It was a cold December night in 1999 when Coach Don Nehlen walked off the field after defeating Ole Miss in the Music City Bowl, snapping an eight-game bowl losing streak and placing the once on the rise Mountaineer Program in hands of Rich Rodriguez.
The program was definitely headed to the outhouse once again, and Coach Nehlen was ready to walk into retirement and the College Hall of Fame.
West Virginia was not in the abyss he found it in in 1980, when Nehlen left as an assistant coach at Michigan and took the head job at West Virginia, but it certainly was not anywhere near the penthouse it found itself in just six years prior, playing Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
In 2001 the program hit rock bottom, finishing 3-8 and seemingly headed towards a long recovery back to respectability. Then in 2002 Rich Rodriguez restored pride to his alma mater with a 9-4 record overall and a 6-1 record in the Big East Conference in what would be just the beginning.
In 2003 Coach Rod directed the Mountaineers to the first of three straight conference championships, culminating with a perfect 7-0 conference record and a stunning upset of Georgia in the Nokia Sugar Bowl and the key to the penthouse.
A long-term lease looked to be theirs for the taking when the Mountaineers were only one game away from playing for the BCS National Championship, but the Pitt Panthers burned the lease on a cold December night in 2007 and began what has now become a free fall into the outhouse.
The 2008 year began with a lot of uncertainty with Rich Rodriguez leaving WVU for Michigan just a couple weeks after the Pitt game in what would become a bitter parting with both sides looking very bad. The team, however, had a game to prepare for since they were conference champions, which brought a Fiesta Bowl bid their way.
Every so-called expert said that there was no way WVU would be able to stay with, much less defeat, Oklahoma, who was embarrassed in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl by an overtime loss to non-BCS Boise State.
Assistant coach Bill Stewart was named interim head coach and managed to do what six other interim coaches could not do: win their bowl game. In convincing fashion the Mountaineers simply put a woodshed beating on OU, and in a moment of euphoria Bill Stewart was offered the head coaching job at West Virginia.
With eight returning starters on offense, including two-time BE Offensive Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy Candidate Pat White, the entire offensive line, and gamebreakers Jock Sanders and Noel Devine, all looked bright in Morgantown.
The possibility of an undefeated season was talked about, a shot at that crystal ball, and even more respect than before now that Rich Rod's ego was out of the way seemed to be on the horizon.
Then came the unthinkable: a horrible loss at East Carolina followed by a loss at Colorado, and suddenly the elevator was headed down, down, down.
The once dominant offense now was sputtering like a Model A badly in need of a tune-up, and the dominant defense was finding it harder and harder to stop teams until they had eaten up most of the time of possession.
Forty-three consecutive weeks in the top 25 were now snapped, and a fourth consecutive 11-win season now hangs in the balance. All that respect that was earned is now a thing of the past.
Even with wins against Marshall and Syracuse, the once proud program would not be able to regain some of that respect but instead add fuel to the non-respect fire.
Now with the announcement of Taj Boyd withdrawing his commitment to WVU following Terrelle Pryor jumping ship and heading to Ohio State, along with Victor Anderson going on to Louisville and becoming a star this fall, the fire continues to grow and grow. How many more will leave that have given verbals or will even look at WVU now is hard to say.
One thing I do know is that the elevator can only stop at the outhouse in the direction it is headed. I hope those in charge change something before that happens, because as we saw from 1976 to 1979, it takes a long time to get to and stay near that penthouse.
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