Cignetti gets call to Hall of Fame

[cleeng_content id="537169166" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]INDIANA, Pa. — Which West Virginia University head football coach had Nick Saban on his staff? Which WVU head football coach was once Bobby Bowden’s offensive coordinator when the folksy little motivator was in Morgantown? Who was the WVU head man when quarterback Oliver Luck was a starter in 1978 and 1979? Who was West Virginia’s last coach playing his home games at dumpy old Mountaineer Field on the banks of the Monongahela River?

Frank Cignetti, who coached WVU football for four years, was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame earlier this year.

Frank Cignetti, who coached WVU football for four years, was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame earlier this year.

“Frank Cignetti” is the correct answer to those four questions.

The Frank Cignetti who coached four seasons as the head man in Morgantown. Coached the last two years while being treated for a rare cancer and with too little monetary support. Coached and recruited against highly ranked Eastern teams from Penn State and Pittsburgh and even Jerry Claiborne’s Maryland teams. Went on the road to face Oklahoma, Arizona State and California, with no return games from any of them.

A new 60,000 seat stadium was coming for the 1980 season. Improved recruiting tools were coming. More outside money was coming. More money from the athletic department budget was coming.

But Cignetti was going.

His four-year record was 17-27. He never had a winning season, even with Luck as one of his quarterbacks.

Cignetti was dismissed and Don Nehlen was baptized at the same time new Mountaineer Field was opened in 1980.

There were no excuses offered, no blame cast into the air to land on others. In fact, Cignetti remained a paid university employee in the athletic department for two more years.

And then Cignetti’s alma mater asked him to come in and coach its football team.

Healthy again, he returned in 1986 to Indiana University of Pennsylvania, an NCAA Division II school where he had been an All-America player.

In his first year back at the western Pennsylvania school, the Indians went 9-2. Now, 9-2 is a record to be proud of, but Cignetti’s winning reign was just beginning.

In his first eight seasons back at Indiana, his overall record was 83-14-1. Indiana was selected to the NCAA Division II playoffs in those last seven seasons. And the 1990 and 1993 teams both reached the division’s national championship game where they lost.

By the completion of the 2000 season, two of his sons were involved in coaching. Today, Frank Cignetti Jr. is an assistant coach in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams and Curt Cignetti is the current head coach at Indiana, where the elder Cignetti retired at age 67 after the 2005 season.

Frank Cignetti Sr. retired after 20 seasons with the Indians (now claiming Crimson Hawks as the mascot). His record at the school he graduated from was 182-50-1. He has the most coaching wins in the school’s football history.

His Indiana teams played in 28 playoff games. Those teams were awarded 10 Lambert-Meadowlands trophies, symbols of the best Division II team in the East. His Indians actually won 14 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division titles and were twice crowned (1986 and 1987) conference champions.

In the spring of this year, Coach Cignetti was selected in a 2013 class of seven to join the Divisional Class of the College Football Hall of Fame.

The Divisional Class of the College Football of Fame selects to its hall players and coaches who were active below the NCAA Division I level.

Cignetti went in with players Art Shell (Maryland-Eastern Shore), Shelby Jordan (Washington, Mo.), Joe Micchia (Westminster, Pa.) and Jeff Wittman (Ithaca). The other two coaches being selected were “Boots” Donnelly (Austin Peay and Middle Tennessee State) and Jess Dow (Southern Connecticut State).

Some coaches who win so often and are so successful are not popular figures. But Coach Cignetti was always humble and appreciative of what his assistants contributed and his players achieved. People knew of his winning fight against cancer and return from being fired at WVU to accomplish so much at Indiana.

Nice guys don’t always finish last.

Some of the quiet ones with personalities that aren’t completely focused on themselves go about winning .813 percent of their regular season games and getting voted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

And some are smart enough to hire Alabama’s Nick Saban to be a young coach on their staff.[/cleeng_content]

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