Time To Hand Out Some Blue & Gold-Wrapped Christmas Presents
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, December is a time of holidays and traditions.
Typically wedged in between these celebrations is a bowl game.
Per my duties covering Mountaineer athletics, I’ve attended 24 bowl games since we started the Blue & Gold News in 1988.
I’ve been on the road during Christmas or New Year’s for most of those, but this year, for just the second time in the past 18 Decembers, I’ve got nowhere to go – the Mountaineer football team (and those of us who cover it) is home for the holidays.
It feels odd not having to make travel plans and pack, but such is the way West Virginia’ football season played out.
The lull did give me some time to think of some holiday gifts for the few prominent Mountaineers on my list this year.
To Neal Brown – Luggage. Hopefully Neal and his family have many happy years ahead of them in West Virginia, but here’s hoping they have a huge need in coming years for luggage for all their future bowl travels. WVU had some growing pains in Brown’s first season leading the Mountaineers, and thus falling short of a bowl game this year wasn’t really an unexpected disappointment. The hope is the Brown family is not in Morgantown during the holidays in the future, as it will be spending its holidays at a bowl site on an annual basis.
To Bob Huggins – An isolation chamber to provide patience. This year’s WVU men’s basketball team certainly isn’t perfect, far from it. But after last season’s 15-21 implosion, the 2019-20 edition is a breath of fresh air. It doesn’t always shoot straight, and it can make more than its share of silly mistakes, but unlike the group that was on the floor for the first three-quarters of the season last season, this year’s club plays hard and displays a good attitude. As long as it maintains those two traits, it has the talent with which Huggins can mold into a productive unit. It may take a while, but eventually The Bear will get them all headed in the same direction … if his head doesn’t explode first from all the miscues.
To Shane Lyons – A smart board. As chairman of the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee, Lyons leads the group of college administrators who establish a variety of rules for the game, both on and off the field. The transfer portal and the four-game redshirt rule are two issues that have generated a lot of discussion as of late, and Lyons is going to need a smart board (for those whose spouses aren’t teachers, a smart board is basically an electronic chalkboard) to put all his ideas in front of his committee. WVU’s director of athletics has brought up the proposal of changing the redshirt rule, allowing only first-year football players (be they true freshmen or incoming junior college players) to be eligible for the four-game redshirt. As it is now, a number of upperclassmen are using it, often leaving their team in the lurch in midseason to not only preserve their redshirts but then to transfer to another school. Lyons would like to keep the four-game redshirt rule but put some restraints on it, so fewer veterans will bail on their team in midstream.
To Mike Carey – A trash can. Thus he would have some place to throw away all the unused knee braces for his Mountaineer women’s basketball team, which has used so many over the years. In his 19 seasons as WVU’s head coach, Carey has seen more than his share of injuries rip the heart – and depth – out of many teams. This year’s squad currently has more depth than most past versions, often going 10 deep. But Carey does have some who are indispensable, especially Kysre Gondrezick, Tynice Martin and Kari Niblack. If this club stays health, this may be the season Carey achieves the one thing his otherwise impressive coaching resume lacks – advancement past the second round of the NCAA Tournament (0 for 12).
To Randy Mazey – A key to Huggins’ house so he can borrow the Bear’s isolation chamber to provide calm and patience of his own. After a historic Mountaineer baseball season last spring (38-22 and earning the opportunity to host an NCAA regional), graduation and the MLB Draft stripped Mazey’s roster. WVU does return four starting position players, but out of the eight Mountaineers who batted over .225 last year, only two return – Tyler Doanes and Paul McIntosh. West Virginia’s pitching took an even bigger hit. Alek Manoah, Nick Snyder, Sam Kessler and Kade Strowd are all gone, leaving Jackson Wolfe (13 starts) and Ryan Bergert (two starts) as the only returning pitchers who started a game last spring. There are a whole lot of new faces who will have to replace last year’s stars, and with such turnover comes the need for a great deal of coaching patience.