West Virginia’s reputation as a first-rate college football program has been many years in the making - the modern era of success starting with Coach Art Lewis in the mid-1950s, and continuing later with Jim Carlen and Bobby Bowden in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Then, in the 1980s, Don Nehlen turned the Flying WV into a nationally known brand before Rich Rodriguez, Bill Stewart and Dana Holgorsen continued the program's ascension to its current level of excellence. And while the head football coach gets most of the credit, there have been many, many outstanding assistant coaches through the years who have made their mark on the Mountaineer program as well.
Some were innovators and cutting-edge tacticians, others fantastic recruiters and salesmen, but all of these guys were a big part of the success that helped put West Virginia into a position to join the Big 12 Conference in the summer of 2012.
Today, West Virginia continues to rank among the top 20 all-time winningest football programs in college football in no small part because of a fabulous group of assistant coaches working the Mountaineer sidelines through the years.
With that in mind, here is one guy’s for-fun list of the 25 top assistant football coaches who did their part to help West Virginia get there (in alphabetical order):- Richard Bell (Defensive Coordinator, 1968-69)
Richard Bell was the low-hanging fruit on Bobby Dodd’s Georgia Tech coaching staff that Jim Carlen was able to lure to Morgantown to run West Virginia’s defense in 1968. Right away under Bell, WVU cracked the nation’s top 10 in pass defense by allowing just 121.5 yards per game. A year later, Bell fielded one of the nation’s stingiest defenses, which allowed a minuscule 241 yards per game to rank 12th in the country, including permitting 108 yards per contest on the ground to rank 15th. West Virginia – led by All-American defenders Carl Crennel and Dale Farley – also surrendered an average of 11 points per game and defeated South Carolina, 14-3, in the Peach Bowl to cap an outstanding 10-1 season. Bell left with Carlen to run the Texas Tech defense and he also later followed Carlen to South Carolina to coordinate the Gamecock defense until Carlen was fired in 1982. After that, Bell ran defenses at Duke, East Carolina, Georgia, Navy and Air Force during a long and successful 48-year college career.- Bobby Bowden (Offensive Coordinator, 1966-69)
Jim Carlen once sat in a room and listened to Bear Bryant explain to Georgia Tech football coach Bobby Dodd about the growing importance of the passing game in college football, and not really understanding what Bryant was talking about, Carlen figured it might be a good idea to find a coach who knew the “throwin’ game” whenever he got a chance to become a head coach. That time came in 1966 when he took the West Virginia job, and the guy Carlen found was none other than Florida State wide receivers coach Bobby Bowden. Carlen gave Bowden complete autonomy to run the Mountaineer offense and the style Bowden came up with was exciting and entertaining, to say the least. In fact, the very first play Bowden called as West Virginia’s offensive coordinator was a gadget pass that went to defensive back John Mallory for a long touchdown. Here is how innovative (and flexible) Bowden was as WVU’s top offensive coach – in 1968, his passing offense ranked 14th in the nation behind the accurate throwing of quarterback Mike Sherwood. Then the very next season, in 1969, Bowden switched to the wishbone (also with Sherwood at quarterback) because WVU had an abundance of good running backs in Jim Braxton, Bob Gresham and Eddie Williams to produce the nation’s fifth-ranked rushing attack. How many offensive coordinators can say that? Bowden, also recognized as a tremendous recruiter, succeeded Carlen as West Virginia's head coach before going on to a hall of fame coaching career at Florida State, winning two national titles with the Seminoles.- Dennis Brown (Defensive Coordinator, 1980-87; Assistant Head Coach, 1987)
Denny Brown, who in his younger days bore a striking resemblance to Viggo Mortensen’s character Master Chief John James Urgayle in that awful Demi Moore movie G.I. Jane
, spent four years with Don Nehlen on Bo Schembechler’s Michigan staff before Nehlen brought him to Morgantown to run West Virginia’s defense. Brown's Mountaineer D's were made up of street fighters who enjoyed nothing more than to headhunt opposing quarterbacks. Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie went 0 for 4 against West Virginia, including a miserable 1984 performance in Morgantown when Brown blitzed Flutie into oblivion. Maryland quarterback Boomer Esiason, too, had rough outings, going winless in three career starts against the Mountaineers. For three straight years, from 1981-83, West Virginia ranked in the top 15 in total defense, including Brown’s 1983 unit that finished 10th in the country by allowing just 284.3 yards per game. Brown ran West Virginia’s defense until 1987 before becoming Larry Marmie’s defensive coordinator at Arizona State in 1988. Brown’s tenure in Tempe fizzled out after only two years and he never returned to the college game.- Jeff Casteel (Defensive Line 2001-02; Co-Defensive Coordinator 2002; Defensive Coordinator, 2003-11)
Jeff Casteel, a 3-4 guy before coming to West Virginia, was flexible enough to switch to the 3-3-5 stack when Coach Rich Rodriguez suggested he go down to South Carolina to learn the unorthodox scheme in 2002. Rodriguez’s reasoning for the switch was two-fold: No. 1, he had a miserable time preparing for it when he was Clemson’s offensive coordinator, and No. 2, it cured West Virginia’s habitual woes of trying to recruit top-notch defensive linemen. Casteel later put his own twist on the stack to field some of the best defenses in school history in the mid-2000s. For four straight years, from 2005 to 2008, Casteel’s Mountaineer defenses ranked among the nation’s top 20 in at least one statistical category, including his 2007 unit that ranked seventh in the nation in total defense by allowing just 301.7 yards per game. Statistically speaking, Casteel’s best defense was the 2010 unit that finished second in rushing defense (86.5 ypg.), third in total defense (261.1 ypg.) and third in scoring defense (13.5 ppg.). But even more important to Casteel than posting gaudy defensive stats was his willingness to do whatever it took within the rules to win football games – and the Mountaineers clearly won a lot of them when he was working the sidelines. Casteel had a big hand in three of the greatest triumphs in school history against Georgia in the 2005 Sugar Bowl, against Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, and against Clemson in the 2012 Orange Bowl. Today, he is reunited with Rodriguez at Arizona.- Frank Cignetti (Receivers, 1970; Offensive Coordinator, 1971-75)
There are not many coaches who have spent more time studying the game of football than Frank Cignetti. A notorious film connoisseur who could sit for hours and analyze such mundane things as the center-quarterback exchange, Cignetti ran Bobby Bowden’s high-powered Mountaineer offensive attack from 1971-75 before assuming the head-coaching role at WVU in 1976 when Bowden left for Florida State. In 1972, Cignetti’s offense, led by quarterback Bernie Galiffa, ranked fourth in the nation in scoring, sixth in passing and eighth in total yardage. Then three years later, in 1975, Cignetti adapted to the personnel he had by going to a power running game behind a massive offensive line that led to memorable victories over Cal, SMU, Pitt and NC State. There were two games that illustrated Cignetti’s outstanding preparation and in-game decision making - one coming at Miami in 1973 when he called a go-route to No. 2 wide receiver Marshall Mills that resulted in the go-ahead touchdown to beat the Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl, and then in 1975, he put in a misdirection play to fullbacks Heywood Smith and Ron Lee during the week of practice leading up to the game that totally confused Cal’s defense in a big Mountaineer road victory in Berkeley. Cignetti was also regarded as an exceptional recruiter who did a great job of pulling top prospects out of Western Pennsylvania. After his WVU tenure ended in 1979, Cignetti went on to enjoy a hall of fame coaching career at Indiana University of Pennsylvania where he won 199 games and led the Indians to 13 NCAA Division II playoff appearances in 20 seasons there.- Gene Corum (Ends, 1951-59)
“Gentleman Gene” Corum traveled a path in 1960 that was later followed by Bill Stewart in 2007 – a long-time and well-liked Mountaineer assistant coach who was assigned the impossible task of steering the program away from an impending train wreck. Corum was one of Art Lewis’s most popular assistant coaches; he was a keen talent evaluator and did a fantastic job of recruiting the state of West Virginia. At that time, West Virginia was keeping the state’s top prospects at home - guys such as Sam Huff, Chuck Howley, Bruce Bosley, Fred Wyant and Bobby Moss, and it was Corum’s easy-going personality and great high school contacts that helped make it possible. And when things turned sour for Lewis in 1959 - when he won only three games and lost the confidence of the WVU Athletic Council - it was Corum who was left to clean up the mess as Lewis’s hand-picked successor. Three years later, in 1962, Corum led the Mountaineers to an 8-2 record and two years after that, in 1964, he guided WVU to a seven-win season and a meeting against Utah in the Liberty Bowl – the first indoor bowl game in NCAA history. Corum was forced to resign following the 1965 season, but he chose to remain at WVU as a professor in the School of Physical Education.- Russ Crane (Defensive Line, 1952-63; Offensive Line, 1964-65)
Russ Crane possessed one of the most peculiar résumés you will ever find for a big-time college football coach – an undefeated amateur and professional boxing record, concert opera singer, college track, wrestling and boxing coach, a consuming interest in physics and a World War II combat record that included stints on Iwo Jima and Luzon. Oh, and by the way, he was also an All-American guard at Illinois. As West Virginia’s defensive line coach, he produced the second consensus All-America player in school history in Bruce Bosley, an All-Pro linebacker in Chuck Howley and a Pro Football Hall of Famer in Sam Huff – arguably the three best players in school history. For four straight years, from 1952-55, West Virginia’s defense ranked among the nation’s top 10 in yards allowed, including the ’54 unit that permitted just 186.7 yards per game to rank sixth in the country. Not too shabby. After coaching West Virginia’s defensive line for 13 years from 1952-63, he switched over to the O-line for his final two seasons with the Mountaineers in 1964-65. - Steve Dunlap (Linebackers, 1984-86; Secondary, 1987-91; Defensive Coordinator, 1991-2000; Safeties, 2008-11; Special Teams, 2012)
Steve Dunlap rivals Frank Cignetti as one of the most ardent students of the game to ever coach at WVU. In fact, the guys who once worked over at the Puskar Center used to love to tell the story about how Dunlap would get up on the grease board and start drawing up defensive schemes that had Hall of Fame coach Don Nehlen scratching his head, and when Dunlap would finish, Nehlen would pull aside assistant coach Donnie Young and tell him to “simplify things” to the players so they could understand what the hell Dunlap was talking about. Dunlap’s zone-blitzing schemes he studied from pro guys Marvin Lewis and Tony Dungy were a big hit in the college game in the mid-1990s, with his 1996 Mountaineer defense becoming the measuring stick for all future defenses at West Virginia University. That unit finished first in the nation in total yardage (217.5), second against the run (61.5) and fourth in points allowed (12.4). Dunlap also coached nationally ranked Mountaineer defenses in 1993, 1994 and 1995. When Nehlen retired in 2000, Dunlap continued his coaching career at Syracuse, NC State and Marshall before returning to WVU in 2008. While at NC State, Dunlap coached Mario Williams, the nation’s top defensive player who was the No. 1 overall player selected in the 2006 NFL draft.- Galen Hall (Offensive Coordinator, 1964-65)
West Virginia coach Gene Corum was looking for a boost to help his struggling offense following a disappointing 1963 season, so he called old friend Rip Engle for a little advice. Engle recommended Corum hire Galen Hall, who quarterbacked Engle’s Penn State teams to victories in the 1960 Liberty Bowl and the 1961 Gator Bowl before playing a couple of years in the pros. Immediately, Hall made a mark as West Virginia’s backfield and ends coach, helping turn scattershot passer Allen McCune into an effective college quarterback. Hall’s offensive expertise and McCune’s playmaking helped the Mountaineers pull off one of the most stunning upset victories in school history when they defeated Sugar Bowl-bound Syracuse at old Mountaineer Field in 1964. A year later, in 1965, West Virginia’s offense finished ranked seventh in the country in scoring, including putting 63 points on the board against Pitt in the Backyard Brawl. Following his brief two-year tenure at WVU, Hall had other successful stops at Oklahoma, Florida and Penn State. In between, he also coached eight seasons in the World Football League from 1991-2000. - George “Duke” Henshaw (Defensive Line, 1973-75)
Duke Henshaw was a standout defensive tackle for Coach Jim Carlen, helping West Virginia defeat South Carolina in the 1969 Peach Bowl. Henshaw got into coaching right away as a graduate assistant on Bobby Bowden’s West Virginia staff before being promoted to lead the Mountaineer freshmen team in 1972. A year later, in 1973, he became defensive line coach where he worked with standout players such as Jeff Merrow, Tree Adams and Rick Lukowski. Henshaw was considered an outstanding on-field tactician who got the most out of his players. He was also a crafty recruiter who was said to have once out-foxed Virginia Tech coach Charlie Coffey for the services of top linebacker Billy Joe Mantooth from Ferrum Junior College. In 1976, Henshaw left with Bowden to coach at Florida State, later serving as Bowden’s offensive coordinator in 1982 before assuming the same role at Alabama in 1983. Henshaw was briefly Tulsa’s head coach in 1987 before spending the next 20 years in the NFL with the Broncos, Giants, Oilers, Titans and Saints. After a six-year hiatus, Henshaw is once again back in the league this season coaching the Tennessee Titan tight ends.- Doc Holliday (Receivers, 1983-89, 1993-99; Linebackers, 1990-92; Assistant Head Coach, 1995-99; Associate Head Coach, 2008-09)
After speaking at a coaching clinic in Florida early in his Mountaineer coaching tenure, Don Nehlen got cornered by WVU alumnus Rick Perry, who was a high school coach in Ft. Lauderdale at the time. “Hey, Don,” Perry began, “why aren’t you recruiting Florida? There are so many kids down here and Miami, Florida and Florida State can’t take them all.” Good question, Nehlen thought to himself. He didn’t have the resources or the manpower to cover the entire state, so he decided to send his young assistant coach Doc Holliday down to South Florida with two instructions - one, don’t break the bank, and, two, come back to West Virginia in one piece. Holliday’s first year spent in Miami in 1983 was a smashing success (zero recruits); but in 1984, Holliday broke the ice by signing Ft. Lauderdale running back Undra Johnson. By 1988, about a third of West Virginia’s starting lineup for its national championship game appearance against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl was made up of Floridians that Doc Holliday had recruited. Today, nearly 30 years later, West Virginia University has remained one of the most recognizable schools in the Sunshine State thanks to the groundwork established by Holliday in the mid 1980s. His reputation in Florida is so strong that it led to assistant coaching jobs with NC State and Florida before he briefly returned to WVU in 2008 as a member of Bill Stewart’s staff. Today, Holliday is still pulling top prospects out of Florida as Marshall’s head coach.- Mike Jacobs (Offensive Line, 1980-94; Offensive Coordinator, 1988-94)
The late Mike Jacobs owns the unique distinction of being the primary play caller for the only two undefeated Mountaineer teams in school history in 1988 and 1993. Jacobs was an original member of Don Nehlen’s coaching staff in 1980, working with the guards and centers, before eventually advancing to offensive coordinator in 1987. Jacobs’s philosophy was to out-work, out-hit and out-hustle his opponents and it started with the way he came to practice everyday, his shirtsleeves hiked up to show his bulging bicep muscles while sporting his trademark coaching shorts that he always wore no matter how cold it was outside. Perhaps no offensive coordinator in school history was ever more in sync with his head coach than Jacobs was with Nehlen, the duo leading the Mountaineers to an 11-0 regular season and a meeting against Notre Dame in the 1989 national championship game, and then five years later, making another run at a national title in 1993 with big season-ending victories over Miami and Boston College to cap another 11-0 campaign. The offense Jacobs put out on the field in 1988 was probably the most balanced in school history with Heisman Trophy finalist Major Harris under center. WVU ranked second in the nation in scoring offense that season, averaging 42.9 points per game, while also finishing fifth in total offense by averaging 482.5 yards per game. Jacobs also guided nationally ranked offenses in 1989, 1992 and 1993 before taking the offensive coordinator job on John Cooper’s staff at Ohio State in 1995. - Butch Jones (Receivers, 2005-06)
Butch Jones only spent two years at West Virginia University, but those were two of the best seasons in school history in 2005 when the Mountaineers went on to defeat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, and in 2006, when WVU outlasted Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl. Jones was Rich Rodriguez’s wide receivers coach during those two years and he was assigned the task of rebuilding a Mountaineer receiver corps that had lost Chris Henry to the NFL draft in 2004. Jones worked with players such as Darius Reynaud and Brandon Myles to give WVU’s offense just enough of a passing threat to keep defenses from ganging up on its nationally ranked ground attack. While at WVU, Jones was known for his infectious enthusiasm and positive approach to the game and he was able to parlay his two-year association with Rodriguez into a head coaching job at Central Michigan in 2007. Three years later, in 2010, Jones became Cincinnati’s head coach and after three successful seasons there, he has now become head coach at Tennessee.- Bill Kirelawich (Defensive Line, 1980-87; Linebackers, 1988-90; Defensive Line 1991-2000, 2003-11)
Gravely voiced, cigar-chomping Bill Kirelawich always made West Virginia football practices interesting and entertaining during a 32-season coaching tenure that spanned five different regimes from 1979-2012. A typical Kirelawich scene would have him hunched over with both hands on his knees, a towel draped over one shoulder, and the coach barking out instructions (and insults) at a decibel level that could only be matched at a Who concert. Surprisingly, Kirelawich rarely said a word when he was a player at Salem, according to his college coach Donnie Young, although he certainly made up for it in ensuing years working the Mountaineer sidelines. Kirelawich coached 10 pro players during his four-plus decades at WVU, including long-time NFL standouts Renaldo Turnbull, David Grant and John Thornton. Kirelawich’s specialty was taking undersized tight ends and fullbacks and turning them into effective college defensive linemen. He was also considered an excellent recruiter who did a great job of recognizing potential. On one occasion, Kirelawich went to the extreme of having a coaching buddy offer skinny wide receiver Anthony Becht a scholarship just so Kirelawich could say Becht was being recruited by other schools in order to get staff approval to sign him. Becht went on to become a first-round draft pick and enjoyed a long and productive career in the NFL with the Jets, Rams and Buccaneers. Today, Kirelawich is working on Rich Rodriguez’s defensive staff at Arizona.- Chuck Klausing (Assistant Head Coach, 1970-75; Defensive Coordinator, 1973-75)
Chuck Klausing was Bobby Bowden’s right-hand man for all six seasons Bowden coached at West Virginia from 1970-75. After spending four years as a Division I assistant coach at Rutgers and Army, Klausing led D-II Indiana University of Pennsylvania to a pair of conference titles in the mid-1960s before joining Bowden’s Mountaineer staff in 1970. According to the late Jim Carlen, Bowden initially was “ill prepared to be a head coach because he didn’t do details,” but he was smart enough to hire Klausing to take care of the administrative things that he didn’t want to deal with right away. On the field, Klausing coached the defensive ends and his players always raved about the meticulous way he prepared them. A great storyteller who speaks with a prominent lisp, Klausing was also one of the most cunning coaches around who would use any information he got his hands on to get an advantage against an opponent. Klausing became Bowden’s defensive coordinator in 1973 and his ’75 Mountaineer defense was among the stingiest in school history, holding nationally ranked Pitt to a pair of touchdowns in a 17-14 victory and limiting NC State to a touchdown and a field goal in a 13-10 upset triumph in the ’75 Peach Bowl. Klausing returned to the lower-level college football at Carnegie Mellon and also coached one season at Pitt in 1986 before ending his long coaching career in the Pittsburgh prep ranks. Klausing was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1998.- David Lockwood (Secondary, 2000; 2008-11)
David Lockwood had two tours of duty with the Mountaineers, the first coming in 2000 under his former coach Don Nehlen and then a second stint happening eight years later in 2008 and lasting until 2012. In between, he had stops at Notre Dame, Minnesota (where he was defensive coordinator) and Kentucky before returning to his alma mater. At the time, Lockwood was one of three former/current coordinators working on the Mountaineer defense, joining Jeff Casteel and Steve Dunlap. In 2008, Lockwood’s secondary ranked 16th in the country against the pass, and in 2010, Lockwood was part of a WVU defense that ranked third in the nation in scoring (13.5) and yards allowed (261.1). Lockwood was never afraid to put inexperienced players into the game if he felt they were good enough to play and he was usually supportive of his guys whenever they got beat deep. A perfect example of Lockwood’s positive coaching approach was the way he helped freshman Keith Tandy get through the 2008 Meineke Bowl when the young DB spent the first half getting torched by North Carolina wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. In the second half, Tandy settled down and was able to shut down Nicks to help West Virginia achieve a come-from-behind victory. Tandy later went on to have a successful college career and was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2011 season. Today, Lockwood is secondary coach on Rich Rodriguez’s Arizona staff.- Dave McMichael (Tackles, Tight Ends, 1983-2000; Special Teams, 2010)
Dave McMichael wasn’t a self-promoter. He was frequently overlooked whenever a reporter needed a catchy quote, and his return to WVU in 2010 wasn’t universally praised by the Mountaineer fan base, but McMichael was a part of a lot of great success at West Virginia. He coached some of the best players in school history, he handled his players well, and he was very underrated as a recruiter. More to the point, McMichael has found a way to survive in the cutthroat business of college football and will begin his 38th campaign on the sidelines in 2013 as a member of Kent State’s coaching staff. At WVU, McMichael worked with the offensive tackles and tight ends for 17 seasons from 1983-2000, tutoring the likes of Brian Jozwiak, Rich Braham and Anthony Becht, and he was also the driving force in the Mountaineers gaining a recruiting foothold on Long Island by landing such star players as Rahsaan Vanterpool, Canute Curtis and Amos Zereoue. McMichael has coached in 16 bowl games, recruited 14 NFL players and worked with five All-Americans during his coaching career.- Joe Pendry (Receivers, 1972-73; Offensive Line, 1974; Offensive Coordinator, 1976-77)
Joe Pendry had an impressive coaching career spanning almost five decades at all levels of football. He coached 19 years in the NFL with the Chiefs, Panthers, Bills and Texans, spent time as a college offensive coordinator at Kansas State, West Virginia, Pitt and Michigan State, and was assistant head coach/offensive line coach at Alabama for four years from 2007-2010 before retiring after the Tide’s BCS championship in 2010. Pendry served two tenures at West Virginia, the first coming under Bobby Bowden from 1971-74 when he coached the wide receivers and later the offensive line, and then once again in 1976-77 as Frank Cignetti’s offensive coordinator. Pendry, a WVU player, saw his playing career come to an end during his sophomore season when he seriously injured his neck against Virginia Tech, but he stuck with football as a student assistant coach and that turned into a full-time job for him when Bowden took over the Mountaineer program. Pendry’s only drawback, in the eyes of ardent WVU supporters, was his choice to join Jackie Sherrill’s Pitt coaching staff as offensive coordinator in 1978 – a post he held for two seasons before moving on to Michigan State in 1980.- Nick Saban (Secondary, 1978-79)
Nick Saban was just beginning what is now likely to be a hall of fame coaching career when Frank Cignetti hired him to work with the Mountaineer secondary in 1978. Prior to that, Saban coached two years at his alma mater, Kent State, as linebacker coach, and another season at Syracuse in 1977 working with the Orange defensive ends. Among the players the ambitious coach mentored during his brief two-year tenure at WVU was Jerry Holmes, who enjoyed a long and successful career in the pros. After West Virginia, Saban had assistant coaching stints at Ohio State, Navy, Michigan State and the Houston Oilers before landing his first head-coaching job with Toledo in 1990. Following a four-year stint as Bill Belichick’s defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns from 1991-94, Saban returned to the college game to coach at Michigan State and then at LSU, where he won his first national title in 2003. Saban coached the Tigers for five years before being wooed back to the NFL to coach the Miami Dolphins, where he spent two unsuccessful seasons. Saban is today one of the game’s most successful coaches at Alabama where he has led the Crimson Tide to three national titles in the last four seasons. Saban has a 68-13 record in Tuscaloosa since 2007, and a 159-55-1 overall mark in 18 seasons as a college coach.- Gary Stevens (Defensive Line, 1976; Defensive Coordinator, 1977-78; Wide Receivers, 1979)
Oliver Luck vividly remembers taking his first visit to Morgantown, W.Va., with West Virginia assistant coach Gary Stevens. The two were in Stevens’ car driving around campus when they approached old Mountaineer Field. As the car came close to the stadium, Stevens pushed the accelerator to the floor and zipped past the decrepit facility, telling Luck that what he really needed to see was the brand new football stadium that was going to be built out in Evansdale. “He takes me right out to the golf course,” laughed Luck. “There was nothing there! They had this big poster they put up on an easel and he said, ‘Just visualize what this will look like.’ We spent 40 minutes at the golf course and he wouldn’t even take me to Mountaineer Field.” Stevens also discovered a skinny, 190-pound linebacker from East Cleveland named Darryl Talley. “He was being recruited but they didn’t see what I saw in this guy,” Stevens once recalled. “They were after him but they weren’t pounding after him. I pounded after him.” The chain-smoking Stevens knew Northeastern Ohio like the back of his hand, and Mountaineer football benefitted greatly from his contacts in the late 1970s. Stevens was also an exceptional football coach, working on the defensive side of the ball for three of his four seasons with Coach Frank Cignetti before switching to offense in 1979. He later made a name for himself as offensive coordinator at the University of Miami from 1980-88 before becoming Don Shula’s offensive coordinator with the Miami Dolphins for the next nine seasons.- Bill Stewart (Quarterbacks, 2000-06; Special Teams, 2001-07; Associate Head Coach, 2007)
When Bill Stewart had the interim head coach tag removed from his title following West Virginia’s unexpected upset victory over Oklahoma in the 2008 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, outsiders termed it a “battlefield promotion.” But to those closely associated with the Mountaineer program who were exposed to four weeks of continual turmoil, it was a welcomed relief. Stewart’s three-season coaching tenure at WVU will forever be scrutinized by his critics and defended by his supporters. Whatever side of the fence you stand on, there is no arguing the fact that Stewart took part in one of the most successful periods in Mountaineer football history – and he played a big role in that success. “Coach Stew” was an outstanding recruiter, an exceptional public speaker and was well respected by his coaching contemporaries. He also had an underrated football mind, working with some of the best strategists in the game during his 33-year coaching career. Stewart served two assistant coaching stints with Dick Crum at North Carolina, coached with Lovie Smith and Mike Martz at Arizona State, spent four years with Hall of Fame coach Fisher DeBerry at Air Force, gave aspiring, young coach Mike Tomlin his first job at VMI in 1995, and he also worked a season with Hall of Fame coach Don Nehlen at West Virginia. By the way, WVU won almost 70 percent of its football games during the 11 seasons Bill Stewart was associated with the program. - Gary Tranquill (Defensive Coordinator, 1979; Offensive Coordinator, 1980-81)
How often do you see a defensive coordinator one season become an offensive coordinator the next? Well, that is what Gary Tranquill did in 1980 when Don Nehlen became West Virginia’s head football coach. Tranquill spent the ’79 campaign as Frank Cignetti’s top defensive strategist before moving to the other side of the ball when Nehlen was hired to coach the 1980 season. Nehlen gave Tranquill his choice of jobs and Tranquill picked offense, plus, the fact that Tranquill was the only full-time coach remaining on the field from the Cignetti era is ample proof of how much Nehlen valued Tranquill as a coach. In his first year as Nehlen’s top play caller, Tranquill had success moving the football with Robert Alexander as the featured back in West Virginia’s new I-formation attack, and then the following year in 1981, Tranquill relied on a five-step-drop, controlled passing game orchestrated by quarterback Oliver Luck that led to a 9-3 record and an upset victory over Florida in the Peach Bowl. Tranquill’s 48-year coaching career included stops at Bowling Green, Navy, Ohio State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Michigan State, North Carolina, Boston College and two stints in the pros with the Cleveland Browns and the Rhein Fire of the World Football League. He also had a five-year head coaching tenure at Navy from 1982-86.- Rick Trickett (Defensive Line, 1978-79; Offensive Line, 2001-06; Assistant Head Coach, 2001-06)
Rick Trickett spent a total of eight seasons at West Virginia at two different times, first in 1978-79 as Frank Cignetti’s defensive line coach, and then from 2001-06 as Rich Rodriguez’s offensive line coach. It was during his second stint as O-line coach when Trickett made his true impact on the Mountaineer program, his demanding, drill-instructor style proving to be a perfect fit for Rodriguez’s up-tempo, no-huddle spread offensive system. Trickett’s offensive lines at WVU were typically undersized and not overly athletic, but that didn’t stop West Virginia from producing some of the most dominant rushing attacks in college football by the mid-2000s. WVU’s run game ranked second in the country in 2002, averaging 286.9 yards per contest, and once again ranked No. 2 in 2006 by averaging 303 yards per outing. After the Mountaineers struggled to a 3-8 record in a 50-50, pass-run offensive style in 2001, Trickett was among those who advocated a run-centric attack in 2002 that capitalized on quarterback Rasheed Marshall’s mobility while also utilizing tailbacks Avon Cobourne and Quincy Wilson in the backfield at the same time. A couple years later, when the Mountaineers had Steve Slaton, Owen Schmitt and quarterback Pat White – who Trickett recruited out of Daphne, Ala. – West Virginia perfected an offensive style that many other schools began to copy. During Trickett’s final five seasons coaching the WVU offensive line, West Virginia finished no lower than 15th in the country in rushing offense. Following a win over Georgia Tech in the 2007 Gator Bowl, Trickett hooked up with old coaching buddy Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, where he is still coaching today. Trickett has also had coaching stops at Southern Illinois, Southern Miss, New Mexico, Memphis, Mississippi State, Auburn and LSU during a very successful 41-year coaching career.- Greg Williams (Secondary, 1975; Defensive Coordinator, 1976)
About a week after Bobby Bowden accepted the Florida State job, Chuck Klausing got a phone call from Greg Williams, he recalled in 2009: “(Williams) said, ‘Chuck, Bobby offered me the same job you had (at West Virginia) – assistant head coach and defensive coordinator.’ I said, ‘Boy that’s great.’ He said, ‘I’m turning it down.’ I said, ‘Why are you turning it down, Greg? Bobby is such a great guy to work for.’ He said, ‘Bobby will never win at Florida State. There are 50 great football players in the state of Florida. The University of Florida will get the 30 best. The ones that live around Miami will go to Miami and Florida State will not get the No. 1 football player.’” It’s quite clear that Williams was not very good at predicting the future, but he was one heck of a football coach who made an immediate difference for West Virginia when Bowden hired him to coach the Mountaineer secondary in 1975. The Mole-Man, as he was known back then, was a great motivator and an enthusiastic coach who got the most out of his players. Even guys at other positions wanted to play hard for him. West Virginia’s defense in ‘75 (especially the secondary with three new starters) made a dramatic improvement that led to a 9-3 record with key triumphs over Pitt in the Backyard Brawl and NC State in the Peach Bowl. The following season, Williams, a former member of NC State’s famed “White Shoes Defense”, became West Virginia’s defensive coordinator and worked one season with Frank Cignetti before going to TCU to become the Horned Frogs’ offensive coordinator. Williams also had coaching jobs at NC State, LSU, Maryland, Connecticut, Duke and Georgia.- Donnie Young (Linebackers, 1971-75; Assistant Head Coach, 1976-79; Defensive Coordinator, 1977; Recruiting Coordinator, 1980-2000; Linebackers, 1993-2000)
Donnie Young achieved the impossible – he was able to survive six different coaching regimes to work 42 straight years in the same place. Young, West Virginia’s linebackers coach from 1971-75, had other coaching opportunities, the most compelling offer coming in 1976 when he could have been a member of Bobby Bowden’s Florida State defensive staff, but Young was always partial to West Virginia and he wanted to remain in his home state. Then, in 1980 when Don Nehlen was hired to coach the Mountaineers, Young thought he might have to call in some favors and look for another job, but this time Gary Tranquill intervened and advised Nehlen to keep Young around to run WVU’s recruiting program. That proved to be a wise choice because Young was such a shrewd evaluator of talent. He could see things in players – especially small-town guys who didn’t outwardly project a lot of self-confidence – who could blossom into excellent football players with the right coaching and personal development. “When I look back over my first two recruiting classes we couldn’t recruit anybody – nobody would visit that had any credentials – and somehow we took kids and developed them and we beat Florida and Oklahoma with them,” said Nehlen. By the late 1980s, WVU was falling into a cycle of having tremendous football teams in five-year intervals through great talent evaluation, player development and exceptional coaching. Young remained in his recruiting coordinator role for all 21 seasons of Nehlen’s coaching tenure, while also returning to the field to coach the Mountaineer rush linebackers from 1993-2000. Young continued to be involved with the WVU program when Rich Rodriguez came aboard in 2001, and then later worked with Bill Stewart and Dana Holgorsen until his retirement in 2012.
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