch your back, Coach, if you don't deliver more than 10 wins per season, annual BCS bowl berths and a national championship.

That's a tall order despite Luck's rhetoric that Holgorsen is "one of the outstanding coaches in college football today."

I wonder if Luck would have thought that if he had been seated in Edwards Stadium on Oct. 29, 2008? That's the night Holgorsen's high-powered Houston offense didn't show up in a 37-23 loss to Marshall that wasn't nearly as close as the score.

It was former MU coach Mark Snyder's most remarkable win in five seasons.

Besides that blip on the resume, there's also the matter of Pittsburgh doing a background check on Holgorsen when the Panthers were interested and, then, backing away because of his alleged "party guy" image.

Sounds like a perfect fit for Morgantown.

It's also fitting of this entire classless saga.

Remember how Mountaineer fans felt Rich Rodriguez's departure was classless?

Well, this is equally classless.

The difference is this time WVU did it to one of its own.

Chuck Landon is a columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827. E-mail him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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