The Backyard Brawl is ‘where the beast lives’ for Pitt, WVU

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH — Pat Bostick‘s official title at the University of Pittsburgh is “Senior Associate Athletic Director of Development, Major Gifts.”

There’s an unofficial title that pops up fairly regularly for the quarterback who helped the Panthers pull off one of college football’s greatest upsets of the 21st century.

“I joke sometimes people think when they see my face they think of a score before they think of my name,” Bostick said with a laugh.

That’s because across a significant stretch of the Appalachians and western Pennsylvania foothills, “13-9” lives on forever.

Pitt’s stunner over West Virginia in 2007 deflated a stadium, derailed a season, and redefined a rivalry, one that will be renewed for the first time in more than 10 years on when the 17th-ranked Panthers host the Mountaineers in the return of “The Backyard Brawl.”

Well over a decade removed from that cold December night in Morgantown, West Virginia, the details remain fresh in Bostick’s mind.

The way Pitt’s bus swayed as West Virginia fans pushed against it as it made its way to Milan-Puskar Stadium. The sound of something heavy – a battery maybe, Bostick thinks – smacking against the bus’s frame over and over again. The way running back LeSean McCoy stood up and challenged his teammates to make the impossible possible.

“It was supposed to be a coronation (for West Virginia),” Bostick said. “That team was really, really good.”

It was. Just not on Dec. 1, 2007. Bostick remembers the feeling of disbelief as the Panthers poured onto the field with the Mountaineers’ hopes of crashing the BCS title game gone, soon to be followed by head coach Rich Rodriguez, who bolted for Michigan shortly thereafter.

The renewal of the series after both teams left the Big East for more lucrative pastures – Pitt to the Atlantic Coast Conference, West Virginia to the Big 12 – has already produced a rare home sellout for the Panthers. It also required Bostick and others on both sides to spend the run-up serving as history professors of sorts. After all, the players who will participate in the 105th edition of the Brawl were in elementary school the last time Pitt and West Virginia shared the same field, a 21-20 victory by the Mountaineers in 2011.

“I absolutely do feel a responsibility to share,” Bostick said. “It’s the same responsibility that the seniors had when I was a freshman. I’m also going to encourage them to enjoy it.”

Maybe it’s because, as former Pitt running back LeSean McCoy put it, “nothing else matches up” to the Brawl.

“The rivalry is something special,” said McCoy, who ran for 148 yards during the 2007 win and later embarked on a 12-year NFL career.

A feeling embraced by all involved. For years former WVU linebacker Gary Stills tried to impart the significance of the Brawl to his son Dante, who admittedly didn’t particularly grasp it while growing up.

He does now. Maybe because the Mountaineers’ defensive lineman will find himself thrust into it for the first time.

“I wasn’t, like, locked in, because I’m a kid. I’m just playing around,” Dante Stills said. “I remember just people talking about it growing up as a kid: `We don’t like Pitt, we don’t like Pitt.’ But I’m a kid, so I’m like, `Why don’t you like Pitt?’ But now, I obviously know.”

At least he thinks he knows. His father isn’t so sure his son will understand the Brawl until he experiences it first-hand.

“That Backyard Brawl, that’s where the beast lives,” Gary Stills said. “I’m going to be excited to watch my son play with my number and with the bloodline still going.”

Pitt has been relying on more than folklore to get emotionally ready. Quarterback Kedon Slovis, who will get the start after transferring from USC over the winter, hinted the Panthers have been familiarizing themselves with “Country Roads,” the iconic John Denver song that doubles as West Virginia’s unofficial state anthem.

The anthem has made its way onto a playlist in Pitt’s weight room, a psychological ploy designed to offer a little extra motivation at the end of a workout.

This isn’t the first time during Pat Narduzzi‘s now eight-year tenure that the Panthers have revived a dormant series. Pitt and Penn State played annually from 2016-19. Nearly 70,000 crammed into what was then known as Heinz Field for the 2016 meeting, the biggest crowd to attend a Pittsburgh sporting event of any kind in the city’s history.

Narduzzi declined to offer specifics on what he’s learned about how to prepare for what awaits in front of a packed stadium and a national television audience against essentially a blood rival. Yet he’s well aware of the stakes.

“There’s a lot of hatred on their end – but there’s got to be a lot of hate on our end,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to in rivalry games.”

Even if the hate doesn’t come from history but from happenstance. Pitt linebacker SirVocea Dennis grew up in central New York, far outside the specter of the Brawl and doesn’t really know any of the current Mountaineers. That won’t matter once the ball is kicked off.

“Once we (put on) our jerseys and that Pitt script on our helmets,” Dennis said, “whoever they say we don’t like, we don’t like.”

Texas State hires Incarnate Word coach Kinne to lead Bobcats

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Texas State hired Incarnate Word coach G.J. Kinne on Friday to lead a Sun Belt program that has had only one winning season since moving up to the Bowl Subdivision in 2012.

The 34-year-old former Tulsa quarterback has made a fast rise in coaching since ending his professional career in 2017.

After three years as an offensive analyst at SMU, Arkansas and the Philadelphia Eagles, Kinne became offensive coordinator at Hawaii in 2020. He held the same role for UCF in 2021 before landing the head coaching job at FCS Incarnate Word this season.

Incarnate Word is 10-1 and averaging 53 points and 8.3 yards per play, both FCS highs, heading into its playoff game Saturday against Furman. Kinne will remain with Incarnate Word through their playoff run.

“It’s with great honor that I’m accepting the call to be next head football coach of the Texas State Bobcats,” Kinne said. “We are going to play fast, have relentless energy, and when the going gets tough, have the mental confidence to win tight games in the second half and represent the state of Texas. Eat ‘Em Up!”

Texas State fired Jake Spavital last week after the Bobcats won just 13 games in his four seasons.

Kinne signed a five-year contract, the school said. Terms were not immediately released.

“My goal was to hire someone with demonstrated leadership experience, success as a head coach, established relationships with Texas football coaches, and success with recruiting and developing players,” said Texas State President Kelly Damphousse. “I sought a leader with a plan to capitalize on our location in the heart of the best high school football in the country.”

Florida Atlantic hires Tom Herman as football coach

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BOCA RATON, Fla. – Former Texas and Houston head coach Tom Herman will take over at Florida Atlantic as it heads into its first season in the American Athletic Conference.

The hire comes just days after FAU fired Willie Taggart, who went 15-18 in his three seasons with the Owls. Details of the contract with Herman were not immediately available.

“We are incredibly excited to welcome Tom Herman to Paradise,” FAU Director of Athletics Brian White said Thursday. “Throughout the process and the more we talked with Coach Herman, the more it became apparent to me that he was the right person to lead our football program. Beyond his knowledge of the game, which is obvious by his success over the years, he also truly cares about the young people in his program.”

FAU’s final season in Conference USA ended with a 5-7 record and an overtime loss to Western Kentucky. The Owls will be in the American next season.

Herman returns to college football after spending the 2021 season with the Chicago Bears as an offensive analyst.

Herman was 22-4 at Houston, a mark that helped him land the head coaching job at Texas where he went 32-18 with four straight bowl trips in 2017-2020. He also was an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Ohio State during the Buckeyes’ 2014 national championship season, as well as stops at Iowa State, Rice and Texas State.

“All the pieces are in place at FAU for us to be successful,” Herman said. “There are already great young men on this team, great facilities, a great location, a great recruiting base and great leadership, all of which are important to building a successful program.”