Ex-WVU wrestling coach endured early tragedies

Mickey Furfari
Mickey Furfari

A column by Mickey Furfari from the Bluefield Daily Telegraph

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Craig Turnbull, the latest head coach victim of Oliver Luck’s shocking series of firings at West Virginia University, had generally enjoyed what many rate as an outstanding career not only in athletics but in life.

Like the present, there also were some very difficult times for him as a youngster.

Turnbull, now 61, grew up in Erie, Pa., along with a brother, who was about three years younger. Their father was a professor of political science and history at Penn State.

Turnbull’s mother was a principal in high school, which was unusual in the 1950s for a female to be in such a high position.

The 36-year veteran WVU head coach of wrestling recalled this beginning at an exclusive interview last Wednesday afternoon in his office.

“My father died when I was just 3 and my brother Tommy was six months old,” Craig recalled sadly. “He had rheumatic fever from service in World War II and it partially closed a valve in his heart.

“He was waiting to have open-heart surgery, waiting to have it performed. But his valve closed before it could be corrected.”

So Mrs. Turnbull proceeded to raise the two young sons by herself.

“I remember her being both a mother and a father,” the coach continued. “I remember that she raced us around the block each day. And if she won, we had to go to bed; if we won, we could stay up for a half-hour.

“Then Mom passed on when I was 13 and Tommy was nine. She had an extended battle with cancer.”

After losing both parents to heartbreaking unfortunate events, he and his brother turned to wrestling as “kind of a parental influence and direction in guiding us.”

Turnbull’s misery wasn’t over yet, though.

“Then, unfortunately, when I was a young coach here, my brother had a car accident and he passed on,” he reminisced grimly. “He was only 23…”

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