Throughout the 125 plus years of Mountaineer football, there have been many greats to suit up for the old gold and blue. The list of elite players could go on forever, but there are only a handful who cemented themselves as legends.
Of course there will be debate as to who should and shouldn’t be a part of the Mt. Rushmore of WVU Football. That’s exactly what we want. We want you to send us your thoughts. After days of careful consideration here is my choice for the four faces of Mountaineer football:
Head Coach: Don Nehlen (1980-2000)
A coach being on this list may surprise some, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone as to why he’s on the list. I was originally going to go with all players, but this man had such an impact on WVU Football that I didn’t have the heart to leave him off this list.
In his 20 years as the Mountaineer head coach he totaled a record of 149-93-4 (.614) which also includes the only two undefeated regular seasons in the programs history. In 1988, he led the Mountaineers to the national championship game vs Notre Dame which the team would end up losing 34-21. West Virginia starting quarterback Major Harris was injured on the first series of the game and never returned. Much of the West Virginia faithful believe had Harris been healthy the Mountaineers would have won the title. Former running back and teammate of Harris, Eugene Napoleon told me, “There’s no doubt we would have won that game. Major was worth 21 points himself. You could guarantee he was going to finish each game with two passing touchdowns and then run for one.”
Nehlen also coached the Mountaineers to a perfect regular season record in 1993, but was snubbed of playing for the national title and instead played Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
Along with Nehlen’s many accomplishments on the field he also helped re-create the schools logo, which is known today as the, “Flying WV”. His fingerprints are all over this program and who knows where the program would be today had he never been hired as head coach in 1980.
Darryl Talley- Linebacker (1979-1982)
The only defensive player on this list and also the player with the most success in the NFL. Talley had a solid freshman campaign collecting 83 tackles and 4 tackles for loss, which for most players is a phenomenal season, but not for him. He had a “true” breakout season in 1980 with 127 tackles which started a string of three straight years of 100+ tackles (127, 139, 145).
The schools all-time leading tackler (484 tackles) was the leader of what is considered to be some of the best defenses in program history. Talley rarely missed tackles and constantly created plays for the West Virginia defense.
Talley was selected in the 2nd round, 39th overall in the 1983 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. In his 12 years in the NFL, he totaled 1,190 tackles, 38.5 sacks, 14 fumble recoveries and 12 interceptions. He was a two-time Pro Bowler and was named First Team All-Pro in 1990 and again in 1993.
Major Harris- Quarterback (1987-1989)
What many consider the greatest player in West Virginia football history, Major Harris was a staple of Mountaineer football.
His ability to run the ball kept defenses honest, but he could also torch you in the air for a big play as well. I describe him as a player that was way ahead of his years. The late 80’s consisted of a lot of under-center, power run game football, Harris had other plans. He was what you would typically see today in a spread offense.
He finished with 5,119 career passing yards, 2,058 career rushing yards and 59 total touchdowns. Following the 1989 season, he was invited to New York City as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy where he finished 3rd in the voting.
Pat White- Quarterback (2005-08)
The modern day Major Harris. Pat White finished his career as the only quarterback in college football history to hold a 4-0 record in bowl games.
During his time as a Mountaineer he would tally 6,049 career passing yards, 4,480 career rushing yards and 103 total touchdowns. White holds the NCAA record for most career rushing yards by a quarterback. Former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson broke that record when he was switched to running back, so the NCAA corrected it which gives White the record back.
White was an unstoppable force at the helm of the Mountaineers. When a play seemed to be busted from the beginning, he would somehow find a way to make something out of nothing. One of the most elusive and dynamic quarterbacks the college game has ever seen. After a near 15 year hiatus, he too, put West Virginia back into the national spotlight.
Many fans are vying for the university to retire his No.5 jersey and they have every right to think so. A truly special player Mountaineer Nation was blessed to see come through Morgantown.
Whether these four made your Mt. Rushmore or not, I think we can all agree that the four listed above had a huge impact on Mountaineer football. Share your thoughts with us! Do you feel someone got snubbed or someone was more deserving than one of the four listed? Let us know and we will discuss the topic next Monday on the Between the Eers podcast.
Sam Huff- Linebacker (1951-55)
Chuck Howley- Linebacker (1955-57)
Aaron Beasley- Cornerback (1992-95)
Avon Cobourne- running back (1999-2002)
Dan Mozes- Center (2003-06)