I can remember
by Jim Buzzerd
I’m old enough to remember the West Virginia University football team being perennially irrelevant. I began paying attention to WVU athletics circa 1963 when the Mountaineers were in the Southern Conference. As an eight year old I didn’t really have much of a perspective on Mountaineer sports and college football overall. I knew my parents attended West Virginia in the early 1950’s and enjoyed some successful football and basketball teams in that era. Think Sam Huff, Bruce Bosley, Chuck Howley, Jerry West, Hot Rod Hundley et.al. Because my parents were fans, I became one too.
From 1963 through 1979 the Mountaineers played in just four bowl games. To be fair, if the plethora of bowl games existed then as they do now, West Virginia would have appeared in several more. The 1969 team was 10-1 with a Peach Bowl win over South Carolina under coach Jim Carlen. Bobby Bowden took two teams to the Peach Bowl in his tenure in Morgantown. Most of the time in that span the Mountaineers were struggling to be .500. They were average to below average most seasons.
In 1980 coach Don Nehlen arrived in Morgantown. Nehlen’s first squad was 6-6, but then he reeled off three straight 9-3 seasons and an 8-4 season in 1984. Those seasons resulted in four straight bowl appearances making WVU at least somewhat relevant in college football. Two seasons after Nehlen’s first losing season in 1986 he had the Mountaineers undefeated in 1988 and in the National Championship game against Notre Dame.
Nehlen would take WVU to seven more bowl games before retiring after the 2000 season. This column isn’t about Don Nehlen, or his successor Rich Rodriguez, or his successor Bill Stewart, or his successor Dana Holgorsen. All three successors kept WVU relevant in college football.
Sometime, presumably, during the 2017 season a decision was made to not offer Dana Holgorsen a contract extension which resulted in his departure to Houston. Something many feel WVU did to achieve that result. West Virginia brought in Neal Brown, a seemingly solid hire coming off a very successful four season run at Troy. Saturday night Brown’s 3-3 Mountaineers were embarrassed 48-10 by 3-3 Texas Tech with a first year coach.
I’ve been a Neal Brown fan until this season’s Kansas loss. I had much doubt that night about Brown’s ability to get the results expected at West Virginia. After watching Saturday’s Mountaineer performance, I don’t see any way he can salvage his career in Morgantown. But be prepared to watch him on the sidelines in 2023 because the word is the money for Brown’s $16 million buyout isn’t available. That’s contrary to other things being bandied about that donors have offered the buyout money. That money likely comes with strings attached.
We’ll get to see if WVU can rally and be ready for undefeated TCU in Morgantown Saturday. The game is on ESPN at noon.
If you want a preview to see if the Mountaineer basketball team can rebound from last season’s disappointment an exhibition game against Bowling Green is on tap Friday night at the WVU Coliseum. The game can be viewed on ESPN+ at 7 p.m.