Stevens: Luck a Winner
Posted by John Antonik on Thursday, June 17, 2010
If there is a guy out there who knows winners it’s Gary Stevens. He was the one who orchestrated all of those powerhouse Miami Hurricane offenses back in its heyday in the 1980s with Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testeverde. He coached Dan Marino in the pros with the Dolphins.
Stevens was also the guy responsible for bringing West Virginia University’s new athletic director Oliver Luck to Morgantown in 1978.
“He was good,” said Stevens. “Look at what he did there and then he went into the pros. He wasn’t great in the pros, but he was a pro. He was a smart leader.”
Back in the 1970s, Stevens was on the defensive side of the football for three out of the four years he worked at WVU for coach Frank Cignetti. Stevens was also one of Cignetti’s top recruiters. By the time Stevens left in 1979, about a fourth of West Virginia’s roster was made up of Eastern Ohio players Stevens had recruited to West Virginia.
Do the names Darryl Talley, Delbert Fowler and Dave Oblak ring a bell? Those were some of Stevens’ players in addition to Luck.
Talley was a 185-pound middle linebacker with a broken leg when Stevens first saw him play.
“He was recruited but they didn’t see what I saw in the guy,” Stevens said of the future all-pro linebacker. “Others were after him but they didn’t pound him. I pounded after him.”
Once Stevens got his hands on a player he wouldn’t let go. The coach could also think on his feet. During Luck’s recruiting trip to campus Stevens sensed the old football stadium really wasn’t making that much of an impression on him, so he gunned the car past the worn-down facility and took his No. 1 quarterback recruit directly to the golf course where the new stadium was going to be built.
“I said this is where it’s going to be,” Stevens laughed.
“I don’t think I ever really saw old Mountaineer Field until I actually got here,” added Luck.
Stevens also had to come up with a plan to persuade Luck’s parents that a West Virginia University education was just as valuable as a degree from either Harvard or Yale. That was something entirely different from what Stevens was normally used to doing - which was trying to chip away at the powerful aura coach Woody Hayes had in the state of Ohio back in those days.
“Oliver wanted to be a Rhodes Scholar and I showed him that West Virginia at that time had 19 Rhodes Scholars,” Stevens recalled. “I said, ‘Your opportunity to be a Rhodes Scholar is better out of West Virginia than the Ivy League schools. All you’ve got to do is look it up.’”
Stevens is certain Luck did just that.
“Oliver Luck is not the kind of guy you can B.S.,” Stevens said. “Some kids you can impress them and tell them something and they’ll believe everything you say. But this guy, you better tell him what it is or he’s gone because he could analyze it and he knew. You had to be on the up and up with him.”
Also, it helped that Stevens stuck with Luck when other programs sensed he was likely headed to one of the Ivy schools.
“Michigan was after him and they got mad and got off of him,” Stevens said. “He was going to be the program 9at WVU). His class was going to be the program. They were going to be the tradition, which they wound up being when (Don) Nehlen started winning there.”
Stevens was on Cignetti’s staff for two years with Luck in 1978-79 before Cignetti was let go after the ’79 season. Although Stevens only worked on the offensive side of the ball during Luck’s sophomore year in 1979, he said Oliver was perfectly suited for West Virginia’s veer offensive system.
“We ran the veer but we also threw it,” said Stevens. “We had Danny Kendra and he was a throwing quarterback. With Oliver it could be a better offense with the veer because he could be a little (running) threat so you could do a little more with the veer-option.”
When Don Nehlen arrived in 1980, he abandoned the veer in favor of the I-formation.
“He went to that Michigan type system that they ran up there which was a good fit and it also fit Oliver well,” said Stevens.
Cignetti’s last coaching staff in 1979 included Stevens, Gary Tranquill and a young secondary coach named Nick Saban.
“It was a helluva staff,” Stevens said. “With his team that last year I think we won five games and he got fired, but it was all of those young kids. It had to get better.”
New athletic director Dick Martin arrived in 1978 and wanted to make his mark on the program by hiring a new football coach.
“As it turned out he hired Nehlen and he had a great base of kids coming in, a new facility going up and so there’s new excitement and everything,” Stevens said. “It just worked out good for everybody.”
Stevens also mentioned that he firmly believes Frank Cignetti was about to turn around the Mountaineer program when he was fired in ‘79.
“I’m going to tell you something, Frank Cignetti was a good coach. He’s the guy that got that stadium built. He was the guy that pushed for it and he worked recruiting,” Stevens said. “You have to have a guy that can close the deal. Sometimes you don’t get that, but that guy has got to be there to make it so that when the guy walks out of the door everybody was impressed with him and Frank was that kind of a guy.”
The same can be said for Oliver Luck.
“He was a winner and a cut above the rest of the guys,” Stevens said. “There are good players but he’s a winner which made him better. He knew how to win and he did things to win. He did that in high school and he did it in college.”
Today, Stevens is living in South Florida where he still does some consulting work for pro and college teams. He also runs a quarterback clinic each summer back in his native Cleveland. This year’s clinic will take place at St. Edward High School beginning on June 28.
“It’s quarterbacks, receivers and backs and we’ll get some defensive people,” Stevens said. “I work them. A lot of camps it’s almost like babysitting. They just bring in as many kids as they can and get the money and have games. But I really work these kids.”
Thursday Tidbits …
“This is a particularly challenging time in intercollegiate athletics, given the conference realignment rumors and chess moves that are starting to be made,” Luck said. “I think that there will be further activity that goes on, and I’m not sure when the dust settles if there will be a permanent solution.
“Realignment has a major impact on a lot of institutions, and WVU is no exception,” Luck added. “I look forward to working with (President Clements) and his staff and making sure that we protect WVU as best we possibly can and make sure our affiliations are the best that we can have to further the growth of our university, improve our academics and build on the great foundation that Eddie (Pastilong) is leaving.”
And if Texas is able to establish its own television network, some estimate the Longhorns could realize as much as $20-25 million in added revenue.
Also, read this from NBA.com: A knee injury hobbles Da’Sean Butler, but does not end his NBA dream … http://www.nba.com/2010/news/features/scott_howard_cooper/06/11/dasean.butler.feature/?ls=iref:nbahpt1
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Gyorko is one of 20 draft picks the Padres have signed so far. Gyorko, the 59th overall player selected in this year’s draft, rejoins WVU teammates Vince Belnome and Joe Agreste in the Padres organization.
Belnome is currently playing at Lake Elsinore while Agreste is at Ft. Wayne.
AP sports writer Cliff Brunt caught up with Ebanks earlier this week … http://www.usatoday.com/sports/basketball/nba/2010-06-15-3782139494_x.htm
So far, Bennett has unveiled three WVU players – Chris Neild at No. 17, J.T. Thomas at No. 15, and today, Jock Sanders at No. 13. I will say this, I know it is tough picking a top 25 for anything, but if there are 16 better players in the Big East than Chris Neild I would love to see them. In fact, if there are 10 better players in this conference than Neild then the Big East is in for one heck of a year.
Have a great weekend!
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