Football, Sports, WVU Sports

WVU names Alsop interim AD, expects new hire in 3 to 4 weeks

Neal Brown will finish football season, decision on his future will be made by new AD

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University and director of athletics Shane Lyons have parted ways, following a meeting late Sunday night. WVU and university president Gordon Gee announced Lyons’ departure Monday morning and appointed Rob Alsop to lead the department on an interim basis. 

Alsop is a native of Webster Springs and a two-time graduate of WVU, including the law school in 2002. He has been the vice president for strategic initiatives since 2017.

During a press conference with the media Monday afternoon, Alsop said he is not a candidate for the permanent position and the university has retained search firm Turnkey ZRG to conduct a national search that will last from three to four weeks. Turnkey ZRG was the firm retained by the Big 12 in hiring first-year commissioner Brett Yormark.

“For the next few weeks I have been asked to serve, and it’s a privilege for me to serve, as the interim director of athletics while the university completes a national search for the next leader of our athletics department,” Alsop said. “First, I’m going to do everything that I can to assist our staff and coaches in continuing to provide our student-athletes with the resources they need to be successful both on and off the field. Second, I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that the groundwork is established for our next athletic director so that she or he hits the ground running to be successful in their endeavors.”

Both in a statement released by Gee Monday morning and during Alsop’s press conference it was stated and repeated that Lyons’ departure is not indicative of any second move involving football coach Neal Brown.

“I know there’ll be some speculation that this will be the first shoe of two shoes to drop and I just want to disavow that,” Alsop said. “This is an independent decision. When you watched the game this weekend, it was pretty clear whether it was the spark with Garrett (Greene), what Sam James did or Dante (Stills) and the defense, those student-athletes have not given up on each other or this season and they have not given up on their coaches and neither have we. We have not given up on our head coach, our assistant coaches or our players. We’ve got two games to go and we intend, and I intend, during this interim period to support them in any way that I can.”

In a release, Gee stated that Brown will finish out the final two games of the 2022 season and a decision on his future will be made by the new athletic director when hired.

“We are supporting Coach Neal Brown and our team as we complete our season over the next few weeks,” Gee said. “We are aware there are some deficiencies, but we have not given up on the coach and the team, and they have not given up on each other. The evaluation of the football program will be the first task of our new athletic director and no changes will be made until that review has been completed.”

The Mountaineers have a 4-6 record entering the final two weeks of the season with an outside chance to become bowl eligible with victories over Kansas State and Oklahoma State.

Brown is in his fourth year leading WVU and has a 21-24 record with two bowl appearances and one win.

“We are all not satisfied with the wins and loses but President Gee and our new athletic director will take an appropriate long-term look at the direction of all of the department of athletics and make a thoughtful decision moving forward,” Alsop said. “I did talk to Neal late last night and reiterated that same message. I know that’s on everybody’s mind, but they are not tied together from a fate perspective moving forward.”

Alsop, whose background is in politics instead of athletics, said he believes that the position at WVU will be attractive to many candidates.

“Armed with the great history WVU has, all of our great facilities, our student-athletes, our coaches and our conference, and importantly, the terrific new deal that our leader Brett Yormark has negotiated, this will be a sought-after job and I am confident we will find a terrific candidate to be our new leader,” Alsop said. “We’ve asked our search firm to cast a wide net for the best candidate for West Virginia University.”

Alsop will serve on the hiring committee for the position, but Gee will have the ultimate say on the university’s next athletic director. The decision to part with Lyons was weeks in the making, according to Alsop.

“Over the past several weeks, we’ve all been disappointed in wins and loses and if you know President Gee, he’s always looking with an eye towards the future with the way to move the institution forward,” Alsop said. “It has been over the past few days this has become a serious consideration of the need to move forward. President Gee is very thoughtful, but he’s also action-oriented so this isn’t a six-month plan or anything like that.”

The reason given for Lyons’ departure centered around the recent changes in the landscape of college athletics, including rules around the transfer portal and name image and likeness opportunities. Alsop said the “ever-changing landscape” of college athletics facilitated the need for someone with a fresh perspective to lead the department.

“The past few years of college athletics have seen a lot of change,” Alsop said. “President Gee, in thinking about this, decided that, with this ever-changing landscape, it’ll be a good opportunity to find a fresh perspective for the program. Shane’s been in here for eight years and he’s done some terrific things…What I can say is, President Gee believed a fresh perspective was appropriate at this time.”

Lyons had signed a contract extension in January that carried through 2026.

Alsop said his time as interim will be used mostly to set the groundwork for the new hire, although his children have big aspirations for his tenure.

“My kids are aggressive dreamers and so my middle daughter, who’s a sophomore at MHS and a basketball and softball player said, ‘well Dad, if you’re in charge this is the perfect time to start a women’s softball program at WVU,’” Alsop said with a laugh. “I said that’s a high bar for the matter of a few weeks. We had fun with it as a family.”

Alsop said it was a tough time for himself and many in the department who had good relationships with Lyons.

“We have a strong position in the athletic department and Shane certainly built on that,” Alsop said. “He is a good friend, a great man and he was a good leader for our athletic department. I’m grateful for my friendship with Shane and all he did to elevate WVU athletics.

“I’m good friends with Shane and change is never easy. There’s a lot of folks in the athletic department who are sad because of their relationship with Shane.”

Coaches were notified of the decision late Sunday night into Monday morning.

Lyons, a Parkersburg native, was hired as WVU’s director of athletics in 2015 following a three-year stint as the deputy athletic director at Alabama. 

Lyons hired five coaches during his eight-year tenure, starting with volleyball coach Reed Sunahara in March of 2015, two months after Lyons was brought on in January. Lyons also hired wrestling coach Tim Flynn in 2018, Brown in 2019, men’s soccer coach Dan Stratford in 2020 and women’s basketball coach Dawn Plitzuweit this March. He also facilitated several contract extensions, including two to men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins, one to baseball coach Randy Mazey and one to Brown in 2021.

Brown’s extension came in April of 2021 following his second season at WVU. Brown was 11-11 at the time and the extension pushed his deal through 2026 with an increase in salary. There were unsubstantiated rumors around that time that Brown was a candidate for the recently-vacated head coaching job at the University of South Carolina, but Brown quickly dispelled those rumors, saying he was happy at WVU.

The extension also significantly increased Brown’s buyout, fully guaranteeing him any remaining salary if dismissed before the final year of the deal in 2025. If released following this season, Brown would be owed all of the remaining $16.7 million on his contract as well as the prorated salary for the remainder of 2022.

Lyons oversaw several large-scale projects during his tenure, including the opening a new $10 million Athletic Performance Center for Olympic Sports, completing renovations to the Milan Puskar Center, Milan Puskar Stadium and the WVU Coliseum, finalizing the $45 million Mylan Park Track and Aquatic Center and the completion of Monongalia County Ballpark.

Lyons also held several national committee positions, as a member of the Division I Council, chair of the Big 12 Athletic Directors Council and chair of the Division I Football Oversight Committee.

“I deeply appreciate Shane’s leadership over the past eight years and I wish him well,” Gee said. “But with the ever-changing landscape of intercollegiate athletics, I believe this is an opportunity to bring a fresh perspective to our program.”

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