John Antonik, who puts together the West Virginia athletic department’s Web site, MSNSportsNET.com, had an interesting observation after West Virginia defeated Kentucky, 73-66, to advance to the Final Four in Indianapolis this weekend.
Antonik noted that he has been working at WVU for 20 years and he can remember back when “Temple wins and Music City Bowls were celebrated.”
Now he looks at the landscape it has changed. West Virginia is no longer a cow pasture of a university when it comes to athletics, but it is instead a member of the elite, a place where they compete not just for a paycheck but for championships.
Antonik notes that in the last five years the Mountaineers have won two BCS bowl games — and these were high level affairs, beating Georgia and Oklahoma — and now have not only won their way into the Final Four for the first time in 51 years, but did it by beating one of the legendary college basketball programs in Kentucky.
Certainly when Don Nehlen coached the football team, there were times when the program battled its way onto the doorstep of a national championship or an undefeated, untied season, but as much as it hurts to say it, the attitude began to change with the arrival of Rich Rodriguez in football.
His drive, his enthusiasm, his ambition changed attitudes, if not the school’s inability to get over the hump and win the game it had to win to have a shot at the national championship.
His awkward exit did nothing to make the chore to reach the top nationally any easier but it coincided with the arrival of Bob Huggins, whose first pronouncement to his team was that the ultimate goal was to bring a national championship to his home state.
As he stands on the doorstep of delivering that title, one wonders what might have been had Huggins come back in 2002 and accepted West Virginia’s offer to return home, as everyone expected him to do.