The Times West Virginian

October 29, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN-Local area producing top coaches

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — It was a very good college football weekend around here.

First of all, the state university team didn’t lose, which was a pleasant change of script after two straight losses.

True, it was a bye week, but the way things have gone after such a spectacular start for the Mountaineers, any weekend without a loss is a good one.

Best of all, however, was that this turned into a huge weekend for our favorite sons — Nick Saban at Alabama, Jimbo Fisher at Florida State and Rich Rodriguez at Arizona — each coaching and winning a key game.

Once upon a time Miami of Ohio earned the reputation as being “The Cradle of Coaches,” turning out the likes of Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Paul Brown, Earl “Red” Blaik, Weeb Ewbank, Sid Gillman, Bill Arnsparger and Ara Parseghian, all coaching legends or bordering upon it.

But that is a school, while the area here from Fairmont to Clarksburg is simply a small section, not very heavily populated, of West Virginia, a rural area of hardworking, honest people who love their football.

When one considers that on one weekend the three of them can score crucial victories with national repercussions is almost mind-boggling. To turn out one coach with the credentials these three carry would be special, but three of them?

Right now it is safe to say Saban is favored to repeat as national champion, to say nothing of SEC champion, the SEC being considered the nation’s premier conference; Fisher now being in position to win the ACC championship after having shaken off one upset loss to North Carolina State; and Rodriguez stamping his rebuilding program at Arizona as being right on schedule by knocking off the nation’s No. 10 team and a team many felt was capable of ousting Saban’s Crimson Tide as national champion in USC.

Saban’s Tide simply walloped a Mississippi State team that had won its first seven games and was up to No. 13 in the nation, winning 38-7.

Duke had come into the Florida State game not only with a 6-2 overall record but with sole possession of the ACC’s Coastal Division.

They came out with undying respect for Fisher’s team.

“I don’t think they have a weakness,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “It’s all in front of them as to what they can do.”

That included challenging Alabama for a national championship.

And then there was what Rodriguez pulled off, proving that he hadn’t forgotten how to coach despite his Michigan failure after he walked out on West Virginia following the incredible upset by Pitt when his team stood at the threshold of playing for a national championship.

“The process has started,” Rodriguez proclaimed after pulling off this upset. “This doesn’t make us a top-10 team; we’ve lost three games. But I hope it makes recruits sit up and take notice.”

He is early in his rebuilding, but already has worked the quarterback miracle with Matt Scott that he has everywhere he’s been, much like the man now holding his old job, Dana Holgorsen.

And for those who have been clamoring for the return of Jeff Casteel as coordinator, it must be pointed out in the name of full disclosure, Arizona did give up 618 yards, 493 of them through the air.

It is a matter for a team of psychologists and socialists, to say nothing of scientists, to determine what may be in the water, to understand what it is that has made this area so rich in fertile coaching minds and manners.

Certainly, Saban, considering his longevity and success at Michigan State, LSU and Alabama, has been the most studied, and most agree that his coaching greatness can be traced back to his father, Nick Sr., who all in the area knew for his work with the kids in youth football.

Indeed, another successful youth football player turned leader of a different sort, Sen. Joe Manchin, put it this way for the Huntsville Times in 2007 when Alabama hired Saban.

“What little bit I know about Bear Bryant (Saban) came probably as close as any human being to being raised under the same mental toughness as a Bear Bryant with his father,” Manchin said.

“If you want someone who is conditioned and understands the toughness it’s going to take to succeed at that level without Bear Bryant being his father, he had someone as tough, if not tougher, to make sure he was molded into the right person. So he’s got all the ingredients to do the job.”

It is, in truth, an attitude that is passed on from father to son in this area, an approach that has to be unique in order to create exactly what is necessary to be a winner. The concept that it is unique was captured by Sen. Manchin back in that interview five years ago when he observed:

“He is not trying to be the next Bear Bryant. He’s going to be the first Nick Saban.”

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.