MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - They always say you shouldn’t mow your lawn until after Easter, but with the warmer than usual temperatures and Easter not occurring until Sunday, April 16 this spring, that’s simply not going to be feasible.
Therefore, what is usually written here on Fridays has been moved up to today as I prepare to tend to the crab grass that is starting to invade the other weeds growing in my backyard.
In the meantime, here are some Mountaineer sports notes to mow through:
* You can add another branch to Bob Huggins’ Division I coaching tree. The latest Huggins protégé to land a D-I job is Jerrod Calhoun, hired by Youngstown State earlier this week after leading Fairmont State to the Division II national championship game last weekend.
Calhoun was 124-38 in his five seasons directing the Falcons, winning at least 20 games each year there.
And replacing Calhoun at Fairmont State is a familiar name to Mountaineer hoop fans: guard Joe Mazzulla.
Joe is a rising star in the coaching profession after working five seasons at Glenville State and Fairmont State before taking an assistant coaching position with the Maine Blue Claws in the NBA Developmental League last year.
Kudos to Fairmont State director of athletics and former Mountaineer basketball player Tim “Catfish” McNeely for having a replacement plan for Calhoun. I believe Catfish reeled in a real whopper by hiring one of the toughest, most intelligent point guards in Mountaineer hoops history.
* Count me among those rooting for South Carolina coach Frank Martin in this weekend’s Final Four matchup against Gonzaga.
Last December, before Bob Huggins won his 800th career game, Martin graciously spent 10 minutes on the phone with me talking about Huggs.
It was Huggins who helped Martin get his start in the collegiate profession back in early 2000s.
“When he was at Cincinnati, he called me and said, ‘Frank, Dan Peters (who passed away a few years ago) decided to leave to go to Ohio State and I’ve got an opening on my staff and I need a guy that I can trust,” Martin recalled. “I said to him, ‘Huggs, I told you a long time ago. I’m never going to call you for a job, but whenever you need me I’m here for whatever you need.’ He said, ‘Well, I need you now.’ That was on a Friday and on a Monday I was working at the University of Cincinnati.”
Martin coached a number of outstanding players when he was at North Miami High and then Booker T. Washington High, but Huggins didn’t hire Martin to get access to his players.
“I had a lot of good players when I was coaching high school, but it wasn’t anything other than hiring me when the time was right, which is the way things should be,” Martin recalled.
Martin said Huggins is the closest thing to a “pure man” that he has ever met in the basketball business.
“He gets vilified because of his loyalty,” Martin said of Huggins. “I’ve been in those homes when I was a high school coach and he was recruiting my guys and then as assistants when we were recruiting somebody.
“He lets those parents know that he’s going to help make that young man a man,” Martin continued. “And when these kids come to campus and they make mistakes he does not turn his back on them. On the contrary. He’s going to make them work and he’s going to make them become a man and that’s why those kids, when they become men, every one of them comes back because he never gave up on them when they were young and immature.”
So, what about all those good players Huggins was after when Martin was at North Miami and Booker T. Washington High?
“He never got any of them, but he didn’t cry and complain,” Martin said.
* Here is a Mountaineer football name to remember: Matt Jones
. On Tuesday, Dana Holgorsen labeled the redshirt sophomore “the surprise of the spring” for his work at center as Tyler Orlosky’s replacement.
Jones was once a four-star recruit and two-time all-state performer at Hubbard High in Hubbard, Ohio, located northeast of Youngstown near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.
On the downside, Jones’ backup, redshirt freshman Jacob Buccigrossi
, suffered a knee injury during Sunday’s practice. Holgorsen said Buccigrossi’s injury puts the Mountaineers back “to square one” in seeking a backup to Jones at center.
* Holgorsen rattled off a long list of names on his injury list of players unavailable for Tuesday’s spring practice. A couple of those were along the defensive line, where veteran defensive line coach Bruce Tall must find replacements for all three starters from a year ago.
Darrien Howard, Noble Nwachukwu and Christian Brown accounted for 141 tackles, nine sacks and 18 tackles for losses last season, and, more importantly, kept offensive linemen off of West Virginia’s linebackers, safeties and corners to make the rest of the plays.
Defensive line is one of the big question marks hovering over this year’s team, much like corner was last year. The Mountaineers were able to bring in a couple of late additions to help stabilize that position last fall, so we’ll see how Holgorsen manages the defensive line roster this summer as he prepares for the 2017 season.
Perhaps there are some young players in the program right now such as Stone Wolfley
who can step up and take on some D-line snaps this fall. I am told Stone has the Wolfley family motor to go along with the Ray Mansfield family talent that he acquired from his mother, Kathy.
On second thought, I guess his old man wasn’t too shabby either.
* The Signal Caller, Jed Drenning, stopped by the office earlier today to drop some knowledge and do a little planning for his annual football publication, which typically hits the newsstands in mid-June.
Since Jed frequently does most of the talking, one of the interesting tidbits he passed along to me was Shelton Gibson’s record-setting time in the 60-yard shuttle earlier this month at the NFL Combine. Gibson ran a 10.71, which easily surpassed Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey’s 11.03 clocking.
It was the fastest 60-yard shuttle time recorded at the Combine, surpassing Brandon Cook’s old mark of 10.72.
The 60-yard shuttle is not as popular as the 40-yard dash, but it does indicate which players have the separation speed to reach the end zone when they get out into the open beyond 40 yards.
Some have that extra gear and others don’t.
I would put Gibson in the class of Kerry Marbury, Danny Buggs, Reggie Rembert, James Jett, Pat White and Steve Slaton as the fastest length-of-the field sprinters that West Virginia football has had in the last 40, 50 years.
Undra Johnson, Noel Devine, Tavon Austin and Mario Alford were real burners, but I’m not sure even they could hang with these guys in a full-field sprint (I only toss Undra's name in there in hopes of one day getting some investment advice from him).
One thing I am certain of, though, is the emails will be coming my way after that last sentence.
* Randy Mazey’s Mountaineer baseball team’s RPI didn’t get a boost from yesterday’s 8-4 road victory at Pitt, remaining at No. 14, but West Virginia can improve its standing in the RPI this weekend with a three-game series at No. 46 Oklahoma State.
West Virginia (13-9) has already played 17 road games this year, including 19 total away from Monongalia County Ballpark, and will have 20 true road games in the books before its Big 12 opener against Kansas on Friday, April 7.
The Kansas series is part of a five-game homestand that also includes Marshall and Morehead State.
It was those pesky midweek games that proved to be West Virginia’s kryptonite last year and kept the Mountaineers from snapping their 20-year NCAA Tournament hiatus.
* Speaking of Mountaineer baseball, while taking in last night’s Backyard Brawl on Watch ESPN, my mind drifted back to my first WVU-Pitt baseball game working at WVU in 1991.
The two programs split the difference and played the game at a neutral site in what was basically an open field in Hopwood, Pennsylvania, somewhere along the way to Nemacolin Resort. If my fading memory is correct, I recall the Mountaineers getting a couple of late runs to defeat the Panthers, 2-1.
Back then, both programs were dealing with a lack of funding while playing in second-tier baseball conferences - Pitt in the Big East and West Virginia in the Atlantic 10.
Before one West Virginia-Pitt game at Hawley Field, I recall the late Dale Ramsburg desperately seeking an umpire to preside over an early-afternoon midweek contest against the Panthers. He ended up getting Butch Haswell, who just happened to be an assistant coach on Gale Catlett’s Mountaineer men’s basketball staff.
Butch knew most of the baseball rules, and the ones he didn’t know he could mask over because of his forceful personality.
So, when Haswell emerged from the Shell Building and made the long walk down the left field line toward home plate to take the lineup cards before the game, the late Pitt coach Bobby Lewis remarked to Ramsburg, “So, Dale, who do we have working the bases this afternoon, GALE CATLETT?”
* If you’ve got a couple of free hours this weekend, I encourage you to stop by the WVU Coliseum to soak in some high-level gymnastics. The NCAA Regional Championships are taking place in Morgantown on Saturday, April 1, at 4 p.m. This is the 10th time the Coliseum has served as the host venue for the regional championships, and the third since 2013.
Hard-working gymnastics sports information director Shannon McNamara tells me this is one of two regionals with five out of the six participants ranked in the top 25, including six-time NCAA champion Alabama and Big Ten champs Michigan. The other ranked teams are No. 18 Southern Utah, No. 20 George Washington and No. 23 West Virginia.
The top two teams from each regional move on to NCAA nationals, which take place in St. Louis, Missouri, on Friday, April 14.
In addition, the top two all-around performers and all event winners advance to nationals so keep an eye on West Virginia sophomore Kirah Koshinski
in the vault. The Berwick native was last year’s Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and she was recently named All-America in the vault this season.
* I have been informed that former West Virginia University director of athletics and Mountaineer basketball great Leland Byrd will be celebrating his 90th birthday on Saturday, April 8. In appreciation of Dr. Byrd’s lifetime accomplishments in athletics, his hometown of Matoaka, West Virginia, has declared April 8 “Dr. Leland Byrd Day.”
What a wonderful tribute to a man who has meant so much to sports in the Mountain State for many, many years.
And with Dr. Byrd being in such great shape, I’m sure he will have no trouble blowing out all 90 of those candles on his birthday cake!
Happy early-birthday wishes to Dr. Byrd!
* Sometimes a change of scenery can do wonders for a player’s professional career. Hopefully that is the case with Geno Smith, who is switching franchises but not cities by moving from the Jets to the Giants.
There is a reason why the Jets are perennial losers and a reason why the Giants are one of the most stable organizations in professional football. Unfortunately for Geno, the stability and the supporting cast that he needed simply weren't there for him at the start of his NFL career with the Jets.
But he has that now as Eli Manning’s understudy with the Giants. And don’t forget, Geno is just 26, which means there are still a lot of throws left in his right arm.
* Lastly, I came across an article recently written by Chuck Wasserstrom of Owlsports.com illustrating in great detail the impact positive publicity generated from Temple’s outstanding football season in 2016 had on the entire Owl athletic department.
It was a well-written, in-depth look at the real-dollar value that favorable media attention can have on an athletic program. You don’t typically see these types of stories because the people responsible for writing them are usually too busy promoting others instead of themselves.
At any rate, I recall something similar to this once being done at West Virginia University back in the mid-1980s. The man once responsible for hiring me as a student, Joe Boczek, put together a little study on the importance of positive publicity to show his boss, WVU director of athletics Fred Schaus.
Joe’s intentions were clear - he wanted a pay raise. But what Joe didn’t understand was how formidable Fred Schaus was as a salary negotiator.
Joe arranged a meeting with Fred one morning, sat down in front of his desk and began his spiel on the value of positive publicity in relation to ticket sales, fundraising, merchandising and so forth, while gently shoving the papers he brought with him in Schaus' direction.
When Joe finally got to the point - that he needed more money, Fred interrupted him.
“So, Joe tell me, where are you living these days?” Schaus began.
“Fred, I don’t make enough money to have my own place so I’m sharing an apartment over at Bon Vista with Bubba Schmidt (West Virginia’s athletic equipment manager),” Boczek said.
Here, Schaus saw his opening.
“There’s your problem!” boomed Schaus. “You’re living way above your means! Now hold on, I know somebody up in Mount Morris, Pennsylvania, who owns a trailer and I can get you in there for at least half of what you’re paying for that expensive place you are staying in right now …”
When the meeting was finished shortly thereafter, Joe left Fred’s office without his raise, but he did have the telephone number of the trailer owner up in the Pennsylvania sticks that he never called.
Come to think of it, that’s probably a better reason why you don’t see more stories out there about the value of positive publicity.
Have a great week, and don’t be afraid to get out there and cut your grass this weekend!