Lyons, officially announced at WVU’s 12th Director of Athletics on Monday, expressed a multitude of ideals in a brief afternoon teleconference, but none stood out as much as this single quote: “The phrase ‘We’ve always done it that way’ is something I don’t like to use. We are going to think outside the box and be innovative and find ways to do things.”
Lyons, a Parkersburg native and two-time graduate of West Virginia with a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sport management, did just that during stints with Texas Tech, the ACC and Alabama. At Tech, Lyons was part of a department that went as outside-the-box in traditional thinking as possible in hiring Mike Leach, which brought the Red raiders unprecedented success. In a decade with the ACC, starting in 2001, Lyons aided a front office that effectively collapsed the Big East conference as a major football-playing power and gained significant membership in Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, and then later programs like Louisville, Pitt and Syracuse.
At Alabama, Lyons spent the past three years working closely on day-to-day strategic leadership and direction with Alabama athletic directors – the late Mal Moore and current Athletic Director Bill Battle. His responsibilities included oversight of a $120 million budget and daily monitoring of compliance and oversight of the Crimson Tide’s 21 sports teams. In addition, he played a pivotal role in a historic renegotiation of Alabama’s multimedia rights agreement that started in 2014 and is involved in several significant capital projects totaling more than $85 million. The Crimson Tide won seven national titles in five different sports – two in football, two in men’s golf, one in women’s golf, one in gymnastics and one in softball during hiss tensure. He also has played a critical role in the hiring of four head coaches.
"He has a great national reputation and he has a network,” WVU President E. Gordon Gee said. “He can call anybody nationally and they will answer. It’s very important to have somebody who can tell our story. I am very proud that he is a West Virginian. But after all is said and done we want to get somebody with the capacity and leadership to lead us forward. Shane is fully of the belief that athletics is a fully integrated aspect of the university, as is academics and health sciences, etc.”
At WVU, Lyons will have oversight of 18 varsity sports, a department budget of approximately $77 million, 220 employees, approximately 450 student-athletes and a facilities master plan that includes ongoing construction of a $21 million baseball park, in addition to more than $75 million to modernize other athletic venues. Lyons said the university’s internal and external relationships – in other words its direct employees and those that aid in supporting it from an outside perspective – are very important to him.
“When people know the roles and responsibilities, internally and externally, we can get a lot of things accomplished,” said Lyons, whose family visited Morgantown this past weekend. “I like to be able to look at it not as it is, but what it should be in the future. To win championships everybody has to know their role and responsibilities. If everybody understands that and we are all on the same train moving forward, we can win championships. … The one thing I think I really bring to the table here is understanding West Virginia and the importance of the school to the community and fan base. In terms of athletics, it’s important to talk to the coaches and the administration and finding where I can help growth.”
Asked about the comparison between West Virginia’s football program and that of Alabama, and how he could begin to narrow the gap and build the Mountaineer football program to where it was when it won league and BCS titles in 2005, ’07 and ’10, Lyons said that he will be “learning more about the program and learning how we can advance the program and where the resources are going and helping that in any way I can from my standpoint and helping coach (Dana) Holgorsen in any way I can. I fully believe the university has that ability and has the fan base and the support. Some facility upgrades are very important for the recruiting process that is going on. It’s all that and working together and the collaboration and getting the program back to where we want it to be. That would be my expectations.”
Lyons also said his primary skillset is “having the contacts and staying on the forefront of the issues facing the NCAA and (ensuring) that our athletic programs are on the forefront of not only he NCAA issues, but the (fan experience) as well. It’s making sure our fan experience and our student-athlete experience is very exceptional. I think it’s important – my leadership style isn’t to come in and make change just to make change – it’s the first 90 to 120 days to listen to what is going on and learn what is going on and ultimately lead. You get a feel for the institution where I think we need to head and what changes need to be made to move this institution forward to where I think it needs to be.”
As Associate Commissioner for the ACC, Lyons focused on conference-wide compliance and academic initiatives, providing direct assistance to the conference's presidents, chancellors and athletics directors in matters dealing with NCAA regulatory matters. He also served as the ACC’s human resource manager and was responsible for the administration, negotiation and mediation of the employee benefits program and managing the conference's organizational policies and procedures. He was part of the administrative team for ACC events, including the football championship game, the men's basketball tournament and men's and women's NCAA basketball events. He also completed a term as chairman of the NCAA’s Division I Legislative Council in addition to serving on other committees.
Prior to working at the ACC, Lyons served as associate athletics director for compliance at Big 12 member Texas Tech from 1998 to 2001. During that time, Lyons assumed responsibility for the leadership, administration and implementation of a comprehensive NCAA compliance program with emphasis toward rules education and extensive monitoring systems. He also served as oversight administrator for several of the Red Raiders' athletic teams and had financial and operational supervision of the strength and conditioning, nutritional and sports medicine units.
“This is a significant day for the university and a significant day for me,” Gee said. “The selection of the Director of Athletics is always an important component for the university. We believe we have selected somebody who is pitch-perfect for this institution, with great qualities and integrity and ability. The process was a very simple one. We had an opportunity to really triangulate, and take all the candidates from across the country before Oliver’s departure. We took a look at a number of potential candidates and I called a number of my former ADs around the country and we very quickly we developed a very strong list and narrowed it down.
“Shane was heavily involved in the (college football) national championship semifinal, and it was very difficult to be able to have long conversations with him. But we had a longer conversation on Saturday, after having shorter conversations with Lyons had his family. I’m grateful to Oliver for his leadership and friendship.”
Before joining Texas Tech, Lyons worked at the NCAA as a senior membership services representative, where he was responsible for the oversight and coordination of the 25 membership service representatives. Lyons began his career in college athletics in July 1988 as assistant commissioner of the Big South Conference. With the Big South, he was in charge of conference-wide compliance and championships.
“I can’t express how much it means for me to come back home,” Lyons said. “You never really leave the feelings you have for the Mountaineers behind. My family is very excited to become a part of the Mountaineer family and what I consider our professional career and the opportunities I have been blessed with. The university gave me an opportunity 20 years ago to get a start in this business and now it has come full circle and … to lead one of the nation’s most premiere athletic departments in West Virginia.
Being from the state I understand the passion our Mountaineer fans have and what this athletics program means to them. My family still lives in this state, so to be able to come and be a part of that (is great). I share with people that you leave West Virginia, but West Virginia never leaves you. That held very true for me the past 26 years that I have been gone. I shared last night, no matter where you are at – and (Alabama) had the opportunity to play West Virginia in Atlanta – it never ceases to amaze me when you hear the song ‘Take me Home, Country Roads’ how the hair on the back of your neck stands up.”
Lyons and his wife, Emily, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have two children: Cameron, 15, and Brooke, 11. Lyons has a five-year agreement through February 2020, and will earn a yearly compensation of $550,000, plus incentives.