The folks over at CBS Sports have been putting together a Mount Rushmore for some of college football’s most historic programs, and we got tired of waiting around to see if the West Virginia Mountaineers made their list. Which, of course, the Mountaineers should make the cut. The program is 20th in all-time wins with 727 wins, ahead of Virginia Tech and Pitt. They have had 81 winning seasons in the program’s 125 years of existence, and have won 15 conference championships. West Virginia is the winningest program to have never won a National Championship, but hopefully that changes sometime in the near future.
With that said, it is no easy task to look at the entire history of West Virginia football and choose the four most deserving Mountaineers to be enshrined on the side of a mountain somewhere. How does one even determine who is most deserving? Would you base it off pure statistics, or would you go with who made the most impact on the program regardless of how their numbers compared to other players? Are we including coaches? Does the player have to have made an impact on a professional level to be considered? The number of possible criteria is endless, and it would no doubt tear the West Virginia fanbase apart if everyone didn't agree with who was selected.
And that's exactly why I've done what I did. Without further ado...
West Virginia Football’s Mountaineer Rushmore
Tavon Austin, wide receiver, 2009-2012
Tavon Austin may be the the greatest athlete to ever put on the old gold and blue. Austin came to Morgantown as a running back from Baltimore, MD, where he was named a two-time consensus offensive player of the year and rewrote Maryland high school record books.
Austin converted to a wide receiver upon arrival at West Virginia and flourished, but that may actually be more the fact that Tavon is just a freak of nature and can do literally anything you ask him to. Austin racked up 6,853 all-purpose yards and 39 touchdowns in his career as a Mountaineer, and became the highest drafted offensive player from WVU since 1966 when running back Dick Leftridge was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Paul Hornung Award (2012), Jet Award (2012), First-team All-Big 12 (2012), First-team All-American (2011 & 2012), First-team All-Big East (2011), Big East Special Teams Player of the Year (2011)
Sam Huff, guard, 1952-1955
Sam Huff is the embodiment of Mountaineer football. Sam grew up in a coal mining camp in Farmington, WV, where he lead his high school football team to an undefeated season in 1951, and earned all-state honors in 1952.
Huff came to West Virginia University and played his first two years as an offensive guard, and finished out his college career as a tackle. Huff helped the Mountaineers go 31-7 and earn a berth in the 1954 Sugar Bowl in his four years in Morgantown. Huff was drafted by the New York Giants in 1956, and it wasn’t until defensive coordinator Tom Landry developed the new 4-3 defensive scheme that Huff found his fit in the NFL.
Huff played in the NFL for 13 years, and is considered one of the league’s greatest players. Sam was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1982, and is one of only two Mountaineers to ever have their number retired by the university.
All-American (1955), Academic All-American (1955), Five-time NFL Pro Bowler (1958-1961, 1964), Four-time First-team All-Pro (1957-1960), NFL champion (1956), Washington Redskins Ring of Fame
Pat White, quarterback, 2005-2008
You couldn’t have a Mountaineer Rushmore without Pat White. White was West Virginia football through the mid-2000s.
White came to West Virginia from Daphne, AL after Mountaineer head coach Rich Rodriguez promised him a chance to play quarterback, something none of the other programs recruiting him (LSU, Auburn and Mississippi State, among others) would do.
White began his career, as a redshirt Freshman, as a co-starter at QB beside Adam Bednarik. It wasn’t until the notorious 2005 Louisville game, where Bednarik went down with an injury, when White would take over as the starting quarterback and never look back.
White went on to lead West Virginia to a 35-8 record as the starting quarterback, and became the first quarterback to ever start and win four consecutive bowl games. Pat is sixth in the NCAA in most career wins as a starting quarterback, and is second in career rushing yards by a quarterback.
Freshman All-American (2005), First-team All-Big East (2006-2008), Gator Bowl MVP (2006), Big East Offensive Player of the Year (2007), Fiesta Bowl MVP (2007), Meineke Car Care Bowl MVP (2008), Senior Bowl MVP (2009), Two-time Davey O’Brien Award semifinalist (2006 & 2007), Walter Camp Award semifinalist (2007)
Don Nehlen, head coach, 1980-2000
Don Nehlen came to West Virginia from the University of Michigan, where he served as quarterbacks coach under Bo Schembechler, and became the longest tenured and winningest head coach in Mountaineer history.
Nehlen took over after Frank Cignetti Sr. was fired after four losing seasons, and set out to make the West Virginia Mountaineers a national brand. Nehlen wanted to wash the stink that was left on the program following Bobby Bowden’s departure and the losing seasons that followed it, and his first act was to give the Mountaineer program an extreme makeover.
With the Mountaineers made over, Nehlen began to rebuild the program and in 1988, with Major Harris under center, he lead West Virginia to their first undefeated season under his watch and a Fiesta Bowl matchup with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for the National Championship. The Mountaineers would come up short, after Major Harris was injured on the third play of the game, losing to the Irish 34-21.
Nehlen retired from coaching in 2000 with a 202-128-8 all-time record as head coach, and a 149-93-4 record at West Virginia. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005, and is still very much a part of the Mountaineer football program to this day.
Big East Championship (1993), Walter Camp Coach of the Year (1988), Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year (1988), AFCA Coach of the Year (1988), Big East Coach of the Year (1993), Kodak Coach of the Year (1993), Woody Hayes Trophy (1993)
Next Four In:
Major Harris, Chuck Howley, Darryl Talley and Ira Errett Rodgers
Joe Stydahar, Jeff Hostetler, Oliver Luck, Rich Rodriguez, Avon Cobourne, Amos Zeroue, Marc Bulger, Steve Slaton, Owen Schmitt, Noel Devine, Geno Smith, Bruce Irvin, Kevin White, and Karl Joseph