Luck: Time Was Right For Change

With his school's baseball program floundering and a move to the always-tough Big 12 Conference drawing nearer, West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck said he told coach Greg Van Zant "two or three weeks ago" that he would not be retained for 2012-13.

"I just believed that, given the challenges we're facing with the Big 12 and its baseball institutions, we needed to go in a different direction," Luck said on a teleconference Saturday evening, about a half-hour after the school announced Van Zant's 18-year tenure had come to a close earlier in the day with a 5-4 loss to South Florida.

Luck reiterated that a national search for Van Zant's replacement would begin immediately, and promised WVU would move "swiftly and prudently" in naming a successor.

Whoever that coach ultimately is faces a tall task, the AD acknowledged. The Big 12 is a powerful baseball conference with traditional powers including Texas in its lineup. The most recent Collegiate Baseball poll (released May 14) saw Baylor ranked No. 7 nationally, with Texas at No. 21, Oklahoma State at No. 22 and Oklahoma at No. 24.

Add in West Virginia's natural disadvantage in terms of climate and facilities that are so poor Luck indicated the school won't even host Big 12 opponents at its own Hawley Field next season, and Luck promised the next coach will be afforded patience in attempting to build a winner.

"I think the Big 12 move for us in a lot of sports will require some patience because of the caliber of competition we'll be facing," Luck said. "It's reasonable to expect a number of coaches will require some patience as they learn this new conference, how to competitive and what we may need to do differently in terms of recruiting and other things."

But despite the issues facing the program, Luck expressed confidence that, long-term, the Mountaineers can prove capable of competing with the best in their new league.

"You don't have to go far, down to Charlottesville, (Va., home of the University of Virginia), to see what they've done over the last 10, 12, 15 years, in part aided by a new stadium," Luck said. "There are schools in cold and wet climates -- Oregon State comes to mind -- where they've really found some real success.

"It's not as easy, certainly, as it maybe is for some of the southern schools that can be outdoors 12 months a year. But there are plenty of good baseball players in our traditional recruiting areas. I think the opportunity we can offer a young man, a Pennsylvania kid or an Ohio kid or a West Virginia kid or a Maryland kid, New Jersey or Virginia, to play in a tremendous conference and against the competition we'll be facing is very attractive. So I do think we can be competitive."

BRIEFLY:

Luck indicated WVU will, in all likelihood, not play its four Big 12 home series at Morgantown's Hawley Field next season. The current home of Mountaineer baseball lacks many typical amenities, including locker rooms.

The school has been working towards ultimately building a new park in town, but that project has yet to begin.

"We've looked and have had conversations with folks in Charleston and some of the other minor league parks in southern West Virginia," Luck said of possible homes for WVU's Big 12 home series. "We haven't made any final decisions yet, but it's very likely we won't play those four series here in Morgantown.

"More than likely, we'll be playing our nonconference games at Hawley. Those are folks that have been to Hawley in the past. We think with our conference series, we simply need a better ballpark, a nicer ballpark to play in."


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