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WVU's rise in the polls began with a meeting in Stillwater, Okla.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- IF YOU'RE A West Virginia University football fan, you've been absolutely bathing in new and wonderful experiences this season.

There's the new conference. The victory at Texas. The Heisman Trophy front-runner in Geno Smith. There's the coach, Dana Holgorsen, who is up for the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award.

And Mountaineer athletic director Oliver Luck remembers how it was all hatched - from a meeting in a Stillwater, Okla., hotel conference room.

"I distinctly remember I was out west for one of my son's games at Stanford," Luck said. "I flew to Kansas City for a Jerry West Hall of Fame induction and, afterward, around 8 o'clock, I made the four-hour drive to Stillwater. The next day we met."

Luck, that is, and Holgorsen, then the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Oklahoma State.

"Dana carved out four or five hours," Luck said, "and we sat in that conference room and talked a lot of football, a lot of theory."

Luck is fluent in football. He's a former WVU and NFL quarterback. The NFL trusted him to work their overseas operations of NFL Europe. Yet on that 2010 day, newly charged with reviving West Virginia's athletic program, Luck was on a quest: improve the Mountaineer football program.

"I operated from a couple of tenets," Luck said. "I realized we needed to improve our offense. I'm a big believer in offense ... In college ball, offense is crucial and that's what people want to see and will pay to watch."

Luck had lived in Texas for many years, first while as a Houston Oilers quarterback then as a law student at the University of Texas. Later, he was the president of Major League Soccer's Houston Dynamos. All the while, his son, Andrew, now guiding the Indianapolis Colts, was moving through the ranks in the Lone Star State.

"Spending time in Texas, I watched Andrew first in middle school and then high school," Luck said. "I saw the training, the 7-on-7 camps, how important offense was. I mean, think of the skill in that [WVU-]Baylor game. With all those passes thrown, there was one dropped pass. That's incredible. And at that time, that's what I was looking for.

"As I analyzed our program, I saw we were ranked No. 60 or 70 nationally. You can't win conference championships - I don't care what conference you're in - unless you are somewhere in the top 10 in offense."

WVU finished the 2010 season ranked No. 67 in total offense, averaging 372.7 yards. Today, the Mountaineers are No. 3 nationally, averaging 570.8 yards, and are ranked No. 4 in the USA Today coaches poll and No. 5 in the Associated Press poll.

"My thought was we needed someone who could teach offense, who could coach offense," Luck said. "My thought was the Hal Mumme, Mike Leach, Art Briles type of offense would be very hard for Big East teams to stop. And the name at the top of my list was Dana."

The two hadn't met, however, until that day in late 2010. Although Luck had been in the soccer business until taking over at WVU, he continued to follow and stay involved in football.

"I knew in my heart of hearts Dana could move our offense," Luck said. "My question was, could he be a head coach? Well, I had a relationship with both [former Holgorsen bosses] Mike Leach and Kevin Sumlin, two guys I admire greatly. They both told me, 'He's ready; he's absolutely ready.'"

Then came the meeting, the face-to-face, in that Stillwater room.

"I didn't really talk personnel to Dana," Luck said. "I knew because of his coaching connections that he could make one phone call and find out about our players.

"So I explained what kind of opportunity we had. I told him we might have a small state, but we have a deep and passionate fan base. I told him we have a fan base with a chip on its shoulder. Seems we always have to punch above our weight. We're the southernmost northern school and the northernmost southern school. I told him, unlike some of the schools in Texas, we're No. 1 in our state.

"I told him about our facilities, [basketball coach Bob Huggins] and all we have to offer. I told him people will rally around you like you've never seen."

Especially when you win. And especially when you win like Holgorsen.

Luck recalled he didn't try to oversell WVU to Holgorsen during that meeting.

"I was trying to be upfront with him about the opportunity," said the athletic director. "I knew he was blunt within two minutes of meeting him. I was explaining the opportunity and he was trying to understand. I think he appreciated that I was a football guy."

Luck said Holgorsen was invited to see WVU's facilities and, about a week later, flew into Pittsburgh, where Luck picked him up. The athletic director drove Holgorsen to Morgantown, gave him a tour and introduced him to school president Jim Clements.

Thankfully, Luck admitted, Morgantown has changed since he played and was graduated.

"You couldn't have done this back then," Luck said. "People talk about infrastructure that's built to attract athletes. It is. But it matters for coaches too."

Soon, the deal was completed. Holgorsen was put in place to follow head coach Bill Stewart, who was subsequently removed before tragically passing away at age 59.

Now, in Holgorsen's second year as head coach, the Mountaineer season has been wildly successful so far. WVU football has never received so much national attention. Smith is a solid Heisman front-runner and possible No. 1 NFL draft pick.

"I had a coach in high school," Luck said, "that taught me to envision making great plays, whether they be free throws or that post pattern. You not only train your body, but your mind.

"In football, I was limited, so I did that. I continue to do that. I did that with the NFL in Europe. I did that with soccer. I'm doing that now."

One has to wonder, however, whether Luck's visions could ever have covered all that's happening now with WVU's football program.

"I'm not going to answer that," Luck said. "But I will tell you I spend most of my time thinking how things can be, as opposed to why things can't be."

It's a system that's working beautifully for WVU's football program.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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