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 Sports
HERTZEL COLUMN: Under pressure, NCAA decides to change rules
At first glance, it appears that they do not go hand-in-hand, a pair of rules changes the NCAA’s Legislative Council approved this week, sending them off for what seems to be smooth sailing toward becoming rules.
Means, WVU baseball shut out Oklahoma
Junior left-hander John Means of the WVU baseball team threw eight shutout innings and the Mountaineers had a five-run first inning en route to a 7-0 victory over Oklahoma on Thursday evening at L. Dale Mitchell Park.
The Mountaineers (18-15, 3-6 Big 12) broke a six-game Big 12 losing streak after being swept by TCU and Oklahoma State in back-to-back weekends. WVU had 16 hits and did not make an error for the second-straight game.
FURFARI COLUMN: Dr. Graber disagrees with Gee’s stance on Turnbull firing
Dr. Stephen Graber, an associate professor at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, is among the latest WVU teachers to deplore Oliver Luck’s firing of veteran wrestling coach Craig Turnbull.
He raised some significant questions about that issue last Monday in a meeting of the WVU Faculty Senate.
Huggins signs junior college guard
Coach Bob Huggins completed his 2014-15 West Virginia University recruiting class on Wednesday and deemed it a success after receiving a signed letter of intent from junior college guard Tarik Phillip.
Phillip joins Jevon Carter of Maywood, Ill., and Daxter Miles of Baltimore’s Dunbar High and out of Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts in the 2014-15 recruiting class.
HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU gymnast hopes to stick her final landing
The reaction, one suspects, was the same as most people who see either a picture of West Virginia University gymnast Hope Sloanhoffer or meet her for the first time in person — a quick double take, maybe even stumbling over the first few words of an introduction.
FURFARI COLUMN: Comparing pay of coaches and professors
Stringing together some odds and ends which may be of interest to you:
• A beautiful lady came up to my table last Sunday at brunch in the Village of Heritage Point’s main dining room with a message.
Bussie looks forward to WNBA
On Tuesday, the weather turned cold, the wind blew and amongst the raindrops that fell a few snowflakes fluttered quietly to Earth.
It was as if it was a celebration of Asya Bussie being drafted on Monday night by the Minnesota Lynx, champions of the WNBA, with the third selection of the second round, the 15th overall pick of the draft.
WVU’s Harlee named Big 12 Scholar-Athlete
The Big 12 Conference announced its Scholar-Athlete of the Year recipients for the 2014 winter sport season, and West Virginia University senior Jess Harlee earns the honor for women’s basketball.
Harlee was selected as the award winner based on a vote of each respective sport’s head coaching group, with coaches not permitted to vote for their own student-athletes.
Gyorko, Padres agree to extension
Jedd Gyorko, who hasn’t hit much of anything with a .178 start on this season, hit the jackpot on Monday, signing a six-year contract extension with the San Diego Padres for $35 million with a one-year club option at $13 million.
HERTZEL COLUMN- Spring game showed defense has improved
From Dana Holgorsen’s viewpoint, which was standing right behind the offense, West Virginia’s Gold-Blue Spring Game on Saturday was a rousing success for it showed very little of what the Mountaineers will be in this coming season, probably not even showcasing the man who will direct the offense in the quarterback position.
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