For Dunlap, Hall of Fame Recognition A Group Honor
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For Steve Dunlap, one of nine people named to the West Virginia University Sports Hall of Fame over the weekend, this is anything but an individual honor.
“You don’t do it by yourself. You get a lot of help from your friends,” he said from Canada, where he is spending summer time fishing the days away.
Not that he isn’t in any way deserving. Goodness, you don’t set a school record with 28 tackles against Boston College on Nov. 2, 1974, and have it still standing 45 years later if you aren’t deserving, even though he prefers to downplay the accomplishment.
“This game has changed,” he said of football. “It was a different game back then. Then they ran 55 times and threw 20. Now it’s the other way around. That Boston College game, they ran it 62 times. Someone had to make the tackles.”
But it was Dunlap who did make those tackles, although a lot of luster was taken from the record-setting performance by the final score.
“By the way, we got killed, 35-3.”
Dunlap was a big-time player, but he also was a coach who put in 35 years and, in a way, you wondered whether he was being inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player or as a coach.
He couldn’t say for sure.
“I was just some little farm kid from Hurricane, West Virginia that someone took chance on. I was 5-foot-11 and weighed 188 pounds when I weighed in my freshman year,” he recalled. “I remember them asking me what I played and I said, ‘I’m a linebacker,’ and they said, ‘No you’re not, you’re a safety or a running back.’
“That put a little fire in me from the start when no one thinks you can do something.”
Then, he said, Nehlen’s assistant Donnie Young put his trust in him.
And that gets us back to this not just being his honor. It belonged, too, to Donnie Young, who in 2012 was himself inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Donnie Young, Dunlap says, was his mentor but he was more than that, more a guardian angel.
“I give Donnie Young a lot of credit. It’s very seldom a guy would go through his whole career like me. I was recruited by Donnie Young, I was coached by Donnie Young and I coached with Donnie Young,” Dunlap said.
It was as an assistant coach and defensive coordinator where he made his greatest impact as part of one of college football’s longest lasting staffs under Nehlen.
“There was what I call the Big 5 that were always there through Coach Nehlen’s regime — Donnie Young, Bill Kirelawich, me, Doc Holliday and Dave McMichael. We were through 17 years and more,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to those guys.”
The core of Nehlen’s staff was high class and faithful to him and the school.
Donnie Young had played at WVU, then coached from 1970 until 2000. Bill Kirelawich, a legendary defensive line coach, coached from 1980 to 2000. Holliday, now Marshall’s head coach and the man who opened Florida up to WVU’s recruiting, worked for Nehlen from 1983 to 1999; Dave McMichael coached with Nehlen from 1983 to 2000 and Dunlap came on in 1984 and coached through 2000 with Nehlen.
You ask Dunlap how Nehlen managed to keep that staff together and he offers up this observation.
“He let you do your job. He didn’t micromanage you,” Dunlap said. “To tell you the truth when a guy trusts you and doesn’t micromanage you, it puts more pressure on you as a coach and you don’t want to let him down.
“That was the kind of guy he was. He was the same guy every day. He didn’t come in one day mad or different the next. He was even keeled and a good guy to work for.”
“This was important … we wanted to be there,” Dunlap said.
And the legacy they left was taking WVU into big time football, putting together two undefeated regular seasons, and laying the foundation for what it has become today.
Dunlap himself coached 13 professional players, two All-Americans and 30 All-Conference/All-East Players and became a finalist for the inaugural Frank Broyles award given the nation’s top assistant in 1996.
That defense led the nation in total defense at 223.4 yards per game, No. 2 in rushing defense (65.9 yards per game) and turnover margin, No. 4 in scoring defense (13.0 points per game) and No. 5 in pass efficiency defense.