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January 3, 2011

FURFARI COLUMN - Luck’s firing of McMichael surprising

MORGANTOWN — I was surprised to learn last week that Oliver Luck fired Dave McMichael as West Virginia University’s tight ends/offensive special teams coach.

With 34 years of collegiate coaching, he had more experience — and successes — on the Mountaineers’ 2010 team that posted a third consecutive nine-victory season and earned a share of the Big East Championship.

One would think that not only Luck, WVU’s new athletic director, but 39-year-old Dana Holgorsen, newly named offensive coordinator and “head coach in waiting (2012),” would have at least evaluated McMichael closely.

He not only played three years of football for then-coach Don Nehlen at Bowling Green University but also served as an assistant under Nehlen at WVU from 1983-2000. Nehlen is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and has been retired for ten years.

Both of those gentlemen not only have been fine coaches but also possess considerable class. Even Luck should know that about Nehlen, having played two years at quarterback for Nehlen in 1980-81. A 9-3 record was really Luck’s only winning season.

Like Nehlen, McMichael is an Ohio native. And after spending 18 years with Nehlen at WVU, he returned last January after a lengthy stay at Connecticut.

There are those who suspect that Luck’s announced desire to win a football national title is mostly wishful thinking. But both Nehlen and McMichael were at least on the doorstep of such a lofty achievement. They, along with other classy coaches, had a hand in the school’s only undefeated 11-0 regular season.

One was in 1988 and the other in 1993.

West Virginia bowed to Notre Dame, 34-21, in the showdown for the national crown in ’88 at the Fiesta Bowl. The ’93 team lost to Florida, 41-7, in the Sugar Bowl.

As a three-year offensive lineman at Bowling Green, McMichael helped his team to a 19-10-1 record and the school’s biggest wins against Purdue and Syracuse. Then he was a graduate assistant for Nehlen for one year.

As a full-time college coach, McMichael appeared in 16 bowl games, and worked with five All-America players, including consensus selection Brian Jozwiak in the early 1980s. In addition to Jozwiak, he also coached All-America tackles Rick Phillips, Brian Smider, walk-on Rich Braham, and tight end Rob Bennett during his pervious hitch at WVU. Eleven of his pupils performed in the National Football League.

Twenty-one protégées made All-Conference teams.

Besides West Virginia and UConn (2001-09), McMichael served assistant coaching stints at Southern Illinois (1980-82) and Muskingum (1977-79).

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