Just Wren baby!
by Jim Buzzerd
Last Wednesday Wren Baker was named West Virginia University’s next vice president and director of Intercollegiate Athletics. Baker comes to Morgantown from the University of North Texas, where he has been the vice president and athletics director since 2016. With previous stops at Missouri, Memphis, Northwest Missouri and Rogers State, Baker brings more than 20 years of experience to WVU as its 13th Director of Athletics.
As discussion evolved last week following former AD Shane Lyons’ interview on MetroNews last week it was suggested that Lyons had not embraced the recently formed Country Roads Trust which is a fund set up and headed by former AD Oliver Luck and Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick. The fund was created to help WVU compete in the Name Image Likeness market which now allows college players to get paid to play sports.
I won’t pretend to understand the rules, but apparently the trust must be separated from the athletic department which Lyons seemed to be referencing in his interview when he said he had concerns about ‘crossing a line’. WVU president E. Gordon Gee had more aggressive fundraising in mind when he dismissed Lyons.
Enter Baker who is known as top notch fundraiser and one who understands the ins and outs of NIL. Reaction to the hire is well received across the board and it would appear that Luck highly endorsed Baker. His budget at WVU will be seven to eight times higher than he worked with at North Texas. I don’t know if that makes his job easier, or more difficult.
On the same day Baker was announced as the new AD the university also announced that Neal Brown will return as head coach of the Mountaineers in 2023. This decision was met with derision across the fan base and it was mentioned on social media that many angry fans were pulling their financial support late last week. It is believed the decision was made by Gee, not Baker, though it will be Baker who will be saddled with what will likely prove to be a lame duck coach for next season.
Technically it is Gee’s responsibility to oversee athletics, but his words and actions don’t make him look like success on the field is a top priority. At Baker’s press conference on Monday Gee actually said he took pride in the recent 5-7 season.
“We have had a challenging football year as we all know,” Gee said. “One of the things that I started realizing is the fact that really we really did put our football coach in a very challenging position because we played two Power 5 teams [Pitt and Kansas] right off the bat. The other thing is, the recent process came out noting that we had the toughest football schedule in the country. The fact that we’ve gone 5-7 in a very competitive environment is something I take a lot of pride in, because given everything, we played rather well.”
Brown has three losing seasons in four years, if Gee thinks that is a source of pride it would be wise to get him as far away from WVU athletics as possible. Yes, Brown has had some challenges, but Kansas State head coach Chris Kleiman is also in his fourth season and his Wildcats just beat TCU in the Big 12 championship Saturday. I hope Wren Baker gets to run the department as he sees fit, and not be handcuffed by other influences.