By Bill Nestor
It’s summertime, and typically at this time of year, West Virginia University fans are starting to load up for the start of football season. Vacations are being had, and maybe a quick trip over the state line into Kennywood might be in the plans. This hasn’t been an average summer and the ups and downs of the basketball program have provided a roller coaster ride bigger than anything Kennywood could offer.
On June 17, Bob Huggins submitted a letter of resignation to WVU President Gordon Gee and Vice President and Director of Athletics, Wren Baker. Huggins was charged with a DUI that came from a little over a month after he was making derogatory comments and using offensive language. Huggins survived the first incident, but when both issues were stacked up so close together, it put an abrupt end to the Huggins era at West Virginia.
Huggins had assembled a roster that had all the makings of a national contender. The stars were lining up for a walk off season for the Hall of Fame coach. His sudden resignation brought several major concerns into play. If it were the good ol’ days, time would not have been a factor, but today brings a different story.
The NCAA Transfer Portal was launched in the fall of 2018 and ever since then, the world of college sports has been turned upside down.
Borrowing a famous poker term, players, coaches, and even entire programs can go “all in” at any time. Teams can get rich quick if they can lure in enough talent. On the other hand, a program can be forced to declare bankruptcy if there is a mass exodus.
Baker was forced to act as quickly as possible. He didn’t want the defection of players to occur on his watch. He also had to make a move that the players and the supporters of the program would endorse.
There was a great deal of interest from prominent coaches. The two that were mentioned the most were Andy Kennedy and John Belein. Belein was a fan favorite during his time in Morgantown. He seemed to gain momentum with each day that the search went on, which added even more pressure to Baker’s thought process. It felt like months had gone by, but in reality, it was just one week to the day when Baker announced his hire.
Josh Eilert was dubbed the interim head coach, putting an end to the suspense. Eilert has spent the last 16 seasons on the Mountaineer basketball staff. He has held several positions within the program, including video coordinator. Coordinator/Director of Basketball Operations, and, most recently, assistant coach this past season. Eilert signed a 10 month contract worth $1.5 million to step in and fill the void left by the departure of Huggins.
The move was made to retain talent while providing additional time for Baker to settle in on the right man for the job. I think it is a golden opportunity for Eilert who, by the way, is playing with house money ($1.5 million to be exact) and he has nothing to lose. From all accounts, he is a stand up guy that works his tail off to get the job done. To me, that is the kind of coach that you want running your program. This is the opportunity that some assistant coaches wait a lifetime for and we know that he is a main reason that several of these players wound up in Morgantown.
Now is the time for Mountaineer Nation to back Eilert as he begins the 10 month ride of a lifetime!