I'm not what anyone would describe as voracious or avid reader, but I will pick up a couple of books a year to work through. That said, I initially read the foreword by Mike Patrick, the preface, introduction (get the book started already) and first chapter of Waiting for the Fall by Mike Casazza, last week while on vacation before a family outing. The next time I picked the book up on the following afternoon, I didn't put it down until I had read it all that night. I couldn't put it down. I've never done that.
This is a book that thoroughly covers the multitude of strange happenings that have surrounded our beloved football team from Don Nehlen's retirement, through the Rodriguez and Stewart years, to where WVU stands now, a proud new member of the Big 12 under the leadership of Athletic Director Oliver Luck and Head Coach Dana Holgorsen. And boy...what a long, strange trip it's been.
From his beat writer point of view, Casazza takes us on a journey reliving some past glories and a few absolute nightmares. The title is a nod to the WVU fanbase, not just waiting for autumn and a new football season to arrive, but waiting for the fall, as in "this is too good to continue, when is the next bad thing going to hit us in the forehead with a brick?"
Mike, you know us too well.
As someone who has always followed the Mountaineers, but never avidly online until after "that game" in 2007, the chronicle of Rodriguez's rise and subsequent departure was especially interesting to me. He takes us through the rough first year, through the turning point of the Miami loss (see Wilson, Quincy) and the emergence of the Pat White, Steve Slaton & Owen Schmitt triumvirate in the Louisville game. Also mixed in was the questionable handling of Chris Henry and the disappointing 2004 season. The flirtations with other programs, especially Alabama, are also explored in depth, showing how Rodriguez leveraged everything he could until the crushing end to the 2007 season and how he finally left for Michigan.
My favorite chapter of the book is Breaks. It chronicles 27 very specific outcomes in the 2007 season which WVU needed every one of them to happen (collectively, highly improbable) in order to make it to the BCS National Championship game following the loss to South Florida. Reading through these, I remembered them all happening and when they did, thinking "maybe, just maybe, this CAN happen." I even found myself getting anxious all over again at the possibility. Any guesses as to how many happened?
I mentioned nightmares, right? Yeah, of course. IT is in there.
Casazza also does his best to refute the common notion that the hiring of Stewart was done in a drunken stupor by a few powerful individuals. He even quotes former WVU President Garrison as one who was reluctant to make the hire so quickly, yet, as we all know, eventually caved to the pressure that morning.
Stew's pressers are covered in great detail in this book. As strange as they seemed to be to the fans, taken one week at a time, reading about many of them from a beat writer's perspective in this book gives a whole new spin on things. The Smoking Musket even gets a credit during this section of the book (THANKS MIKE!!). You'll have to read it for the details. I don't want to completely spoil it for you.
Oliver Luck's hiring and Stew's subsequent increasingly self-preserving behavior can be uncomfortable to read, especially covering what happened after the Holgorsen decision had been made. Yes, Coach Holgorsen's roller-coaster ride during his first 8 months or so at WVU are explained with new details. The resulting "Stewmageddon" we all witnessed is another one of those nightmares.
While the 2011 season, the Big 12 move and Orange Bowl victory are covered in the last chapter and epilogue, there are a lot more details surrounding those that need to be explored. As luck would have it, I have it on good authority that there will be a follow up, perhaps an updated edition of Waiting for the Fall that is expected to shed some more light on the conference shake up and maybe a few other details.
If you live and die by what happens to WVU football like I do, or if you just want an insider's view of the last decade's craziness, then this book is an absolute MUST read. I'll leave you with this quote from the preface:
"Are we about to revisit some bad times? Yes. That's not the goal, though. The point is to remember where you've been because when you get to where you want to go, it will be as unbelievable as it will be satisfying."
I think we WVU fans all know where we want to go, but until then, we're all just Waiting for the Fall.