Hmm

Before I throw an idea out to you, a reminder that I’m allegedly heading to Dallas today to see an improved, an improving TCU play host to West Virginia. That opens play for both teams in what’s going to be a Big 12 that’s better than what introduced itself to the Mountaineers last season.

The Horned Frogs are healthy (Amric Fields is back and he’s pretty good) and talented (best recruiting class and best single recruit in school history) and they have one of the league’s more improved players (Kyan Anderson).

But we have a most interesting sideline battle Saturday.

In the black pullover, Bob Huggins, whose resume you know quite well, from postseason successes and failures to pro players and loyal players who remain true to their coach, from his penchant for Jimmy Johns to his disdain for retrospection.

And it’s the latter that makes the duet with TCU’s quick-hitting Trent Johnson so intriguing.

Trent Johnson’s four seasons as Stanford’s coach included 80 wins, three NCAA Tournaments, one Sweet Sixteen and a lot of time spent talking to Bill Walsh.

The former Cardinal and San Francisco 49ers coach would listen and share and Johnson was one of the fortunate ones to be in his company.

“One thing he said that stuck with me was you can tell the job a head coach and his staff did when you look in the rear view mirror,” Johnson said. “When you look in the rear view in Nevada, it continued to escalate after I left. When you look in the rear view at Stanford, the cupboard was not bare. When you look in the rear view at LSU, they’re doing OK.”

What if Huggins and Johnson discussed this dichotomy before the game? Would the Daniel-Meyer Coliseum just disappear into a vacuum of philosophy? Could anyone be spared?

It’s just the latest “what if?” to strike me lately. Six years and one day ago, this happened:

Attackle!

I was watching the Fiesta Bowl Wednesday night, and though my rear view mirror exists, it doesn’t get a lot of work. But when I saw UCF come out of the visiting team’s locker room and walk down that damn tunnel toward the field and a victory probably no one thought was possible, whoosh, the memories cascaded from upon high.

That damn tunnel was a place I’ll always remember because it was the site of a wild celebration for players and coaches who wouldn’t wait to get back inside the locker room. It was also the de facto runway for so many of the actors and actions that would ultimately affect the decision made that night.  A university president, a governor, boosters, prominent graduates, Board of Governor members, so on and so forth. That was their red carpet for the drama that would eventually unfold.

This is not about that, I promise, but I did spend some time wondering, naturally, how different things might have been if a difference decision was made that night. But then I saw Charlie Taaffe’s offense run wild and I remembered he was supposed to be Bill Stewart’s offensive coordinator until the Hamilton Tiger-Cats strong-armed him into staying. That did happen. Taaffe had visited Stewart, not to get a pepperoni roll recipe, and an agreement had been struck. WVU was doing a background check and then the Ti-Cats threw a fit.

Instead, Jeff Mullen happened, and though he might become a very good coach, and might be on his way right now as the offensive coordinator at Charlotte (with Bruce Tall as the defensive coordinator!), it was not to be back in 2008. I thought it became clear he was not yet prepared for the job. Taaffe would have been, of course, and I think he would have been a lot more creative and willing than was Mullen, which means many other things could have been different.

Anyhow, since a new year is about looking back and about happenings from the past affecting your awareness in the present and the future, I wonder this: What are some of the other most compelling “What if …” scenarios from the past few years of WVU sports?

56 Responses to “Hmm”

  1. Dann White says:

    What a fool believes,
    No wise man has the power,
    To reason away.
    What a fool believes he sees,
    Is always better than nothing,
    and nothing at all; keeps sending him
    Somewhere back in his long ago
    (M MacDonald ~ K Loggins)

    And I am as big a fool as the next guy. I have played the what if, if only, game so many times when it comes to Mountaineer sports. I do have a short list of facts that I find undeniable:

    I watched that Fiesta Bowl in 1989, sat beside the 50 yard line camera on second level. I had the best seats in the house and I paid, get this: $21.00 apiece. (I had a friend whose uncle worked at the Phoenix newspaper) I knew Major well, I befriended him when he was a freshman; three things were clear:
    1: Michael Stonebreaker and Company deliberately tried to hurt Major, and succeeded, on the first series. (Stonebreaker taunted and tried to intimidate me, after the game, in the restroom, at the restaurant where we had dinner. He didn’t like the name on my sweatshirt) He was a lot like a gang-member you might meet in a bad neighborhood.
    We did not have the athletes it took to play with ND. Not on offense, not on defense, and not on ST. Sad but true. The game wasn’t as close as the score.
    Though they didn’t need to for a win, ND was flagged 15 – FIFTEEN times for personal fouls. I expected after the 4th or 5th that we would see ejections, it was clear they weren’t interested in just playing football. The disqualifications never came.

    We were outclassed and it hurt me to watch. Prior to the Fiesta Bowl, of course ND put on their blue blazers and went everywhere together as a team, including their meals. Coach said our guys had to be allowed to have fun and let them play around in Phoenix, just before what should have been the biggest day of their sporting lives. Oh well coach, oh well.

    2007, Pitt game. I, like you, HATED PITT! It is part of our 100-+ year legacy of doing so. That game is the one that originated the term “Backyard Brawl”. I don’t generally say a good word about Pitt, but I will say this: THEY DESERVED THAT WIN! They were so ready for our game plan that even a valiant effort by an injured but willing Pat White made no difference. Dave Wannstedt was inspiring (I hate to say) out there on crutches, feeling no pain (??Vicodin??), directing the Panthers.
    The shear beauty of the WVU-Pitt rivalry was how they played spoiler to each other over the series history. Twice in recent history (1989 and 2007) Pitt ruined what could’ve been signature seasons for us.

    While I admit my partiality for College Football, basketball is the game I played, occasionally officiated, and loved as a youngster. In my years of constant commuting to Morgantown, WVU was in the A10 and Cat was the coach. Say what you will, his record at WVU was one to be proud of. In fact after the (I’m pretty sure of the year) 1991 NCAA Tourney, Coach K shared that Duke had encountered only one worthy opponent in the tournament: WVU. They bested us by 1 point as I recall.
    Do you want a good “What If”?? How about: What if Wilfred Kirkaldy and Lawrence Pollard hadn’t driven home on break and thus avoided a horrible auto accident in the mountains of Maryland. Kirkaldy represented that big, strong pivot man that Mountaineer teams have always lacked, he avoided the loss of his leg for a while, but ultimately it was amputated. Pollard returned to the team but never fulfilled his previous potential, he still played again and eventually graduated.
    As we all know, with DeSean neutralized as he was, we had zero chance against Duke in the Final Four. For all the miracles he performed for us, he was a non-entity against Duke. They were the better team that night.

    One More

    I am not generally superstitious, but one Friday evening as I crossed the rickety old bridge from Cedar Grove to Chelyan, West Virginia I heard Tony Caridi say on his “Statewide Sportsline”: “after they beat the Hokies tomorrow, the Mountaineers will hold a 23 to 9 edge in the series, and will remain unbeaten (though tied by Pitt in previous game) for the last 18 games.” I was incensed!! I knew there was no way to overcome that jinx, and THAT ATTITUDE surrounding the program.
    As you well know, we were defeated the next day by the Hokies, in our house. The 89 team, believed by many, (including Coach Nehlen) to be a better team than the 88 team, went on to a disappointing 8-3-1 record.
    ESPN was fairly new in 1989 and I remember when watching the Pitt game that after we achieved the 31-9 advantage in the third quarter, most of our starters began coming out of the game and many of them were on the sideline – back to the field – laughing and talking. Presumably they were laughing and talking about how much better they were than their opponents. Pitt, of course, achieved a pretty substantial moral victory by tying WVU, unleashing a torrent of references to “kissing your sister”.

    Later, my blogging brothers,

  2. Dann White says:

    Clarence,

    I know you are having a problem letting go of the Joey thing, but obviously he don’t swing that way.

    Saban wants no part of West Virginia, state or school.

    West Virginia, state or school, wants no part of Prick Rodriguez.

    That’s it for me today

  3. Philip says:

    what if the big east hadn’t turned down penn state for membership back in ’89?

    and taaffe. you saw what he did with just scotty mcbrien under center. what would he have done with a pat white and a noel devine? (wistfully stares into the distance …)

  4. avb31 says:

    What if Beilein redshirted Ruoff? He attempted 21 shots that year.

    Imagine Ruoff on that 2010 team. That would have been something.

  5. Mack says:

    I don’t think Ruoff cracks the starting lineup of the Final Four team. Mazulla, Butler, Kevin Jones, Ebanks, and Wellington Smith.

    By Ruoff’s senior year, it seemed like he was such a defensive liability and was 50/50 as to whether you’d get a good shooting game out of him . . . I think he would’ve added little to what WVU already had.

  6. hershy112 says:

    The key words in your comment are “it seemed”. Apparently just to you. Defensive liability? Led the team in steals per game, and would have led the 2009-10 team in steals per game as well. 50/50 good shooting? Second on the team in 3-point % by .4%. Would have been third on the team in 2009-10, missing second by .2%. Led the team in FT% and would have been the best of the starters/main contributors on the 2009-10 team in FT%.

    Would have added little? Ok. I’m with the others on here asking the “what if?” about you not giving definitive answers to hypothetical questions.

    This is why we can’t have nice things.