Posted: 1:00 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013
By Wescott Eberts
The Texas Longhorns are readying to to start their first search for an athletic director since 1981 after Tuesday's retirement announcement from DeLoss Dodds and there is already one name near the top of most lists out there -- that of current West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck.
In fact, it took roughly two seconds for an enterprising reporter in West Virginia to ask Luck if he would speak with Texas about the job. The response from Luck was initially a single word -- "No."
Then, a bit later Luck clarified that his official position on the subject was not to have a comment on it, making it one of the more swift jumps from denial to non-denial in the history of such non-statements that still say quite a great deal.
Ties to the state of Texas are what help make Luck a particularly compelling candidate -- the most compelling candidate, actually.
Born on Cleveland, Ohio, Luck played quarterback at West Virginia before a brief professional career with the Houston Oilers that included a sole season as the starter in 1983, but was by far only the beginning of his time in that particular city. By 1987, Luck had managed to graduate from the Texas law school with honors despite staying around Houston as the back up to Warren Moon until 1986.
His connections to the NFL as a player probably helped him land a gig as an executive with the league, which eventually included several stops as the general manager of German football teams in the league that eventually became NFL Europe before Luck returned to Houston in 2001 to become the CEO of the Houston Sports Authority, which manages the major sports venues in Harris County. During that time and his subsequent work as the president of the Houston MLS franchise, the Dynamo, Luck helped oversee the openings of Reliant Stadium, the Toyota Center, and the BBVA Compass Stadium, the latter of which houses the Dynamo and for which Luck helped secure funding to build it.
While serving as the president of the Dynamo, Luck also re-established his ties to West Virginia with a seat on the Board of Governors, perhaps positioning himself to take over as the athletic director there, which he did in 2010 before overseeing the move from the Big East to the Big 12, the hiring of Dana Holgorsen as the head-coach-in-waiting to Bill Stewart, and the introduction of beer sales to the football stadium, a move that has resulted in some significant revenue gains for the university.
The ties to the university from his time there as a law student provide some impetus for Luck to take the job and leave the school for which he played his collegiate football, but the most compelling parts of his resume involve his time in Houston and his ability to build consensus and fund a massive project like the construction of the Dynamo's new stadium.
At Texas, he would be responsible for overseeing the transition that will occur as the new medical school encroaches on the entire southeast side of campus, forcing the removal of the Erwin Center, the basketball practice facility, the Pennick-Allison tennis center, and the creation of the new facilities for those sports, a development that will also result in some eventual changes to Darrel K Royal-Memorial Stadium, which Dodds has said does not currently include a plan to increase capacity.
Without knowing a lot about the resumes of other athletic directors, it's hard to say conclusively that few of them have experience getting major sports venues built, but the guess here is that not many have accomplished that feat.
Dodds was able to succeed without having any experience in the interpersonal and political dealings that are often unique to the state of Texas and the state's flagship university, but the fact that Luck knows what it takes to get things done in Houston suggests that he has a higher likelihood of being able to step in to relatively seamlessly manage the major changes Texas is about to undergo with some important athletic facilities.
Not to mention the likely impending hiring of the head coaches across the three major sports.
Luck isn't just a former football player who managed to use his connections from his playing days to bolster his career, either -- he's an extraordinarily bright individual. A Rhodes Scholar finalist and inductee into the CoSIDA Academic All-America Hall of Fame who was recruited by Harvard and Yale out of high school, Luck had the highest GPA on the West Virginia team one year and was a two-time ESPN Academic All-American.
One of the biggest knocks on Luck is that he doesn't have a great deal of experience hiring major head coaches and it's still too early to say whether the Holgorsen hire will prove successful. Of course, many believe that the next athletic director will play only a minor role in the hire of the next football coach, at least, so perhaps that part of Luck's resume is the least significant overall.
There is also a pending lawsuit regarding the sale of West Virginia's third-tier media rights to IMG, which owns similar media rights at Texas -- a good working relationship with that company is basically a prerequisite for a Texas athletic director at this point. While the change has significantly increased profits for the West Virginia athletic department, Luck was removed from the process at a critical juncture because he had shared confidential information with the Board of Governors chairman who just so happened to sit on a board that partners with IMG.
Is that misstep a sign that Luck likes to play it fast and loose with the rules when he wants to get something done and help out some friends in the process? As Dodds and president Bill Powers vet Luck, the answer to that question could be the deciding factor in whether or not Luck gets an interview or a job offer from the Longhorns.
As the search truly gets underway for Dodds' replacement, some names will come and go, but right now, Luck would seem to be at or near the top of the list based on his qualifications and connections, unless those pesky questions about his ethics end up ruling him out.