CHARLESTON -- Last week, while talking with a couple of former coaches in the state, I made the comment, "Don't be surprised if former WVU football coach Frank Cignetti is someday inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame."That may sound strange to some who follow college football in our state. After all, Cignetti was the head coach at WVU from 1976-79 and compiled only a record of 17-27. But the record does not tell the whole story. Cignetti's job was not an easy one. Facilities at WVU at that time were poor. Penn State and Pitt were at the height of their success and they and other eastern schools had major recruiting advantages over the Mountaineers.Cignetti's staff featured outstanding assistant coaches such as Rick Trickett, Joe Pendry, Gary Stevens, Tommy Bowden and current Alabama head coach Nick Saban. This staff recruited many Mountaineers who eventually helped Don Nehlen usher in a new stadium and a new era of WVU football. Among them were Oliver Luck, Walter Easley, Dennis Fowlkes, Mark Raugh, Robert Alexander and Darryl Talley.
It was after leaving WVU that Cignetti had Hall of Fame-caliber success. He went to Indiana University of Pennsylvania as director of athletics and got back into coaching when he took over the IUP program after George Chaump left for the job at Marshall.Cignetti coached at the Division II level for 20 years and had an amazing record of 182-50. He made the NCAA playoffs 13 times and played in the national championship game in 1990 and 1993. His appearance in 28 postseason games and was an NCAA Division II record. His 15 playoff wins ranked him second when he retired in 2005. His teams won the Lambert Trophy 10 times. Those, my friends, are Hall of Fame credentials. Cignetti also won a courageous battle with cancer. He is proof that bumps in the road do not have to mean the end of your career. He may not have won on the field at WVU, but he did a good job with the program in many other ways.He went on to become one of the most respected coaches in western Pennsylvania and the country, and the College Football Hall of Fame may call some day. nn
Speaking of Hall of Famers, West Virginia Wesleyan recently inducted Stan Blankenship into its Athletic Hall of Fame.Blankenship was a 1968 graduate of Nicholas County High School and was an outstanding multi-sport athlete. In track and cross country, he and Huntington's Wilson Smith were two of the top distance runners in the state at that time. Smith went on to win an NCAA championship running at Villanova as a teammate of Marty Liquori.At Wesleyan, Blankenship earned an amazing 13 letters from 1968-73. He earned four in track, four in cross-country, four in basketball and one in football for the Bobcats. Has any other college athlete in our state earned 13 letters at one of our state colleges or universities? I'm not sure, but it is a good question. After graduation, Blankenship went on to a long career in teaching and coaching girls basketball at John Marshall High School in Moundsville. According to a Wesleyan press release, he is our state's all-time leader in basketball coaching victories. Reach Frank Giardina at email@example.com.