Morgantown, West Virginia – What we’ve learned very clearly over the past several seasons of West Virginia sports is that Shane Lyons ain’t it.
Lyons, who has been the director of athletics at West Virginia University since 2015, has made decisions that have put the athletic department in quite a bind.
Lyons’ contract extension last season for head football coach Neal Brown was questionable at best. With four years left on the contract at the time, Lyons locked Brown in for six seasons through 2026 and gave him a raise, pushing his yearly salary to an average of $3,975,000 per season.
This after Brown was 11-11 overall as the head coach of the Mountaineers and coming off a 6-4 record and a bowl victory in the Liberty Bowl over Army.
“Coach Brown and I are committed to the future success of our football program,” Lyons said in a statement released after the contract extension. “I am pleased with the upward trajectory of the program and its culture. Our student-athletes have excelled on the field and in the classroom, and the overall leadership of Mountaineer football is strong.”
Lyons later gave a much more thorough explanation of why he decided to extend Brown: “You know, things don’t change overnight and I believe in Neal Brown and in his vision. I know what this football program can be. And I looked at it and felt like last Spring our football program was in good hands. I knew we were still young coming into this football season, but felt like Neal’s name had been brought up a couple of different times about other possibilities.
What I was trying to do was lock down Neal in case we had a better season than we did (this year). 6-6, I get it, people talk about the mediocrity, but we’re a couple of games also from being 8-4, 9-3, etc. If you look at the number of job openings this year, Neal Brown would have been a guy that would have easily been picked off from other schools. So I had to take his buyout to a higher amount but by doing that, I had to change the contract.
If that happened, the fanbase would be asking just the opposite. Why did you let this happen? If he had 9 wins and his name was mentioned a lot, people would’ve said ‘Why didn’t Shane Lyons do this earlier?’
I look at it just I like I do with everything in business. I believe his stock is going to continue to rise and I believe in what we’re doing as a whole. A lot of people just see what happens on Saturdays on the field, I get to see what happens seven days a week. Yes, it’s result-oriented and I’m not getting away from that, but it’s also a lot of other things that go into that.
Every time you make a coaching change, you’re setting yourself back at least another 3 years. So I’m looking at it as Neal is in year three of contract and I expect to really see the results in the next couple of years.”
However, we’re still awaiting the results. At 3-3 and a very challenging Big 12 Conference schedule looming, West Virginia will be lucky to finish the season with a .500 record at this point. While the expectations have not been met in his 4th season, firing Neal Brown will be difficult because of the massive contract buyout that Lyons gave Brown last season. The university will owe Brown an enormous sum of money if he’s fired and although that’s certainly something the university could do, it’s far from ideal.
In other words, Lyons’ poor decision-making has really put the university in a very difficult situation and he should be held accountable for his actions.
The only way to truly hold him accountable is by firing him. He’s potentially cost the university millions and millions of dollars from lost revenue from poor attendance and lack of merchandise sales due to poor on-the-field performance, and if/when West Virginia ultimately fires Neal Brown, that will cost the university even more.
Finding a replacement for Lyons would be difficult. He is widely respected around the country and holds the prestigious title of Chairman of the Division I Football Oversight Committee.
Only one person could truly fill the void left if Lyons is fired as the director of athletics at West Virginia University.
Huggins, 69, is aging and despite his continued passion for the game of basketball, the demands of travel will likely soon become too difficult for him. No one cares more about the success of West Virginia athletics than Huggins and like Lyons, he is respected around the country. In addition, Huggins could naturally slide into his new role as director of athletics after retiring and choose his successor as the next head coach of the men’s basketball team.
This new role would allow him to continue to be a very active part of West Virginia athletics without the demand of traveling and the stresses of being the head coach of a major college basketball program.
If there’s anyone that can be trusted to make decisions that would truly benefit West Virginia University and the state of West Virginia, it’s Bob Huggins.