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Frank Cignetti Sr., former IUP, WVU Head Coach, Dies at 84

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Frank Cignetti Sr.

Frank Cignetti Sr., the former West Virginia and IUP head coach and the patriarch of the Cignetti football family, has died at the age of 84 this week, the James Madison University football program announced on Saturday.

Cignetti’s son Curt Cigentti has been the head coach at JMU since 2019. His younger son Frank Cignetti, Jr. is Pitt’s offensive coordinator.

A native of the Apollo, Pa. in the Kiski Valley northeast of Pittsburgh, Frank Cignetti Sr. was a 1960 Indiana State Teachers College (now IUP) alum, and was a three-year letterman for the Indians at end. He was a 1959 NAIA All-American, the first such honor in IUP history.

He moved quickly into coaching after his college career, leading Leechburg High School to an undefeated season and WPIAL title in 1965 before moving to Pitt, where he served as quarterbacks and receivers coach from 1966-68. 

After a one-year stop at Princeton, Cignetti became an assistant coach at West Virginia under Bobby Bowden. He was promoted to head in 1976 and led the Mountaineers for four seasons, finishing his time at a Division I coach with a 17-27 record.

Cignetti really made his mark back at his alma mater, where he turned IUP into a Division II powerhouse. He won nine games in his first season in 1986 and led the Indians to the NCAA playoffs in 13 of his first 17 seasons. Twice, he took IUP all the way to the national championship game, falling just short of a title in 1990 and 1993. 

He retired from coaching after the 2005 season, finishing his time at IUP with a 182-50-1 record and 14 division or conference championship seasons. He won the Lambert Cup 10 times as the top D-II team in the east. He was named Division II Coach of the Year in 1991 and PSAC Coach of the Year five times.

Cignetti was inducted into the IUP Hall of Fame in 2006. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, the Division II Hall of Fame and had the playing surface at IUP’s George P. Miller Stadium named for him in 2013.

His sons have carried on his football and coaching legacy. Curt was a quarterback at West Virginia before moving into coaching with stops as an assistant at Pitt, Davidson, Rice, Temple, NC State and Alabama. He took the IUP head coaching job in 2011, moved to Elon in 2017 and to JMU in 2019, where he will lead the Dukes in their transition to Division I FBS football.

Frank Cignetti Jr. went to IUP and coached with his father from 1990-98. He has since worked for 12 NFL or Division I teams, serving as the offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams in 2015 and quarterbacks coach for three other NFL teams before returning to the college ranks with Boston College in 2020 and returning to Pitt in 2022.

Frank Cignetti Jr. talked about his family history and ties to Pittsburgh ahead of the Backyard Brawl last week, a game linked the family’s history with Curt playing for and Frank Sr. coaching for West Virginia and all three coaching for Pitt.

“Hey, we’re Pitt Panther fans, let’s make no mistake,” Frank Cignetti Jr. said. “Our family heritage is from Western Pennsylvania, we had a little stop in Morgantown that didn’t end very well and make no mistake — we are Pitt Panthers.”

Both of Frank Cignetti Sr.’s sons are scheduled to coach on Saturday, with Pitt hosting Tennessee at 3:30 p.m. and James Madison hosting Norfolk State at 4 p.m. It’s unclear if either will coach. IUP is visiting East Stroudsburg at 6 p.m.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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