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Clements leaving large footprints at WVU

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When I saw the streamed press conference of West Virginia University President Jim Clements accepting the same position at Clemson, I felt a sense of loss for WVU and its supporters.

Clements is exactly what the land-grant institution needs. He's young. He's energetic. He loves his job. And, perhaps most notably, he balances academics and athletics in a very impressive fashion.

Usually, schools have presidents known for their support of one or the other, academics or athletics. Clements seemed to put all his energy into both.

Now, he is moving south, mainly for family reasons.

"Best wishes to President and Beth Clements," said WVU basketball coach Bob Huggins via Twitter. "Wanting to be closer to family I understand. It brought me home."

Also, Clements isn't bolting out the door. He's staying until Jan. 1. When I texted best wishes to him, he texted back that he'll "always love WVU."

Then he took time to speak about his tenure in Morgantown. My questions, naturally, were weighted toward the athletic side of his stay. Over and over, though, he beamed over the academic achievements.

"I'm very proud," he texted after the interview, "that we hired 100 new faculty members!" It was his second such follow-up text.

On the phone, I took Clements back to his early days at WVU. He was hired in March of 2009. That's when the Mountaineers felt pressure to jump from the sinking Big East. They landed in the Big 12.

"The conference realignment stuff was bubbling," Clements said of the time. "I'd barely been in office when I started getting calls. Now we're in a major conference.

"Before, playing Oklahoma would be a great bowl game. Playing Texas would be a great bowl game. Now we're playing schools like that every week, in addition to the research and academic partnerships we now have.

"I started looking into protecting the institution."

He continued.

"Everyone knows WVU has a great athletic tradition," Clements said. "But I'm a data person. So I had our staff put together all the data on the program, where we stacked up in wins, graduation rates, etc.

"But that's only one piece of it. School presidents vote. And they're interested in the academic side as well. It's a package deal. So I wanted to present that side. We've had many Rhodes Scholars. We have terrific academics. We have an impressive hospital system. That's what they want to hear."

The mission was accomplished.

"I got the call from [interim Big 12 commissioner] Chuck Neinas," Clements said. "He said, 'I want to welcome you into the Big 12.' He said they were glad to have us.

"It was a great day. It was the right move for the institution for the long term."

Clements is also proud of opening the $24.1 million, 64,000-square foot basketball practice facility.

"We raised all the money for that," Clements said. "If you ask Coach Huggins he'll tell you it's one of the finest - if not the finest - in the nation. NBA teams come to see it.

"The money was raised based on the support of those who love the university."

He said he's proud ground has been broken on a new baseball park. After almost every point, though, he moved to an academic achievement.

"Our student-athletes," Clements said, "are graduating at a record rate."

He was asked about the hire of WVU athletic director Oliver Luck.

"Oliver is a nationally recognized figure," Clements said. "To be named to the NCAA playoff selection committee is a pretty big deal. It brings prestige to the school."

So which accomplishment brings the most pride?

"That we've graduated more than 25,000 students," he said. "That our fundraising has increased by $62 million. That our [WVU] Foundation assets are up by a half billion dollars. It went from $750 million to $1.25 billion. That translates into scholarships for kids, more teachers and research facilities.

"All, though, are team victories. There have been a lot of people in Morgantown working really hard on all of this."

He reiterated that WVU will always hold a special place in his heart.

"Always," Clements said. "I will always look out for WVU, now and in the future.

"Clemson has always been a special place to my family. But I will always love WVU."

Clements' passion for the school was consistently on display. It will surely be missed.

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


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