Alabama’s dominant performance in the 2021 College Football Playoff championship game brought the Crimson Tide its 18th national title in program history.
Current head coach Nick Saban has accounted for six of those to ‘Bama (2009, ’11, ’12, ’15, ’17 and ’21) to go along with the one he won at LSU in 2003.
A native of Marion County, West Virginia – born in Fairmont, raised in Carolina and a 1969 graduate of Monongah High – the 69-year-old Saban, who was an assistant at WVU in 1978-79, is the peak of the coaching success that has come from the Mountain State, but he’s far from the only one.
His victory over Ohio State got me digging through the archives for others who have led their teams to championships, and I’ve come up with quite a list.
Some of these are split national championships from the days when polls picked the top team, but all of these earned at least a piece of a title.
• Saban – Seven national titles
• Fielding “Hurry-up” Yost – Six national titles at Michigan (1901, ’02, ’03. ’04, ’18 and ’23). Born in the Marion County town of Fairview, Yost graduated from WVU in 1896. He had head coaching stops shortly thereafter at Nebraska, Kansas, Stanford and San Jose State, but it’s Michigan (1901-23, 1925-26) where he developed one of college football’s early powerhouses with his “Point A Minute” Wolverines.
• John McKay – Four national titles as the head coach at USC (1962, ’67, ’72 and ’74). McKay was born in Everettville (Monongalia County), but he graduated from Shinnston High (Harrison County). After a stint in the Air Force during World War II, McKay enrolled at Purdue (1946) and then transferred to Oregon (1947-49) before he moved into coaching. His Trojans also produced two Heisman Trophy winners – Mike Garrett in 1965 and O.J. Simpson in 1968
• Lou Holtz – Two national titles (1977 with Arkansas and 1988 with Notre Dame). Holtz was born in the Northern Panhandle town of Folansbee, West Virginia (Brooke County), though he grew up on the other side of the Ohio River in East Liverpool, Ohio.
• Jimbo Fisher – One national title at Florida State (2013). The 55-year-old Fisher is a native of Clarksburg (Harrison County) and 1989 graduate of Salem (W. Va.) University. He spent eight seasons at the head coach of Florida State (2010-17) and now is in his third year as the head coach of Texas A&M.
• Terry Bowden – One national title at Auburn (1993). The son of Bobby Bowden, Terry was born in Douglas, Georgia, while his dad was coaching at South Georgia State College, but the family moved to Morgantown (Monongalia County) when Terry was 10 when Bobby became a member of West Virginia’s staff. Terry remained in Morgantown through high school and college, graduating from WVU in 1978 and then starting on his own coaching path. That included a successful stint as the head coach of Auburn (1993-98), where he won a piece of the ’93 national title. Terry Bowden recently was hired as the head coach at Louisiana-Monroe.
• Ben Schwartzwalder – One national title at Syracuse (1959). Born in Point Pleasant (Mason County) and raised in Huntington (Cabell County), Schwartzwalder got into coaching shortly after graduating from WVU in 1933. He spent time as a high school coach (Sistersville in 1935, Parkersburg High from 1936-40 and Canton McKinley (Ohio) in 1941) before he became a member of the U.S. Army during World War II. After his time in service, he landed the head coaching job at Muhlenberg College (1946-48) and then moved on to Syracuse (1939-73). With teams that featured some of the best running backs of the era, including 1959 Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis, who spent many of his early years in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Schwatzwalder was one of the most successful college coaches of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
• Earle “Greasy” Neale – One national title at Washington & Jefferson (1921). Born in Parkersburg (Wood County) in 1891, Neale was a great athlete himself. He played eight years in Major League Baseball, including helping the Cincinnati Reds to the 1919 World Series crown over the Chicago White Sox, where he was on the innocent side of the infamous Black Sox scandal. He also played three seasons of pro football (1917-19) right before the NFL was formed in 1920. He then got into coaching, and one of his early jobs was leading Washington & Jefferson. He took the Prexies to the 1921 Rose Bowl, where they played California to a 0-0 tie, and W&J’s 10-0-1 record earned it a piece of the national title. Neale’s other coaching stops included WVU (1931-33 where he had a 12-16-3 record). His next head coaching opportunity came in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles (1941-50), where he helped Philly win two titles at the professional level (1948 & ’49). He’s a member of both the College and Pro Football halls of fame.
• Speaking of the NFL, Joe Stydahar also was the head coach in the pro ranks from 1950-54. During that time he led his L.A. Rams to the 1951 NFL championship. An All-American lineman at WVU (1932-35) and then a member of the Chicago Bears (1936-42, 1945-46), Stydahar was born in Kaylor, Pennsylvania, but moved to Shinnston (Harrison County) when he was young. He graduated from Shinnston High in 1931 before heading up the road to WVU.
• Bob Pruett – One FCS/I-AA national championship while at Marshall (1996). A native of Beckley (Raleigh Country), Pruett played for Marshall (1961-64) and returned to serve as the Thundering Herd’s head coach from 1996-2004. His first Marshall squad, featuring the likes of Randy Moss and Chad Pennington, went 15-0 and earned the I-AA title. Pruett’s Herd moved up to the I-A level the next year and continued to have success as a member of the Mid-American Conference.
• Ace Mumford – Six HBCU national championships – 1935 at Texas College and 1948, ’49, ’50, ’54 and ’60 at Southern. One of the great football coaches produced by the state of West Virginia, Mumford’s is a story few know because he was Black and coached at predominately Black colleges during the time of segregation. Born in Buckhannon (Upshur County) in 1898, Mumford moved to Parkersburg at the age of seven so he could obtain an education, because at the time Upshur County didn’t have schools for Black children. He attended Sumner School in Parkersburg (Wood County), which was one of the first free schools for black youths below the Mason-Dixon Line, having been established in 1862. After graduating from Sumner, and then Wilberforce College in Ohio, Mumford got into coaching, spending time at Jarvis Christian (1924-26), Bishop (1927-29), Texas College (1931-35) and then Southern (1936-61). His Jaguars of Southern also won 11 Southwest Athletic Conference titles. Just for good measure, he led Southern to the 1941 black college national championship in basketball as well. Mumford, who died in 1962, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001.
• Deacon Duvall – One NAIA national championship at Fairmont State College (1967). Born in Fairmont (Marion County) in 1917, Duvall was the football coach for the Fighting Falcons from 1952-71. His 1967 FSC squad defeated Eastern Washington, 28-21, in the NAIA championship game, which was played at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown.
So add all that up, and college coaches whose roots started out in the state of West Virginia have amassed 23 Division I national championships, one in I-AA, one in NAIA, six at the HBCU level and three in the NFL, giving Mountain State natives a total of 34 national championships.
Of those, six – Yost, Schwartzwalder, Stydahar, Neale, Bowden and Saban – spent time at WVU either as a player or a coach.
Saban is the best known of the coaches from West Virginia, but he’s not the only one with a championship ring. He does have the most, though.