The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

January 12, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: Kirelawich’s move leaves void at WVU

MORGANTOWN — Normally, when a coach moves on, it’s worth a handshake, a slap on the back, an offering of good luck and then, like the neighborhood barber, turning toward those waiting for the seat and shouting, “Next.”

Coaching, like sports writing, is a migratory profession. For every Connie Mack, who managed the Philadelphia A’s for half a century (if you are wondering how he kept his job, he owned the team), there is a Dick Williams, who managed six teams in baseball, or a Wade Phillips, who has been head coach at five different NFL franchises.

I see a sports writer every day – looking back from the mirror – who has worked at no fewer than 11 different newspapers in 11 different cities, his journalist tour having taught him that moving on is not always to be taken as a sad moment.

Yet this morning there is a certain void that has been created by the decision of Bill Kirelawich to follow the sun and join West Virginia University defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and secondary coach David Lockwood in moving on to Arizona to join their former boss Rich Rodriguez at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

One look out the door at this time of year can certainly make you want to pack up the family and relocate in the Valley of the Sun, the sun being that big, bright, warm thing that occasionally shows up in the sky over West Virginia.

The reasoning why there is a feeling of loss with the departure of Kirelawich as compared to so many other managers and coaches and players who have crossed paths during a sports writing career is because he is so atypical of what you expect to get in your football coach.

This observer of both sports and people has always been drawn to the character rather than the dedicated athlete or coach, someone who thought outside the game and outside the box.

To spend an afternoon talking with Sparky Anderson in his days managing the Cincinnati Reds was far more stimulating than to talk with Walter Alston, and a day spent with the Pirates’ Andy Van Slyke was far more entertaining than a day with Eddie Murray.

These men had interests that stretched far beyond their sports and expressed themselves in such a unique manner that only they could have made the statement.

“They wanted me to play third like Brooks, so I did play like Brooks — Mel Brooks,” Van Slyke once said.

“The players make the manager. It’s never the other way around,” Anderson observed.

Kirelawich was no different than the likes of Van Slyke or Anderson, for what he said could be humorous or insightful, on football or on military history. An interview with him could wander anywhere, given it wasn’t in a group setting, for he despised the routine question as much as Van Slyke despised giving a routine answer.

Ask Kirelawich about the Backyard Brawl and why it is important to keep it going even as WVU and Pitt head in opposite directions.

“It’s a throwback to the mills, the mines and cultural heritage of the kids who are playing the game. It has its roots in blue-collar, hard-nosed football that the working man appreciated in those days and still appreciates today,” he answered.

“Plus, it’s the generational thread because it ties the generations of West Virginia football players together,” Kirelawich said this year. “It’s the one thing Steve Dunlap, David Lockwood and Oliver Luck have in common with today’s player. And it’s something that I don’t have in common, that Jeff Casteel doesn’t have in common, that Ollie Luck’s own kid doesn’t have in common because they never played in the game. Dunlap, Lockwood, Luck, they were in it; they made their bones in this game. In a sense, they were made guys.

“And let me tell you something: If this game slips by the wayside because one administration or the other lets it go, it’s an insult to the fans who have supported it for 103 or 104 years. It would be a sin, an absolute sin.”

When you interrupt long enough to say you believe the game will survive, Kirelawich goes on ...

“Shoot, that’s their job. If it wasn’t their job, you could have Ralphie down in the maintenance department do his thing and keep it going.”

To hear Kirelawich talk about this game, to hear him talk about West Virginia University and its football history, which he has been an intimate part of for more than 30 years, and to see him walk out the door in the twilight of his career is hard to swallow.

It says far more than most coaches changing jobs, for Kirelawich is walking out on a life and a place that he truly came to love, an indication that the coaching divide between the offense and defense that existed inside the Mountaineer offices this year was wider than anyone might imagine.

That is not to place blame anywhere, for the reality is that when Dana Holgorsen was named head coach, it was his program to do with as he pleased, and he was bringing in a new culture, one that was foreign to Kirelawich and Jeff Casteel and David Lockwood.

In truth, it is a compliment to them all that they could survive and thrive in such circumstances, ending up with an Orange Bowl victory.

For Casteel and Lockwood, it certainly was time to move on, but somehow there is a sad note to having Kirelawich finish his career anywhere but in Morgantown, least of all standing out there in his sweats, a towel draped over his shoulders, a whistle around his neck in the 110 degrees of an August afternoon in Tucson.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

 

1
Text Only
WVU Sports
  • WVU takes first step Thursday

    Perhaps the most used – and least factual – cliché in sports is as follows:
    “There’s no tomorrow.”
     

    July 30, 2014

  • Must WVU defense carry offense in ’14?

    The other day the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a story under the following headline:
     

    July 30, 2014

  • smallwood-wendell(1)-2.jpg Charges against Smallwood dropped

     West Virginia University running back Wendell Smallwood took to Twitter mid-afternoon Tuesday to express his feelings after charges of witness intimidation against him were dropped by the state of Delaware.
    It took him only three words to say what was on his mind: “God is Good.” Smallwood is now free to return to West Virginia and rejoin his Mountaineer teammates when they open camp for the 2014 season Thursday.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Charges against Smallwood dropped

    West Virginia University running back Wendell Smallwood took to Twitter mid-afternoon Tuesday to express his feelings after charges of witness intimidation against him were dropped by the state of Delaware.

    July 29, 2014

  • Were Bowlsby’s fears about college athletics’ future justified?

    I have never met or even talked to Bob Bowlsby, commissioner of the Big 12 Conference.
    But I did read a lengthy story on his 45-minute address to reporters last week on Media Day in Dallas, Texas. Among other things, Bowlsby forecast a startling change threatening the existence of intercollegiate athletics as we have known for these many, many years.

    July 28, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Big 12 provides plenty of optimism

    This past week the Big 12 held its annual media gathering in Dallas and served up a heaping portion of optimism for the 2014 season that is now upon us, West Virginia University opening its preseason practices on Thursday.
    This is a time of year when no one has lost a game, not even Charlie Weis at Kansas, and it’s a time of year when opinions are more plentiful than tattoos in an NFL locker room.

    July 27, 2014

  • Seider's brother commits to WVU

    West Virginia University’s football team has received a commitment from one of its own.

    July 26, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Big 12 provides much optimism heading into 2014 season

    This past week the Big 12 held its annual media gathering in Dallas and served up a heaping portion of optimism for the 2014 season that is now upon us, West Virginia University opening its preseason practices on Thursday.

    July 26, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU needs White to follow in former receivers’ footsteps

    A year ago Clint Trickett took a lot of grief as the once potent West Virginia offense came unraveled, but there is more that than meets the eye.
    The criticism was not unfounded, of course, although behind each incomplete pass there was the pain Trickett was suffering through to throw it, his rotator cuff in need of surgery.

    July 26, 2014

  • Forsey posts Top 10 finish at World Championships

    Freshman Jillian Forsey of the West Virginia University cross country team finished ninth at the 2014 IAAF World Junior Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
    Forsey, a native of Stephenville, Newfoundland and Labrador, was representing Team Canada. She was the first Canadian to cross the finish line in the women’s 5,000-meter run, finishing in ninth place overall in 16:02.55.

    July 26, 2014

Featured Ads
WVU Sports Highlights
NDN Sports
House Ads
NCAA Breaking News
NCAA Photos