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.
WVU, Tennessee finalize 2018 meeting
West Virginia University and Tennessee have finalized their season-opening, Sept. 1, 2018, meeting in Charlotte, N.C., at Bank of America Stadium.
Both teams will receive $2.5 million for the game and have a chance to earn up to $3.2 million with ticket incentives.
Each team will buy 12,500 tickets and set aside 2,000 of its allotment for students.
The game, played on the home field of the Carolina Panthers of the NFL, is being put on by the Charlotte Sports Federation.
Holgorsen’s program hits turning point
You can almost sense, as you watch West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen sit before the gathered Big 12 media contingent answering questions in the Omni Hotel in Arlington, Texas, that he senses his program has reached a turning point.
WVU’s Fleming signs contract with Yankees
Second baseman Billy Fleming of the West Virginia University baseball team has signed a professional contract with the New York Yankees, foregoing his upcoming senior season.
“Ever since I was a little kid, it’s been my dream to play professional baseball,” Fleming said. “It is still surreal that I get to chase my dream, but I am ready to get after it. I loved my three years at WVU and want to thank all the coaches that made it possible for me to achieve my dream.”
Trickett’s play key factor for Mountaineers’ success
In the end, it comes down to the quarterback.
Always has with Dana Holgorsen, always will.
Quarterback is the offense with the West Virginia University coach. When he does well, the team wins – almost always.
When he does poorly, the team doesn’t stand much of a chance.
Growing demands on college athletes concerns Wyant
Fred Wyant, one of the greatest quarterbacks in West Virginia University’s history, has lashed out at today’s growing demands on college athletes.
The 80-year-old Star City resident led the Mountaineers to a 30-4 record as the starter from 1952-1955. Percentage-wise, it’s clearly the best-ever record by a QB in school annals.
Wyant, a member of the WVU Sports Hall of Fame, came here after graduating with honors from Weston High School. That’s where WVU coach Art “Pappy” Lewis signed him to a four-year scholarship.
Texas’ Strong prefers not talking about national title
Charlie Strong riled up plenty of Texas fans during a statewide spring tour by saying the Longhorns wouldn’t be in the national championship game.
The new coach toned down his honest assessment in future stops, then said Tuesday in his first appearance at Big 12 media days that he prefers not even talking about championships.
NMHS hopes new playing surface generates excitement
The St. Louis Rams coined the nickname “The Greatest Show on Turf” for their collective group or multiple Hall of Famer-caliber players in during the 1999-2001 seasons. If Rams can run on turf, why not Huskies?
FSU's Barfield, Jean-Charles named preseason All-Americans
Chris Barfield and Jacob Jean-Charles earn preseason honors by being named to the USA College Football Division II Preseason All-American team.
Baylor coach isn't buying schedule strength argument
The College Football Playoff committee has vowed that strength of schedule will be a major criteria when selecting the four teams.
Big 12 Commissioner says cheating pays
Big 12 Commissioner says the NCAA lacks the resources to enforce its rules and that has to change.
- More Sports Headlines
- WVU, Tennessee finalize 2018 meeting