By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Damon Cogdell is coming home.
True, the one-time West Virginia University linebacker was born and raised in Miami and most recently has been coaching at Miramar High School just up I-95 in Broward County.
Did a pretty good job at that, winning 72 games and dropping 19, taking down the 2009 Class 8-A state championship and finishing second in 2011. Considering he didn’t become head coach there until 2007, you could say he earned the promotion he received Wednesday, being named an assistant on WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen’s staff for 2014.
Cogdell was a pretty good player in his time at West Virginia, which was 1997 and 1998, contributing 107 tackles during that time and his hip, for it was a hip injury that put an end to his WVU career but not his football career.
No, he got in a couple of years in the Canadian Football League when the hip permitted, even made it to the Grey Cup game before turning to coaching.
All the while, though, he was thinking of his alma mater and the way of life he discovered in Morgantown, a way of life the kids he was coaching in Florida knew nothing about.
He wanted to introduce them to it, as he explained back in 2010. He brought them north to attend the camps at West Virginia and Pitt.
“I let them see Pitt and I let them see West Virginia,” he said. “Pitt is only an hour away, but it was like a totally different area. I’m not biased about it, but I tell you with Morgantown, you can’t go wrong. Everything is there — great facilities, great coaches, great people, great fans.”
As noted, West Virginia became home to him, adopted him as it has with so many athletes who came out of the ghettos in Florida and elsewhere and let them see that life can worth living.
Considering that he had prepped Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey, Ivan McCartney and so many others for life at WVU among the more than 50 he sent into college football, it was no surprise that as he advanced in his coaching career it would be at West Virginia.
“Coming back to West Virginia University is like a breath of fresh air,” Cogdell was quoted as saying in the school’s release of his return. “Being here on the coaching staff is a dream come true.
“I had a great experience as a student-athlete, then I was able to go to Miami and build a highly competitive football program and won a bunch of games, was able to send eight players to play for the Mountaineers and now come full circle,” he continued. “I am so proud of my kids who came here and were successful, especially Geno and Stedman, who have accomplished so much.”
You can only imagine what it was like for him to have been at the Orange Bowl three years back, watching Smith and Bailey and WVU take Clemson apart.
“Getting to be there at the Orange Bowl two years ago and see all the guys perform on that high of a level was unbelievable,” he said. “Being here at West Virginia is like being at my home away from home, from the secretaries, to the graduate assistants, the staff, the assistant coaches and Dana, it’s one big family.”
It had to be that way at Miramar, too, for the players who played for him always came to WVU with two things – game and high praise of the way he handled them.
“He’s been tremendous in my life. He’s been a role model. He’s taught me about life,” Smith said.
Asked to explain, Smith continued.
“I never had many problems, but one time I had a slip-up in a class. I had a bad grade and he sat me out for two quarters, just to let me know how important it was to do well in class,” Smith said.
This is what Cogdell said when asked about that incident.
“Funny you say that. I remember that game like it was yesterday,” Cogdell said. “We were winning 7-to-zip at the half to a team we should have been beating 35-to-zip. Geno sat the first and second quarters. The fans were shouting his name, trying to get me to put him in, which I was tempted to do because we needed some points.
“I put him in for the second half, and the first play of the third quarter he threw an 80-yard touchdown pass.”
Cogdell replaces defensive line coach Erik Slaughter, whose two-year contract expired and was not renewed even though the defensive line was probably the best part of the defense. Cogdell will get the same $200,000, which is rather nice jump from a physical education teacher/football coach/athletic director in high school.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.