CollegeAD Conversation: West Virginia AD Shane Lyons

February 26th, 2019 | by CollegeAD
CollegeAD Conversation: West Virginia AD Shane Lyons
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shane lyons

Shane Lyons, now in his fourth year as the AD at West Virginia, has seen a lot during his time in Morgantown. From the very start of his appointment, he has had a clear cut vision for the school and its student-athletes. From hiring a new head football coach to overseeing multiple construction projects, he has made a huge impact on the Mountaineers athletics program. Lyons recently sat down with CollegeAD to discuss his time at West Virginia, including some of the things the Mountaineers have accomplished during his time there as well as what’s next for WVU.

CollegeAD: You unveiled a five year, $100 million master plan, largely focused on football operations. You’ve been quoted saying as that’s really an area that you needed to get better at, where does this project currently stand?

Shane Lyons: We’re in the second phase of that project. It’s a phased-in project in the sense that we did not want to disrupt anything during the season. So a lot of the work is January to August. In the first phase, we had the new team room built, which was done about two years ago. Last offseason we finished two projects in the building, a new training room which was about a $6 million project and then we also completed a $2.5 million project in the training table.

The next phase, where we are right now is actually building a new visiting team locker room and the reason for that phase is as a result of making our locker room larger we had to actually take over the visiting team locker room. So we have to build one of those before we start on our own. So the next several months until August, that’ll be the next phase.

Then after next year, we will be ready to start the renderings, which would be the biggest part of the master plan, it’s about a $27 million project. Which would be our own team locker room, a visiting Hall of Fame area, and a new front on the entire building. And then ultimately come back in the last phase and finish out more of the interior work of the team meeting rooms along with coaches office and our academic area of that building.

CollegeAD: You want this to take place without interrupting the actual football season, is that why it may take a little bit longer to get all of this done?

Shane Lyons: It is, and in a perfect world you would hope you could have moved everybody out for let’s say a season, and some people have done that. You move everybody out for a season or so, and then you spend 12 to 18 or 24 months working on the upgrades. Our phasing-in came as a result of our fundraising efforts to give us a little bit more time for the fundraising and just not to displace everybody for an entire 24 months time period, because it’s going to be in the same footprint as the current building, and we did look at other options there as well.

We looked at do we upgrade what we have, or do we start from scratch, tear the building down, and completely start over? which obviously you would be moving everybody out. So we decided that we had a good structure, the great location, some of the pieces that we already had upgraded. So we felt this was the best move for us, is just to continue the phasing-in project, and work over the next three to four years to get this done.

CollegeAD: Are you planning to do anything to the stadium itself or it all basically an operations renovation?

Shane Lyons: Two years ago we spent about close to $100 million in that area, upgrading the concourses of the stadium, new restrooms, new concession stands. The concourse itself – there’s all-new concrete in the front, adding additional space, walkways in the front, landscaping, changing the old fencing to new fencing, so there was a significant amount of work when I first got here four years ago, and that was completed about two years ago. There have been a lot of projects ongoing. Our first focus, when I first got here, from the football stadium aspect, was the fan experience piece of it. Now our second phase in football is the student-athlete experience.

shane lyonsCollegeAD: What’s the fundraising model you’re using? Is it all donor based? What about bonding?

Shane Lyons: It’s a combination of both, on the fan experience projects that we’ve completed, 100% of those projects were bonded. With our current projects, our hopes is to raise 100% from our donor base. Obviously, if that doesn’t work out, we will work through some bonding projects as well and get that taken care of. We’re trying to raise as much as possible to alleviate ourselves from debt services in the projects that we’re working on right now and base it upon donor contributions. That was also the reason for phasing the projects in, it gives us more time to work with our donors and their gifts and pledges.

CollegeAD: Is there any way to put a percentage on where you’re at now? Let’s say 70% donor funding, 30% bonded, or is each project different?

Shane Lyons: Each project’s a little bit different. Obviously, the projects that we’ve done, a lot have been donor based projects, those were your $3-4 million projects, $5-6 million when you calculate the training room and then the training tables, that $2.5 million was also donor-based. When you get into the bigger project now, the next phase you’re looking at roughly $27 million, we do have some potential big gifts that we’re pursuing. Again, if those gifts come in, are they 100% upfront? It’s just a matter of working through that and seeing where we’re at and working with the institution if we don’t get to that point from a debt-services based bonding standpoint that we’ll work through.

CollegeAD: Why did you settle on a five-year master plan versus a 10, 15, or even a 20-year plan?

Shane Lyons:  I felt that we were behind, not in our football facilities, but some of our other Olympic Sport facilities. The weight room and some of the other things that we’re working on in the Coliseum where the basketball team plays. So I think it was aggressive but it had to be. I think there were a lot of facilities that hadn’t been touched here in a number of years, so it was a matter of trying to speed that up and trying to do a lot in the very short time. So it was a strategic move from that standpoint to make it a five-year plan.

CollegeAD: When it comes to the Olympic facilities that were part of the master plan, such as a golf course for example, and you mentioned the Coliseum, where do those projects stand?

Shane Lyons: The golf course is a little bit of a phasing-in project as well. We’re starting from scratch there. So it’s a matter of first purchasing the land that we plan to build on and then the second phase of that could be the course itself or the practice course, the driving range, and then the third phase would be the building itself, the clubhouse for the golf team, and the locker room area including hitting bays. So you could phase that in again, or if the right donor comes along and donates what we need to get the project done, about $5 million, then we’ll do that all at once. But right now we’re focusing on getting the money for the land, which we’re very close to meeting that requirement, and then we’ll see the next steps of the course itself and then the clubhouse.

The other parts of the Olympic sport are, again, if you want to call it, phasing-in. We plan on building a new Olympic sport weight room, and that weight room will go into the same place that our current swimming pool is for our swim team. We’re finishing up a project along with the community, building a new aquatic and track center, which is about a $45-50 million project. The track is completed. We finished that project in October, and the student-athletes will be able to start running on it once the winter breaks here in April.

The aquatic center itself will be finished next October. So, once that’s completed, if we have some funding in place, that’s when we’ll turn to what we currently have our swimming pool area into a new Olympic sport weight room area. At the Coliseum we’re focusing on the interval, which is utilizing new sounds, scoreboards, newsfeeds, all that in the interval and again we can phase that in if necessary, but that’s the focus on the Coliseum area.

CollegeAD: The athletic department has partnered with the city or the county on several projects including the ballpark and aquatic center. How beneficial has that relationship been to West Virginia athletics? shane lyons

Shane Lyons: It’s really beneficial and it’s a little bit of a different model than a lot of institutions. But some of these facilities, like baseball and especially the aquatics center, it’s something that we felt like as an athletics department, we only use the facilities for a limited amount of time during the given year. If you look at it, technically you’re practicing 20-hours a week as a collegiate team. That’s a lot of time for a facility that’s set and not be used, and how do you partner with somebody, and there was a name here in the Morgantown community to be able to do things like that.

So the aquatics center itself is not just a competition pool, there is also the community side of a lap pool and some splash pads and different things like that for the kids. Then, of course, you have the competition area, which not only can be used by us, but it can be used by the local high schools, it can be used by club teams. We will try to host as many events as we can, from USA swimming to club events, whatever it may be. We reserve the times that we need. We have the first choice in times, and then everything around that could be used for community or other events. So, it’s really worked, the model worked, the same thing as you mentioned with baseball – we have the facility in January all the way through May, during the baseball season. The Black Bears then come in and they have it from the middle of June to September. So normally that facility would be sitting there not used, and this gives the opportunity for others to use it.

CollegeAD: You recently hired a new football coach, what made Neal Brown the right fit for West Virginia?

Shane Lyons: First of all, let me take a step back, from an athletics director standpoint, you just never know when things will happen, and a coaching change could occur. You always hear the stories of athletic directors having a list, and I’ve had my list for several years, just in case coach Holgorsen would leave, and ultimately did leave. And I would tell you that coach Brown has been on my list for several years. He had done a remarkable job at Troy, and if you look at it, their first year was not very good, he was rebuilding that program, and then the last three years he had 10-wins there.

I don’t care what league you’re in – to get 10 wins is not easy in college football. So first and foremost, I knew that he was a proven winner, and looking at West Virginia, his upbringing, being from Kentucky, kind of obviously a state that borders and touches West Virginia, similar type of cultures and people from the state of Kentucky, his background, being at Power 5 Institutions and just ultimately his character in itself.

I had not, until I interviewed him, had the chance to meet Neal, but within the first hour, I knew immediately just on the other background information that I had, that he was going to be a perfect fit for West Virginia. He’s a relationship builder, not only on the field but off the field. He values the relationships and partnerships he has with the fans, with the student-athletes, with recruits. So it was all those things combined that I knew he would be a perfect fit here at West Virginia.

CollegeAD: You discussed never knowing when things will happen, and change sometimes happens very late after the first of the year. Did that add any extra challenges in the coaching search?

Shane Lyons:  Fortunately, it did not. Maybe it was a blessing in a number of ways when it did occur because we were the only Power 5 institution at that time that was looking for a coach. So sometimes in late November, early December, when there’s a lot of openings. There’s a lot of moving parts and coaches looking for different jobs, etc, so we were the only job open at that time. You had Miami come open a very short time during the same time period. Obviously, they made their hire and brought Manny back to Miami, but with Neal’s hire, I could focus. Again, I had narrowed it down. It was fortunate that he was still available as a coach. So we had zeroed in on him and made that our target as we were moving forward.

Probably the biggest challenge was that we weren’t sure what was going to happen because we had already gone into an early signing period. We had 16 kids out there that had already signed National Letter’s of Intent to come to West Virginia. A lot of times those decisions were based upon the previous coaching staff. So that was one challenge that we knew that we’d have to get through. The other thing was, it was an odd time for me because the student-athletes, the football student-athletes after the bowl game, we’re not here. How do I communicate with them to obviously let them know that coach Holgorsen was leaving and taking another job? My role as athletic director was to find a new coach and look after their best interests as student-athletes.

shane lyons

So we didn’t really have that opportunity to have face to face contact. We did some things through text messaging and emails to the student-athletes and had a meeting already set up with them on that Sunday when they were coming back to school. Fortunately, the search went very quick that not only was I telling them that we have a new coach but the new coach was already hired and here. Coach Brown and his staff did a great job, of the student-athletes who signed in the December period, we did not lose one of those student-athletes.

I think that’s a big testament to coach Brown and who he is, and we really found out that a lot of these student-athletes were signing with the institution as opposed to just the coaching staff. The new staff did a great job of building relationships the student-athletes very quickly, and some of the kids they already knew. Those are the things that we had to work through, but I think that we came out in a very positive manner.

CollegeAD:  You recently enjoyed your fourth anniversary as the Athletic Director at West Virginia. What’s been maybe your greatest accomplishment thus far and what are some of the challenges that you’re still facing?

Shane Lyons: In terms of accomplishments, I think overall, it’s building a department of roughly 250 employees with a culture where everybody believes in each other, everybody understands their roles and responsibilities as a staff, and the great things can be accomplished in the power of numbers. Understanding if we all do our jobs in a great way, our department can have great success. So, empowering people in their different areas to make those decisions, to have pride and belief that we can do great things as a department and build off of that.

We want our sport programs from top to bottom to be competing for Big 12 and NCAA championships and then our men’s soccer program from the Mid-American Conference standpoint of, the same thing, winning that conference and competing in the NCAA. We’ve done that very well over the last several years. I’m very proud of our student-athletes from an academic standpoint too. Last year, as a department, all of our 18 sport programs, had a 3.2 GPA across roughly the 18 sports and 475-500 student athletes in totality.

Some of the projects that we have completed – the football, band enhancements both in the Coliseum as well as the football stadium, we’re very proud to make a difference for our fans and their experiences coming to games. We have a lot of work to do, so when you talk about challenges, it’s going back to our earlier conversation of the master plan and being aggressive with that, and trying to take care of those in the next 4-5 years as well. So that’s the challenges that we face at this time is just bringing all of our facilities to what I believe the West Virginia standards should be. So those are the things that we’ll continue to focus on and work on.

CollegeAD: What’s next for West Virginia athletics?

Shane Lyons: We’ve got to keep in search of excellence, on and off the field. Academically, making sure student-athletes are prepared for life after college sports, and that they’re graduating at a very very high level and again from a GPA that our teams are achieving appropriate GPAs across the board. That’s a win for me as an athletic director. I think it’s important for our student-athletes when we do exit interviews that their experiences in the 4-5 years that they’ve been here, is top notch.

As an administration its our job to make sure that we continue to improve in areas that we think that we’re not up to par and those things that were doing well, to make sure they continue at a very high level. So those are the things that are next for us, on the playing fields, playing courts, we must continue striving for the best. We were fortunate to have teams in my four years here, women’s soccer a couple of years ago made it to the finals of the NCAA College Cup, the men’s basketball team three of my four years here have played in the Sweet 16 and have been very close to getting to the Elite Eight.

Football had a 10-win season during that time. We need more of those and we continue to go to bowl games. We want to compete for Big 12 Championships and hopefully, have a chance to go to the CFB Playoff. Across the board, our rightful teams continue to win national championships. We have had teams that haven’t competed in the NCAA in a long time, they’re right there on the verge of competing for that in the postseason.

Across the board striving for excellence in what we do.

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