When you see Elwood Gordon Gee walk into a room, I can’t help but think that wisp of a man not only commands a room – as he did last night’s Marshall County Chamber of Commerce dinner in Moundsville – but has impacted so many.
Of course, he’s in his second go-round as WVU’s president (heck, I’m 62 and he signed my diploma) but was also twice president of Ohio State (I’ll skip adding “The” thank you very much) as well as president of Vanderbilt, Brown and Colorado.
“One of these days,” he joked Wednesday night, “I’ll get it right.”
Gee walks a little more precariously these days, but still lights up at the podium and is as quick-witted as ever. The stamina also remains strong. At 78, he left the dinner in order to get back to Morgantown and spend time with the students, a tradition he’s kept regarding the night before a Mountaineer football game.
But there’s that football team. The one causing such consternation. The one that’s 2-3 before the Baylor contest and a half game out of last place in Big 12 standings. The one that’s 19-21 under head coach Neal Brown in Year 4.
Despite a buyout that would be $16.7 million if fired on Jan. 1, 2023, many in Mountaineer Land are calling for Brown’s job.
The Associated Press’ John Raby got a comment from athletic director Shane Lyons back on Sept. 12. (“I know and deeply care that our fans are frustrated with the start of the football season, but so are our coaches and student-athletes, who have busted their tails getting ready for the year,” said Lyons. “As athletics director, I am as disappointed as the fans, but I see how much our coaches and players care and want to win and make our fans proud. Everyone involved knows that the on-field results have not met expectations and absolutely no one is satisfied. There are 10 games left in the season and the focus is still on getting the results that we all expect.”)
Yet I wanted to hear Gee’s take on the football season. So, at the dinner I asked him straight-up his perspective.
“I think we’re playing in one of the most competitive leagues, if not the most competitive league top to bottom, so you we have to be prepared every week,” Gee responded, referring to the Big 12. “Frankly, our football team is better than our record. We’re a few plays from being 5-0. So, I have great confidence in what we’re trying to do. We have to continue to trust the climb.”
Of course, “trust the climb” is the slogan Brown and his staff adopted when Dana Holgorsen was replaced. Gee is still pointing to the mantra.
I also got one more question in to WVU’s president. It was about the Big 12.
Mountaineer fans may know the league recently hired Brett Yormark, who was thrown immediately in the proverbial fire with Texas and Oklahoma departing and the Big 12 trying to win a standoff with the Pac-12 for relevance.
“Well, we’ve hired one of the most energetic, knowledgeable people in the country,” Gee said of Yormark. “He was head of NASCAR, the Nets, JAY-Z’s program, etc. So, we’re no longer the predatee, we’re the predator. I like being the predator.”
Actually, Yormark worked for NASCAR for six years; was President and CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment Global (which manages and controls the Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets and the Nets’ G League team Long Island Nets); and was COO of Roc Nation and co-CEO of Roc Nation Unified. The latter was founded by JAY-Z.
Anyway, the Big 12 has added Cincinnati, BYU, UCF and Houston. Yormark has made it known further expansion could happen out west and he’s in a race with the Pac-12 to score a new media deal. The current Big 12 deal ends at the end of 2024.
“I’ve had meaningful conversations with ESPN and Fox over the last 30 days about do we accelerate that, do we think about doing something now,” Yormark told Forbes during a Wednesday interview. “Those conversations are ongoing. Whether we get to an early deal or not, I don’t know… If I can’t get a deal done with them, we’ll just wait until February ’24, but we’ve had great conversations over the last 30 days. I think both realize the potential of this conference, they want to be partners as we build our brands, and we’ll see whether we can get to an early extension or not.”
Keep in mind that Gee has been very involved in all WVU athletic matters of the past. When Brown was being hired, he was also eyeing Cincy’s Luke Fickell. He’s been at the forefront of Big 12 expansion of yore.
As of now, though, it seems Gee is both trusting Brown’s climb as well as Yormark’s media expertise.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.