wondered if I was making the right decision, and my wife
wondered too. This was a job I hadn't even applied for
in a state we knew little about.
about the new stadium, but I wondered if the University
and the people of the state were really serious about
making a long-term commitment toward building a
first-rate football program. I had confidence in myself
as a coach, but that first day, I wasn't sure I had too
the start of his first season at West Virginia.
season concluded his 21st, and the answer is obvious --
Don Nehlen was the answer for Mountaineer football.
record -- including 15 winning seasons (21 overall as a
head coach), the aforementioned bowl trips, two Lambert
Trophies, the 1993 BIG EAST title, one of just 17
coaches in NCAA history to win 200 career games at the
Divisions I level and the most successful coach in West
Virginia's first century of football -- was built on
more than Top 20 wins and bright new buildings. The
foundation of his football program was always a sense of
football man and a people person, he measures his
success by the amount of people he reached and the lives
he touched through Mountaineer football.
includes his players and their families, his coaches and
support staff, fans throughout the state and alumni
around the world -- even opposing coaches, who respect
Nehlen not because he beat nearly two-thirds of those he
faced, but because of what he stands for. He's a
down-to-earth guy who thinks the best things in life are
his wife, his grandkids and hot fudge sundaes. He
believes in honesty and preparation, and he believes
that the discipline and lessons learned through football
make you a better player in the game of life.
is a teacher, who tries to instill his values in the
people around him. Players liked to play for him, not
just because nearly 32% ended up in professional
football, or because 36% of them earned all-East honors,
or because better than 91% made a trip to a bowl. They
liked to play for him because, despite the odds, they
felt they had a chance to win every game. They learned
to handle adversity and achievement with character and
class. And players knew that playing for Don Nehlen gave
them an excellent opportunity of walking into his office
with their Mom or Dad to show him their diplomas.
talk about bowl games and polls and awards, but
that's the most satisfying thing there is," says the
coach. "Guys who make that commitment for four or five
years -- they're special. They know what you mean by
hard work, by teamwork, by perseverance, by dedication.
Those aren't just words to them.”
four-plus decades in the sport, Don Nehlen did a lot for
the game of football. Especially West Virginia football.
took over the school's sagging program, WVU was coming
off its fourth consecutive losing season. In nine
decades, no West Virginia football team made two
consecutive bowl appearances. Nehlen, who finished
149-93-4 in 21 seasons to become WVU's winningest
football coach ever, made that era a distant memory.
played quarterback at Bowling Green from 1955-57, where
he led Doyt Perry's team to a 21-2-4 record and one
Mid-American Conference championship. He earned a
bachelor's degree from Bowling Green in 1958 and a
master's degree from Kent State.
graduation, Nehlen paid his dues on the high school
level, coaching at Canton South and also Canton
McKinley. He gained collegiate experience at Cincinnati
as backfield coach and served as defensive coordinator
at his alma mater from 1965-68.
Nehlen accepted the head coaching position at Bowling
Green, where he turned in a 53-35-4 record during nine
seasons. His 1974 team finished 8-3, Bowling Green's
best record in a decade. Nehlen also earned the title of
"Master of the Upset," coaching the Falcons to victories
over Syracuse, Purdue and Brigham Young.
Nehlen resigned to join Bo Schembechler's staff at
Michigan as recruiting coordinator and quarterback
coach. He remained in Ann Arbor until coming to
his wife Merry Ann have two children -- Danny, the
Mountaineers' equipment manager who is married to the
former Janie Gorda; and Vicky, who is married to former
NFL quarterback Jeff Hostetler. Coach Nehlen is most
proud of his five grandchildren -- Jason, Justin and
Tyler Hostetler and Ryan and Danielle Nehlen.