ATLANTA, Ga.- When fifth-year West Virginia University coach Rich Rodriguez leads his Mountaineer football team onto the artificial surface at the Georgia Dome to face No. 8 Georgia in the 72nd annual Nokia Sugar Bowl, he will join Don Nehlen as the only two West Virginia coaches to accomplish a major feat.
Nehlen, who coached the gold and blue for 21 seasons before calling it quits following WVU's 49-38 victory over Mississippi in the 2000 Music City Bowl, was the first Mountaineer boss to lead WVU to four consecutive postseason appearances-1981 through 1984.
Ironically, one of the players on those teams was a walk-on from nearby North Marion High School-Rich Rodriguez.
There is not a shred of irony in that statement. Irony is the opposite result of an expectation. Rodriguez replacing his former coach is merely coincidental or circumstantial. This is what happens when you give press passes to part-time high school track coaches.
Up the river in Wheeling, Doug Huff -- the only Ogden product to weasel his way into Sports Illustrated -- confounds with this unnecessary chest-bumping about Big East hoops:
Speaking of the Big East, here's a trivia fact which adds teeth to any suggestion that it's the strongest men's basketball conference in the land: 15 of the 16 Big East colleges have advanced to the NCAA Final Four. Only first-year member South Florida is absent from that list. No other conference in the land can make that statement.
Obviously, there aren't any other conferences with 16 teams who could be advancing anywhere, nor should there be.
Let's close with an all-time great moment in Mountaineer journalism history. Oct. 27, 1996 -- every WVU fan knows the feeling of the kick in the stomach of that last-second, punt-block loss to Miami. That was bad enough. Then you had to open the Gazette and read this ... Horrible Hall of Fame lead and column candidate Mitchiepoo Vingle's description of the loss. Warning: 39 of 50 paragraphs are one sentence, most of them (including the inexplicable first three) are only one word.
From the archives, we present this wonderful slice of nostalgia.
MORGANTOWN - Oh.
What a way to go.
A punt block, for goodness sakes.
A block followed by a handoff that could have - indeed should have - been called a forward lateral.
But one that will be recorded in the books as an alert play by Miami.
One that left the Mountaineer Field crowd here of 66,948 in stunned disbelief.
And, unfortunately, one that spoils West Virginia's bid for a perfect season.
This one will be talked about for years to come.
WVU had every opportunity in the world to secure a 7-3 victory. About all the Mountaineers had to do was execute a punt. Donnie Lindsey needed to make a good snap. Brian West needed to get the punt away.
Lindsey did his job. West didn't get a chance to do his.
Miami's Tremain Mack ran around WVU's David Saunders as if he were a pylon and got the block. Hurricanes senior Jack Hallmon picked the ball up and pushed the handoff forward to Nathaniel Brooks, who ran in for the shocker.
A couple futile WVU offensive plays later, it was over.
The perfect season was over. In all likelihood the Alliance bowl slot was over. The chance to beat the Miami Hurricanes was over.
And what a shame it all had to end this way.
"I can't believe this happened," said WVU coach Don Nehlen. "It's hard for me to believe it did. I know what my kid told me. I have to wait and see what the film says. But I think it was a forward lateral. But that's neither here nor there."
It was always be here.
It will always be in this stadium.
Nehlen and his staff did all they could. On the last offensive series, the coaches milked the clock perfectly. On two occasions they allowed the play clock to run down to 1 second before calling timeout.
The last time, there was but 29 seconds left.
Twenty-nine seconds until this place exploded.
Twenty-nine seconds until an even bigger game was set up here next week against Syracuse.
Then came the block, like a kick in the stomach to West Virginia.
"That," said Nehlen, "was as tough a loss as I've ever had."
It had to be The West Virginia defense was, once again, spectacular.
Miami finished with 162 total yards, but 58 on the ground.
The offense, once again, sputtered. Nehlen not only went without standout tailback Amos Zereoue, but, after a foot injury, Khari Mott.
He was down to Alvin Swoope, his third-string tailback, and T.J. Walker.
T.J. WALKER! Nehlen was handing the ball off to the perennial practice squad player in the fourth quarter against Miami. And winning!
He was doing so in front of a national ESPN television audience.
He was doing so in front of an enthusiastic packed house. He was doing so in front of pro scouts and representatives from the Orange, Sugar, Carquest and Liberty bowls.
And what an opportunity. Miami was emotionally down after being dumped
last week by East Carolina. The Hurricanes had to go with a quarterback, Ryan Clement, who basically played with one arm.
("Clement," said Nehlen, "has to be the toughest kid in America.")
His backup, Scott Covington, trying to go with a partially collapsed lung, had to be given oxygen before the game. Then the 'Canes' top offensive player, Danyell Ferguson left with a dislocated hip. Their starting flanker, Jermaine Chambers, went out with a knee injury.
Miami was even pitching in some goofs - illegal substitutions, fair catch interferences, etc.
Of course, the end of the first half didn't help the Mountaineer cause. Shawn Foreman went 40 yards after catching a Chad Johnston pass, but barely stepped out of bounds at the U.M. 33-yard line. Then, after getting to the 24, timeout wasn't called before the clock could be stopped. (Whatever happened to home cooking?)
It's just a shame.
Nehlen's draw plays were even working.
It all came down to a snap and punt.
"I'm proud of our kids," said Nehlen afterward.
He should be.
His team's loss will do absolutely nothing for the reputation of the Big East. It will be very hard for the Mountaineers to bounce back.
Yet Nehlen should be proud.
It was kind of strange here late Saturday.
As the cars streamed out of the parking lots, marked by their red tail lights, the final score stayed on the scoreboard: 10-7.
And it just didn't seem to fit.
Because for once, for one rainy evening, the best team didn't win.
Pardon while we make like the monkey and fling some poo at this work of art ...
Early Thursday, Mitch also proved his lazy chops by pulling a boner on the ID of the Tulane football coach ... known better as CHRIS Scelfo.
[Rodriguez] had been named the interim head coach for Tulane’s Liberty Bowl game against BYU and felt comfortable that he would soon be a head coach.
Then Tulane hired Mark Scelfo, the Louisiana native who had gone from Marshall to Georgia with Jim Donnan. Rodriguez was devastated.