It’s Only Right Spavital Got Into Coaching
It’s in the genes for Jake Spavital, West Virginia’s first-year offensive coordinator.
If anyone was meant to coach, it was Spavital.
His father was a football coach at his high school in Tulsa.
His father’s father, before him, not only was a football coach, but a great player at Oklahoma State.
His father was Steve Spavital, who worked as a coach in the high school and college ranks for more than 30 years. His oldest son, Zac Spavital, was the defensive backs coach at Houston from 2008-2014 before joining Texas Tech as the linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator.
And his grandfather, Jim, made it big time in a big way.
How good was he?
“I think he was a first-round draft pick twice in the NFL, before the war and after the war,” Spavital said.
He was right, although it wasn’t before and after the war.
In 1948, with the draft right up the road in Pittsburgh, he was the 11th player drafted after a career as a fullback and linebacker at Oklahoma State.
What kind of company was he keeping? Well, there were a couple of quarterbacks drafted ahead of him in that first round you may have heard of, even though it is a long time ago.
One was Y.A. Tittle. The other was Bobby Layne.
Maybe it wasn’t that long ago, because things were very much the same then, with Alabama having three players selected in the 11-team first round including Harry Gilmer as the top pick.
Then, in 1951, he was again a first-round pick, this time of the New York Giants, who also had that draft’s first pick and selected Kyle Rote.
The Giants got that shot at picking him because the Baltimore Colts had failed and their players were put back into the draft.
To this day, though, his 96-yard run against the Green Bay Packers is the fourth longest in NFL history.
Jim Spavital became a football coaching and executive vagabond, playing, coaching and general managing in six different professional leagues, including: The NFL, the All-American Football Conference, where he also was a first-round draft pick; the Canadian, the World, the United States Football League and the Professional Spring Football League.
It was no wonder that Spavital’s father wound up coaching for 30 years, ending up at Broken Arrow High in Oklahoma.
Naturally, there was a lot of football talk at home.
“My Dad and I talked football constantly,” Spavital said. “That’s the nature of growing up in a coach’s family. Mom wouldn’t let us talk football at the dinner table, but besides that it was about every other opportunity we talked football.”
Jake Spavital played for his father and that sometimes can produce interesting situations.
“He was pretty hard on me,” Spavital admitted. “He was, but he was always good after you walked off the field and he was back being my father. Out on the field, though, he was the coach and he was hard on us.
“At the end of the day I appreciated how hard he was on me.”
But sometimes kids get a little bit rebellious and Spavital was no exception.
“There were times I’d step out of line, but he put me back in place a lot. He was my principal too. I couldn’t get away with anything,” Spavital said.
A lot of the wisdom Spavital uses in calling plays for Dana Holgorsen today was passed on to him from his father, although his father tried to discourage him from going into the profession when he was playing quarterback at Missouri State.
“He told me to not get in the profession, to get my business degree and move on,” Spavital related. “I was working toward a degree in finance, but Gus Mahlzahn gave me an opportunity to coach so I sped it up, minored in finance and just got a general business degree.”
The result of this is that Spavital has had a swift rise through the coaching ranks, meeting Holgorsen at Houston, having him bring him along to Oklahoma State, then to WVU before he went off and worked at Texas A&M and then at Cal before returning to Morgantown.
He was let go at both places, but they were going to be temporary stops anyway, because you had to figure that he and Holgorsen were destined to reunite, which they did this year, with Will Grier at quarterback.
Grier, of course, is the Florida transfer with the big arm who had to sit out after being suspended for using a performance enhancing substance, but who has been quite impressive in his first two performances at WVU.
And why shouldn’t he? Grier, like Spavital, is a coach’s kid.
“I love coach’s kids,” Spavital said.