You never know who you will see at The Greenbrier. It is a Who’s Who of sports in the state.
Among the sports figures that fans have seen at the tournament this week are WVU coaches Bob Huggins and Dana Holgorsen, former Mountaineer coach Rich Rodriguez, Virginia Tech head football coach Frank Beamer, and Marshal coaches Doc Holliday and Tom Herrion.
On Saturday, I bumped into a name from the past. Former Marshall and Kent State men’s track and cross country coach Rod O"Donnell was on the course with his wife, Cathy. Cathy is the senior women’s administrator at Kent State and they were following former Golden Flash golfer Ben Curtis around the course.
O’Donnell is in the Marshall Athletic Hall of Fame after coaching in Huntington from 1976-86. He then led the Kent State program to two MAC championships during his time there. He has also coached at Caldwell and Hudson High Schools in Ohio and is in the Ohio Association of Track and Field Coaches Hall of Fame.
While walking and visiting with O’Donnell, he was eager to talk about how much he misses his old friend, former WVU football coach Bill Stewart:
"I only worked with Stew officially for one year, back in 1980-81 at Marshall," said O’Donnell. "But he was the kind of guy that you remained in touch with forever. I followed his career every step of the way and was very excited when he led the Mountaineers to the Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma. I know how much it meant to him. No coach ever loved the state of West Virginia more than Bill.
I was back in Morgantown visiting a couple of years ago and just happened to stop by the football facilities building. Bill looked busy and was in the middle of a conversation with a state trooper. When he saw me he stopped what he was doing, smiled, came jogging over and said, ‘Rod O"Donnell’ is that you? Are you still coaching the pole vault?’ That was typical Bill, always friendly and always kidding.
"I was in Parkersburg visiting before I came to the Greenbrier and I felt the urge to go over to New Martinsville and pay my respects to Bill. I asked for directions to the cemetery, and once I was there I asked for directions to his grave. I felt like it was the least I could do. While there, I could not help but notice how simple Bill’s grave site was. There was no headstone, just a simple footstone. It was a far cry from the picture of him holding up that Fiesta Bowl Trophy after beating Oklahoma. It was a reminder to me that no matter what we accomplish in life, we all go out the same, really with nothing. I felt like it was Bill teaching me another coaching life lesson, just like he did with his players for so many years."