Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 22, 2013

12 years at WVU ‘special time’ in Cignetti’s life

By MICKEY FURFARI
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

MORGANTOWN — Frank Cignetti, who worked a dozen years in West Virginia University’s athletic department from 1970-82, and his wife returned to the campus last weekend for the homecoming football game against Texas Tech.

“While I’m not a graduate of WVU, I’ve remained close to this institution because the years I spent here were a special time in my life,” he explained.

“The five years I worked with Bobby Bowden (as assistant football coach) was special to me. I learned a lot besides football from him. We talked about the intangibles and about life in general.”

Cignetti called the National Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame legend “a great man of faith and great family man, and a great coach.”

When Bowden left after the 1975 season, Cignetti was elevated to the head football coaching position. But he had to resign from coaching after the 1979 season, turning the reins over to Don Nehlen in 1980.

Cignetti faced life-threating health issues in 1978-79, but filled administrative roles in the football program before leaving in June 1982.

Then he returned to Indiana University of Pennsylvania, his alma mater.

It was there that Cignetti became a legend as both athletic director and head football coach from 1983- 2005. He’s now a member of the College Football Hall of Fame for NCAA Division II and other similar shrines.

“I’m down to my high school weight of 180, and I’m working out every day,” he said with a smile. “But the thing I really miss is conversing with fellow coaches and players when you’re no longer in the profession. I miss the relationship with the people.”

Two weeks ago, IUP brought back members of Cignetti’s national championship team and that was a special treat for him.

While he and his strong coaching staff at WVU didn’t win many games, they totally rebuilt a squad loaded with freshman and sophomores.

“We were looking to the future knowing others would be coaching those guys,” Cignetti remembers.

At least two of those recruits, quarterback Oliver Luck and linebacker Darryl Talley, are in the WVU Sports Hall of Fame now.

Cignetti, who just turned 76, said he learned more from Bobby Bowden when an assistant “from anyone I was ever around.” He added, “I’m also very, very thankful for the medical care I received here in West Virginia.”

He recalled that Dr. Joe Renn was his primary physician while in Morgantown and that Drs. Andrew Heiskell and Roger King were his surgeons at Monongalia General Hospital.

In the last of Cignetti’s three operations, his spleen was removed.

Cignetti was a smashing success at IUP until 2005 when he retired. His football teams posted a record of 182-50-1 for 20 years.

That’s an average of 9.1 wins per season.

His teams reached the NCAA Division II national playoffs 16 times.