What If…

Many years ago, I read several scenarios that tried to predict what would have happened if historical events had turned out differently, such as, ‘What if the South had won the Civil War?' With football camp still ten days away, we have some time to play that game on the WVU sports scene.

There are any number of ‘What Ifs' to play in this regard, but the one that seems most pertinent as a hopefully stellar Mountaineer football season looms is this: What if West Virginia University had not built a new football stadium, but rather had renovated the original Mountaineer Field on the downtown campus?

While it might seem like a no-brainer now, there was quite a bit of debate back in the mid-70s when the subject of decaying Mountaineer Field came up. Two camps formed – one that wanted to build an entirely new facility, another that wanted to rehabilitate the original structure and add approximately 10,000 seats via a second deck to be located atop the stands on the visitors' side of the field.

Fortunately for West Virginia fans, the former camp won out, and the new stadium was constructed on the Evansdale campus. But what might the course of West Virginia football have been had that choice not been made?

First, and most immediately, Don Nehlen would not have been the coach at West Virginia. His hiring, according to the man himself, was contingent on the building of a new facility. Therefore, WVU would never have seen the Hall of Fame coach. Instead, Nehlen would have remained at Michigan, and he, not Gary Moeller, would have taken over the reins for the Wolverines when Bo Schembechler retired.

So who might have become WVU's coach? Bill Mallory, a former Colorado coach who was rumored to have the inside track for the job? Perhaps even the dreaded Lee Corso, who pursued the job in earnest but didn't make West Virginia's final cut? Let's assume the Mountaineer athletic administration still would have shown the good sense to avoid Corso, and put Mallory in the spot. Would he have done as well as Nehlen? Probably not. Nehlen, of course, proved to be a master motivator, something Mallory was not. The coach in our alternate timeline also wouldn't have had the benefit of recruiting to a location with brand spanking new facilities behind him, either – something that certainly can't be overlooked.

So, instead of the three consecutive 9-3 records Nehlen racked up in the early 1980s, Mallory puts together records of 5-7, 6-5, 7-4, 5-6 and 4-7 in the first five years of the decade. That was a marginal improvement over the 17-27 record of the previous four years, but it wouldn't have been enough to save his job.

With WVU administrators still balking at building a new stadium, especially since they had just invested a considerable sum in the new seats and some cosmetic upgrades, the choices for a new head coach were limited. So, they turned to a familiar name – Bowden.

Terry, who was right down the road coaching at Salem College, was one of the few people who would take the job without a promise for a new stadium. Although still smarting from some of the invective hurled his father Bobby's way when he was the head coach at WVU, young Terry realized that this was the quickest route he would have to a Division 1 head coaching job – even though West Virginia was obviously floundering at that point. And with his tremendous energy and enthusiasm, he believed he could eventually prevail upon the administration to build a new stadium.

And that's exactly what happened…er…would have happened. After a slow start with another 4-7 record in his first year in 1985, Bowden began to build the program. Wins over Pitt (1986) and Penn State (1987) put West Virginia on the map, at least regionally. Overflow crowds at 43,000 seat Mountaineer Field, combined with inadequate facilities, lent more weight to the argument for a new facility. Finally, in 1988, with the program headed for another Gator Bowl berth, plans were finally approved. However, with the golf boom that had swept the country in the early 1980s, the decision was made to put the stadium off-campus, at the site the Glenmark Centre currently occupies off I-68 (U. S. 48 at the time). The new stadium was completed in time for the 1990 season opener.

Bowden continued as head coach at his alma mater until 2004, when he retired following an 11-1 season and an Orange Bowl win. He was replaced by longtime assistant Chris Haering, who joined the West Virginia staff as a graduate assistant upon the completion of his career in 1989 as a graduate assistant. Haering, who worked his way up from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator, struggled in his first year at WVU, but hopes are high going into the 2006 season for a bounceback year.

And what became of Rich Rodriguez in this scenario? Knowing that Bowden was likely going to be a long-term fixture at WVU, Rodriguez accepted an offer from Texas Tech and installed his spread offense on the windswept plains of the Lone Star State in the first years of the new millenium. When observers scoffed that throwing the ball in the wind would be difficult, Rodriguez unveiled a running variant of the spread that gained the nickname "Texas Thunder" – and catapulted the young coach into the national limelight.

What do you think about this scenario? Have some ‘What Ifs' of your own you'd like to theorize upon? Share them on our message boards!

My thanks to Don Hager, retired sports editor of the Charleston Daily Mail, for the idea for this article. Mr. Hager is they type of professional journalist that's rarely found these days!

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