West Virginia fires AD Shane Lyons as football team falters

Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia announced the firing of athletic director Shane Lyons on Monday, a move that comes amid the worst stretch for the football team in more than four decades.

President Gordon Gee said there were no immediate plans to make changes under coach Neal Brown.

Lyons is gone after nearly eight years. Gee said in a statement that Rob Alsop, WVU’s vice president for strategic initiatives, has been named interim athletic director while a search is ongoing for Lyons’ replacement.

Brown has a 21-24 record in his fourth season, including 4-6 this year. It’s the worst stretch since the football team went 17-27 under Frank Cignetti from 1976-79.

In September, after West Virginia started the football season 0-2 and fans turned up their criticism of Brown, Lyons said he would take a wait-and-see approach for the remainder of the season.

Fans also had criticized Lyons’ move to give Brown a contract extension following a 6-4 record in 2020, his only winning season.

“We are supporting coach Neal Brown and our team as we complete our season over the next few weeks,” Gee said in a statement. “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.”

Lyons was hired in January 2015 to succeed Oliver Luck. He previously served as deputy athletic director at Alabama and as associate commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Lyons is a Parkersburg native who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sport management at West Virginia. When Lyons was hired, Alabama football coach Nick Saban, another West Virginia native, said that Lyons “understands that passion and what the Mountaineers represent.”

But with the fan base in an uproar over the football program, patience in the administration waned.

“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.”

The football team under Brown has yet to be ranked in the AP Top 25 poll and has failed to finish higher than fifth in the Big 12.

“I know there’ll be some speculation that this is the first shoe of two shoes to drop,” Alsop said at a news conference later Monday. “But I just want to disavow that. This is an independent decision.”

He said the football players “have not given up on each other or on this season, and they have not given up on their coaches, and neither have we.”

Football isn’t the only sport undergoing tough times at West Virginia. The men’s basketball team finished last in the Big 12 a year ago. The women’s basketball team finished 15-15 and coach Mike Carey retired after 21 seasons. A few weeks later Lyons hired South Dakota women’s coach Dawn Plitzuweit.

Alsop said he was not a candidate for the permanent athletic director’s position.

“The past few years of college athletics have seen a lot of change,” Alsop said. “We’ve seen from the portal to name, image and likeness, to another round of conference realignment. President Gee in thinking about this decided that with this ever-changing landscape that it will be a good opportunity to find a fresh perspective for the program.”

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. returning for 2023 season

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

SEATTLE – Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said Sunday he will return to the school for his sixth and final season of eligibility in 2023.

Penix announced his decision on social media and it was a surprising one at that. Penix was the national leader in passing this season, throwing for 4,354 yards and led Washington’s turnaround. The No. 12-ranked Huskies went 10-2 in the regular season, finished tied for second in the Pac-12 and will face No. 21 Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Penix will have a chance at setting Washington’s single-season record for yards passing in the bowl game. He also threw 29 touchdowns this season. Because of his performance this season, Penix saw his NFL draft stock rise to where he was being expected to be a second-day pick at the latest.

In his announcement, Penix wrote, “As I look back on this special season we had, I realized there were so many great moments and things to celebrate, but I KNOW there is so much for out there for this team and the job is still not finished. I can’t wait to be playing in Husky Stadium for the 2023 season!”

Penix started his career at Indiana and showed flashes of stardom while also battling injuries. He transferred to Washington after the 2021 season, a move that reunited him with new Huskies’ coach Kalen DeBoer, who was Penix’s offensive coordinator for one season at Indiana.

North Texas fires Littrell after .500 record over 7 years

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

DENTON, Texas – Bowl-bound North Texas has fired coach Seth Littrell, who went 44-44 over seven seasons.

University president Neal Smatresk said Sunday night that the decision to make the move came after a thorough assessment of the program.

The Mean Green are 7-6 this season after losing 48-27 to UTSA in the Conference USA championship game Friday night.

Phil Bennett, their defensive coordinator the past two seasons, was named interim head coach. North Texas plays Boise State in the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 17.

The 44-year-old Littrell had one year left on his contract in what was his first head coaching job. He was the youngest coach in Conference USA and one of the youngest at the FBS level when he arrived after two seasons as offensive coordinator at North Carolina with UNT coming off a 1-11 season at the time.

While the Mean Green are going to their sixth bowl since Littrell first got there, they haven’t won any of those yet. The bowl in his debut season came after only five wins since there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all of the slots. Consecutive nine-win seasons followed in 2017 and 2018, but they then had three consecutive losing records before this year.

North Texas also has an interim athletic director after Wren Baker was named as West Virginia’s AD last week.

Smatresk said Jared Mosley, the chief operating officer of UNT athletics, will serve as interim AD. The university is working with a search firm to find Baker’s successor.