That sounds like such a simple question, but it is not, not when you are using it to try to understand why the state of West Virginia has been able to produce so many successful coaches over the years, first in football but also in basketball.
The question comes up every year about this time when a native of West Virginia wins the BCS championship, the latest being Clarksburg’s Jimbo Fisher, who celebrated his first at Auburn’s expense in one of the greatest championship games ever played in any sport.
Added to the three in four years that were won at Alabama by Nick Saban, and you have West Virginians taking home the crystal in four of the past five years.
And they were hardly the first titles brought home by West Virginians.
Lou Holtz won one with his 1988 Notre Dame team and Ben Schwartzwalder won one at Syracuse in 1959, but it was Fielding Yost who laid the groundwork.
If you are a football afficionado, you know of Fielding Yost, even if he was born 143 years ago in Fairview. He made Fisher and Saban look like beginners, winning six national championships around the turn of the 20th century at Michigan, along with 10 Big Ten championships.
Yost’s teams were so good that from 1901 to 1905 they went 55-1-1, outscoring their opponents 2821 to 42. His Michigan team of 1901 outscored its opponents 550-0 and won the first Rose Bowl game over Stanford.
How inventive a coach was he?
He invented Dick Butkus … and Ray Nitschke … and Sam Huff … and Ray Lewis.
That’s right. Fielding Yost invented the position of linebacker.
Add to this the likes of Rich Rodriguez, Tommy and Terry Bowden, Bill Stewart, Cam Henderson and Doc Holliday, and you understand the influence West Virginia has had on football coaching.
But the question remains: Why?
The obvious answer is that it offered a path out from life in the coal mines, and there can be no doubt that played a role in it, but it is safe to say that football, more than the coaching of football, served as the escape vehicle.
It was a game not unlike the life their fathers had accepted.
Hard? Yes. Physical? Yes. Dirty? You bet.
But it was out in the sunshine and the open air. True, they played football in the cold and the snow and the rain and the mud, but after you went down into the mine with your father one time, playing a game or practicing on a muddy field was an like a day at the beach.
No, it wasn’t escaping the mines that drove these men to football, but it was the life of a miner or of someone who grew up in this state which bears the culture of the mining community that translated so well into a football coach.
You talk to any of them and they will tell the influence their father had on them, the stories almost universally the same of him coming home covered in coal dust at night, tired and hungry but ready and willing to play with their child.
The family was a team, with all the discipline a football team demands being demanded by both the father and mother.
To coach football successfully, you need to be a bit tougher than your toughest player, willing to work harder than your most dedicated player, able to always see the light at the end of the tunnel.
It isn’t life and death, no, but almost no day goes by when something doesn’t implode upon you and you have to get up, dust yourself off and move forward.
Strategy isn’t what makes a winning coach. In truth, the geniuses are probably found in the assistants, especially the coordinators, but how many of them have all the other qualities that you must have to become a coach who can rise to the top of the profession.
The lifestyle that comes from West Virginia, the feeling of always being the underdog so you have to work harder, have to dig deeper is what separates you from the others.
There is, of course, another why that grows out of all this, and that is why West Virginia University isn’t being coached by a West Virginian, even though it just went through a stretch of 12 seasons with Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart that may not have brought a national championship but that brought nothing but respect to the program, the school and the state.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.
- Bob Herzel
HERTZEL COLUMN: Huggins just wants WVU to compete
In the end, with Bob Huggins, they count victories and losses, and he has always been one to pile up the victories while keeping the losses to a minimum, at least until the last two seasons at West Virginia University.
And, in the end, when he tries to analyze why the losses have come rather than the victories, he comes to understand that he just doesn’t have the manpower to compete.
Carey, Bussie headline Big 12 awards
To the victors go the spoils, and West Virginia University’s newly crowned Big 12 women’s basketball regular-season co-champions certainly took down their share of the conference’s post-season awards, headed by coach Mike Carey and senior center Asya Bussie.
Oklahoma pulls away from WVU, 72-62
Reality hit West Virginia University in the gut Wednesday as No. 23 Oklahoma showed the Mountaineers almost every reason why they are not an NCAA Tournament team this year, pulling away in the second half to a 72-62 victory in Norman.
HERTZEL COLUMN: Lady Mountaineers will always remember their senior season
Taylor Palmer was following a much-traveled path when she packed up her gym shoes four years ago and left Mount Vernon, N.Y., for Morgantown to play basketball.
Lowes Moore and Kevin Jones had both done the same thing and become two of the greatest players West Virginia University had ever produced, each not only playing the game the way it should be played but living life the way it should be lived.
Bradley to give everyone a chance
A day after snubbing the local media by not talking to them on an evening set aside for interviews with assistant coaches, West Virginia University’s latest defensive savior Tom Bradley found 14 minutes to talk to IMG Sports, which possesses the rights to West Virginia sports.
WVU women clinch share of Big 12 title
West Virginia University’s women’s basketball team had just defeated Kansas, 67-60, to lay claim to a share of the Big 12 championship with Baylor on Tuesday night in the Coliseum, and someone had to sum up the feeling for the five seniors who had made the program grow to championship status.
That someone was Christal Caldwell.
HERTZEL COLUMN: Carey sends seniors out the right way
West Virginia women’s coach Mike Carey had just completed putting the finishing touches on cutting down the net, which came moments after he had almost dropped the Big 12 Conference regular-season championship, and now he was standing in front of the media.
Road to NCAA begins tonight for Mountaineers
While they would choose not to believe that it is necessary, it appears the only route West Virginia University has left to the NCAA Tournament – save a miracle run in the Big 12 Tournament to the tournament championship – is to run the table through its final two regular-season games.
New coaches bring different dynamic to WVU
Tom Bradley, the veteran former Penn State assistant coach, had a million reasons to leave a broadcasting job with the Pittsburgh Steelers and take on a job as senior associate head coach under Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia University.
HERTZEL COLUMN- Squires comes from swimming background
It was a weekend to remember, to be sure, and would have been even without the snow.
- More Bob Herzel Headlines
- HERTZEL COLUMN: Huggins just wants WVU to compete