Hoppy Kercheval, Opinion

Josh Eilert: A true Mountaineer

Years from now, a young Mountaineer fan will be thumbing through the WVU basketball media guide and notice the nine wins and 23 losses in the 2023-24 season. That youngster will wonder what went wrong.

Hopefully, a long-time fan will be around to tell the full story, and it will take a while. No need to repeat all those challenges here. Mountaineer Nation loyalists know them well.

The logical follow-up question by the young fan will be whether Josh Eilert was a bad coach. If the aging fan remembers the year accurately, they will answer that, in fact, he was a great coach.

For some, that will be impossible to reconcile. However, this season will best be remembered for how Eilert and his staff conducted themselves while trying to manage the unmanageable and scratch out wins in the toughest league in the country.

Eilert had plenty of opportunities to gripe and whine about, well, everything; getting a late start with the team, the transfers, the eligibility issues of key players, the injury to Jesse Edwards, the lurking presence of a Hall of Fame coach who wanted his job back.

But Eilert never complained. Whatever frustrations he had — and there must have been many — he kept them inside the program and did not vent publicly. In doing so, he demonstrated the valued qualities of a true Mountaineers: strength, wisdom, perseverance, stoicism, personal responsibility.

As the late WVU football Coach Bill Stewart said of his career, “All my life I have been in tough situations,” Stewart said. “You jut your jaw, you bow your back, you shut your mouth and you go play as hard as you can play.”

That is what Eilert did.

In a message to fans, Eilert continued to take the high road while expressing his gratitude for the opportunity, despite the difficulties. “We should all be so lucky to be put in a position to DO HARD THINGS, to be pushed to the brink and to expose what we’re made of or where we have room for expansion.”  

That is the kind of attitude you hope for from a leader of young men and a representative of the university. Unfortunately, that too often gets lost in the ultra-competitive and big money world of college athletics. However, some of us still want to believe that, in all the chaos, there are still individuals who maintain a value system consistent with their schools.

As WVU Director of Athletics Wren Baker said, “All of Mountaineer Nation owes a debt of gratitude to Coach Eilert for his leadership during a challenging season, as he and his staff faced obstacles with class and professionalism.”

What more could fans have asked for? Sure, more wins. Fans always want that and should expect that from a major university, and some let Eilert know just how much they wanted him to be gone from the sideline as soon as possible. However, there are occasions where, yes, there are more important things than wins and losses.

Eilert told the fans, “I’m grateful for it all. The highs, the lows, the setbacks, the comebacks, the hate, the love. Everything.”

The most important story to be told to future fans about this season is about a coach who set, and then lived up to, the standard of what it means to be a Mountaineer.

Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at hoppy.kercheval@wvradio.com.