Woody O'Hara pictured here with MSN's Jay Jacobs, was an MSN fixture for 39 years.
WVU Sports Communications photo
Woody O’Hara served the role of sidekick to Jack Fleming for years on Mountaineer Sports Network radio broadcasts, entertaining West Virginia football and basketball fans everywhere with their one-of-a-kind style and humor.
O’Hara, 70, died early Wednesday morning in Morgantown.
Woody first became a fixture on West Virginia broadcasts in 1970 with Jack Tennant before later pairing with Fleming.
O’Hara’s broadcasting career at West Virginia University spanned 39 years, the Winchester, Va., native doing everything from sports play-by-play to television news. He worked on the radio network through the 2002 football season, was the studio host for the popular Mountaineer Magazine (1989-2001) and Mountaineer Jammin’ (1995-2002) television shows, and continued to do voiceover work for MSN through the 2009 season.
O’Hara also served as host of Mountain Scene Tonight, a popular nightly news show that aired locally on West Virginia Public Television, but it was O’Hara’s role on football and basketball radio broadcasts for which he will most be remembered.
It was O’Hara’s colorful commentary and on-the-spot humor that worked perfectly with Fleming’s straight forward, tell-it-like-it-was approach.
“Woody was great about picking up the color of what went on during games,” recalled Mike Parsons, executive producer of the Mountaineer Sports Network and West Virginia University’s deputy director of athletics. “He came up with some things that were really funny.”
Parsons laughs now, but there were times when O’Hara would get on a roll and Parsons would cringe at some of the things Woody said on the air. Parsons recalled the time O’Hara ran into Paul Hornung in the buffet line before a West Virginia-Notre Dame game and Woody relaying that brief encounter to his listeners during the pregame show.
O’Hara had told Hornung that West Virginia was going to whip the Irish today, to which Hornung replied, “I wouldn’t bet on it!”
Naturally, Woody was well aware of Hornung’s gambling problems as a professional football player and he enjoyed repeating Hornung’s remark in full detail, embellishing things to maximize its effect.
During a 1980 West Virginia-Hawaii football game, O’Hara began complaining on the air about losing his luggage on the team flight out to Honolulu. He said he had to go out and buy new clothes just to get through the week and was considering giving the bill to the athletic department.
“How in the world can you lose someone’s luggage on a charter flight?” O’Hara asked.
When the team returned to the stadium after the game, sitting in the middle of the parking lot right next to O’Hara’s parked car were the three suitcases he had forgotten to put on the bus.
“I could have strangled Woody for saying that on the air,” laughed Ed Pastilong, who was in charge of team travel back then.
MSN analyst Jay Jacobs worked with O’Hara on basketball telecasts during the early 1980s and recalled how O’Hara and Fleming were required to switch positions at halftime of games.
“When we started out, we were split up between radio and television,” remembered Jacobs. “Woody was on the radio first and then Jack would go on at halftime, but a lot of times they never made the switch.”
Jacobs said that was usually the case when West Virginia did dual radio-television broadcasts from Virginia Tech’s Cassell Coliseum. The radio position was high above the floor while the television crew was placed courtside and the only way to get there was by going down through the bleachers. Jacobs, who strictly did television back then, would be patiently waiting on the floor while O’Hara and Fleming tried to switch places for the second half.
The two would practice the transfer during the team’s shoot-around the day before and could easily make the transition, but during games they could never seem to do it because people in the stands would always want them to stop and talk.
Once during a switch at Penn State’s old Rec Hall, Fleming struck his head on the low ceiling in the media room and was about to do his TV standup with blood streaking down his forehead.
“It was crazy how we did things back then by today’s standards,” Parsons laughed.
O’Hara was the color commentator on radio broadcasts, not the analyst, meaning it was not his job to break down the game and describe in full detail what the two teams were doing.
Woody also learned quickly how to get along with Fleming on the air. Fleming was a perfectionist and he wasn’t interested in having someone talking over top of him all of the time the way Myron Cope did on Pittsburgh Steelers broadcasts. A shtick similar to what Cope was doing during Steelers games was not going to be tolerated by Fleming on West Virginia broadcasts.
But O’Hara could loosen Jack up with a timely comment about Tim Grgurich’s awful sport coat, the ridiculous uniforms the opposing teams were wearing or the lousy job the refs were doing.
“Jack always tried to be as serious as he could but a lot of times Woody just wouldn’t let him do it,” Jacobs said. “Jack might have gotten frustrated with Woody at times, but deep down he really loved him.”
And O’Hara truly loved Mountaineer fans. When he was doing voiceover work for television shows, he would purposely schedule them during the busiest time of the afternoon so he could drive through campus to see people. He would also stop and talk to anyone who made eye contact with him, always making sure when he did so to ask them their names.
One of Woody’s favorite jokes was to ask someone if they wanted to see a picture of his “pride and joy.” Naturally they would say yes, so he would dig deep into his back pocket for his wallet and pull out a laminated picture card of a bottle of Joy dishwashing detergent sitting next to a bottle of Pride furniture polish.
It never failed to get a laugh.
O’Hara also loved to tease the players. Once while driving through town, he saw West Virginia’s burly offensive guard Randy Dunnigan walking down the street in a pair of old blue jeans and a ragged, tight-fitting t-shirt that was not exactly flattering.
“Hey, Robert Redford!” O’Hara yelled out.
Dunnigan looked at old Woody like he had three eyeballs. Woody also loved to play pranks on the players during road trips, especially with the basketball team because the travel group was much smaller and everyone got to know each other so well. The things O’Hara and good buddy Jim Galusky did to some of the basketball players are still talked about in the Coliseum.
“Woody could do whatever you asked him to do,” said Parsons. “He could do TV news. He could be Santa Claus. He was the Santa Claus on WAJR up until a couple of years ago. Anytime there was a parade Woody was there. If there was a fair or a festival he was always there.”
Twice O’Hara was named the West Virginia Sportscaster of the Year, and in 2008 he was inducted into the West Virginia Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
O’Hara was a 1962 graduate of Shenandoah College and was inducted into the Handley (Va.) High School Hall of Fame in 1994. He was the sports director of a radio station in Charles Town before coming to Morgantown.
O’Hara is survived by his wife Vicki, three children – Michael, Kelly, and Woody Jr. – and three grandchildren.
“Woody had one of the great voices,” said Jacobs. “He was very humorous and people really enjoyed him when he was on the air. He played that role very well.”
"When someone knows who you are simply by saying your first name, and that was the case with Woody and Jack, I think that speaks volumes," added West Virginia’s play-by-play man Tony Caridi.