When Ed Pastilong returned to West Virginia University in 1976 as a member of Frank Cignetti’s football staff, you could pay $5 for end zone seats to watch the Mountaineers or buy a lower-level ticket to a WVU basketball game at the Coliseum for $4.
Gas was 61 cents a gallon; the average cost of a new home was $43,000 and interest on a savings account was an unbelievable 6.88 percent.
Yes, things have certainly changed a lot since then.
On Friday, Pastilong is officially retiring after almost 40 years of devoted service to his alma mater – four as a Mountaineer quarterback in the early 1960s, 13 as an athletic department staffer and 21 out of the last 23 years working as the school’s director of athletics.
When Pastilong took over the department’s directorship in 1989 there were many dire issues confronting West Virginia University. Penn State was leaving the East to play in the Big Ten, other conferences were hedging their bets and adding schools, Title IX legislation first enacted in 1972 was beginning to show its teeth and the University was not exactly awash in cash, the school frequently looking to the athletic department to help supplement its finances.
Hit the fast-forward button to 2012 and West Virginia University is about to join one of the most prestigious athletic conferences in the country (Big 12), opportunities are now aplenty for women in the athletic department and the University as an entity has never been in better shape financially.
And Ed Pastilong’s steady hand through some very difficult times certainly helped West Virginia University get to the place it’s at right now.
Pastilong, known by everyone as simply “Eddie”, has always believed great things were destined for his alma mater as long as everyone was on board and rowing the boat in the same direction. Teamwork was always central to Pastilong’s thinking with every “I” replaced with “We” in his vernacular.
“The competition we’re involved with is so extreme that every person involved in the program – the support people, the coaches, administrators, student-athletes, fans – everyone must carry their load, otherwise we won’t win,” Pastilong told me a few years ago.
Eddie’s tenure at WVU was marked by many successes: Entry into the school’s first all-sports athletic conference (Big East), expanded athletic budgets, outstanding hires, many additional opportunities for women, facility upgrades, increased academic support, and perhaps most significantly, unparalleled success on the athletic fields. That phenomenal success West Virginia University enjoyed during Pastilong’s 21-year tenure as director of athletics is how he will undoubtedly be remembered.
There were many top 20 finishes in football with coaches Don Nehlen, Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart, men’s basketball returned to national prominence under Gale Catlett, John Beilein and Bob Huggins, women’s basketball experienced a resurgence under Mike Carey, soccer became extremely popular here with Nikki Izzo-Brown and Marlon LeBlanc, Sean Cleary constructed one of the most respected distance programs in the country (with mostly Canadians and West Virginia girls), rifle continued to win national championships and WVU’s other Olympic sports have performed well.
Several years ago, Pastilong and his staff developed a strategic plan that provided the resources necessary to give the coaches and teams at WVU a fighting chance to be successful in the most competitive situation the school had ever faced. When Eddie first arrived in Morgantown as a student-athlete in the early 1960s, the talk around campus was not about whether or not the Mountaineers could get to the Sugar, the Fiesta or the Orange Bowl, but instead whether or not they could simply beat Richmond and William & Mary.
“Today, when people talk about our athletic program they talk about West Virginia University in the same light (as the top schools in the country),” Pastilong said.
Since that strategic plan was adopted, WVU has consistently ranked among the upper third in the annual Directors’ Cup standings, placing among the nation’s top 50 in each of the last five years. Thirty years ago, having an athletic department that well-rounded and successful was almost impossible to imagine.
Shortly after replacing Fred Schaus as the school’s 10th AD, Pastilong remembers taking a call from downtown notifying him that $3 million was being removed from the department’s budget each year to account for tuition waivers. Right off the bat, athletics was put at an extreme disadvantage with its competitors and Pastilong understood fully that if the lost revenue could not be made up in some other form it would be impossible for WVU to maintain coaches and field competitive teams.
So he came up with a plan to permanently endow scholarships, working with Morgantown businessman Mike Puskar, and that fund now shows nearly $30 million as of last spring. To some, that athletic endowment fund was to WVU athletics what Cleopatra having a shorter nose meant to Western civilization – it literally changed the face of the department, and quite possibly, even the face of the University now that it is joining the Big 12.
“We’ve always had an eye toward the future and that’s one of the reasons we’ve emphasized scholarship endowments,” Pastilong said. “What will we look like (many) years out?
“We’re in a good location for a lot of athletes,” Pastilong continued. “We have a varied curriculum; we have a nice community in a great state with dedicated alums and supportive contributors. You put those together and that’s a very good beginning for success.”
Today, West Virginia University’s reputation and athletic brand has never been stronger.
“We look upon ourselves as a top program; we look upon ourselves as not needing to get to the next level because we’re already at that level,” Pastilong noted.
It’s now been 50 years since Eddie first arrived at WVU in 1962 as a touted quarterback prospect from Moundsville High, and in the ensuing years, Pastilong’s love for the University, the state and its residents has never been stronger.
“There is a unique group of people that you are surrounded with here,” Pastilong said. “We have an affinity for the state, the school, our fellow West Virginians and this uniqueness gives one a feeling of pride and enjoyment.
“When the Mountaineers win everyone sleeps well.”
And that also includes Ed Pastilong, who can look back with great pride on almost four decades of outstanding service to West Virginia University.
Enjoy your retirement, Eddie, you certainly deserve it.Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History available in bookstores this fall. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.