The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest Sports

April 17, 2014

Questions raised about Turnbull’s firing

MORGANTOWN — Dr. Stephen Graber, an associate professor at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, is among the latest WVU teachers to deplore Oliver Luck’s firing of veteran wrestling coach Craig Turnbull.

He raised some significant questions about that issue last Monday in a meeting of the WVU Faculty Senate.

President E. Gordon Gee, who was at the meeting, was quoted in The Dominion Post as saying the athletic director “did not violate any rules of the university’s” in the handling of Turnbull’s dismissal. This, despite continuing criticism throughout the state and from various sources familiar with the wrestling program Turnbull built.

Gee, who took over his second term as WVU president in January, believes the firing was justified. He also admittedly has confidence in Luck’s decisions, having known Luck as Mountaineer QB here in 1981.

Dr. Graber, speaking in knowledgeable defense of the widely known Turnbull and his top tier wrestling program, told Gee and the Faculty Senate that he had a few questions to ask about the firing and the handling thereof.

He said the coach, after told by Luck his team in 2013 performed below expectations, showed significant improvement in 2014.

“Wrestling is arguably the second-most successful team at WVU after the rifle team,” Graber noted. “Despite his 36 years of meritorious service, Coach Turnbull was summoned to a morning meeting in which he was told his contract would not be renewed.

“Nevertheless, there was improvement, and Turnbull was dismissed while our football and men’s basketball coaches not only still have their jobs but received substantial pay raises, as well; despite the fact their performances have been mediocre at best.

“Can you provide some clarification as to how this decision was made and if there are perhaps some issues other than performance of which we might be aware?”

Gee replied that the wrestling program “has not had success.” He also said that Luck followed the recommendations of the Human Resources department in handling Turnbull’s dismissal. However, this year’s record was 14-7 for dual meets, and five wrestlers qualified for the NCAA Tournament. The Mountaineers, while 0-3 in the undersized Big 12, fared well in the highly regarded Eastern Wrestling League, in which WVU has competed for many, many years.

Turnbull, an Erie, Pa., native, has earned several honors as well as respect from his student-athletes and peers over the years.

Dr. Graber also asked the president about the manner in which Coach Turnbull was fired. There have been reports, one by a professor who was a witness, that Luck allegedly showed a lack of respect in telling Turnbull to turn in his keys before day’s end and not return to the campus.

If Gee commented on that question, it was not included in the local newspaper’s story. Even age discrimination has been mentioned as a possible issue. Turnbull, who was denied an opportunity to retire after a 37th season in 2015, is only 61 years old.

A resolution to Monday’s discussion was suggested by Dr. Graber to the faculty assembly. It included having Turnbull reinstated for another year. But his proposal was voted down.

That’s not surprising, though. Luck has enjoyed a pretty much free hand in his money-making professional-like way, in my opinion, since becoming A.D. In the process, he has set a three-year record for firing coaches and others, more than any former athletic director here.

And no one obviously has interjected.

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