A Legacy of Excellence: A Tribute to the Distinguished Career of WVU Head Coach, Don Nehlen
In the realm of college football, certain names resonate as beacons of leadership, mentorship, and success. One such person is Don Nehlen, whose illustrious career as the head coach of West Virginia University (WVU) has left an indelible mark on college football.
On Saturday, November 18, 2023, WVU will pay tribute to the extraordinary journey and impact of Coach Nehlen, now 87 years old, celebrating his legacy as a driving force behind the Mountaineers’ success. The University will immortalize Nehlen by placing his name on the Diversified Energy Terrace next to all-time greats Ira Errett Rodgers, Sam Huff, Bruce Bosley, Darryl Talley, Major Harris and Chuck Howley.
Don Nehlen’s coaching journey began long before his tenure at WVU. Born on January 1, 1936, in Canton, Ohio, Nehlen embarked on a coaching career that would span more than four decades. But before that, Nehlen 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. Before taking the helm at WVU, Nehlen honed his coaching skills at various institutions, including Bowling Green State University and the University of Michigan under Bo Schembechler. His early experiences laid the foundation for the exceptional coaching prowess he would later bring to Morgantown.
Nehlen’s impact on West Virginia University’s football program is immeasurable. He assumed the role of head coach in 1980, inheriting a team hungry for success. Over the next 21 seasons, Nehlen transformed the Mountaineers into a formidable force within the NCAA, leaving an enduring legacy of achievement. Nehlen, finished 149-93-4 in 21 seasons to become WVU’s winningest football coach ever.
Some of Nehlen’s biggest wins include defeating the Florida Gators 26-6 in the 1981 Peach Bowl. On September 11, 1982, WVU beat No. 9 Oklahoma 41-13 with Jeff Hostetler at the helm. In 1988 WVU beat No. 16 Pitt 31-10 and No. 14 Syracuse to give us a shot at a national title! In 1993 in front of 70,000 plus fans (an all-time record), WVU beat No. 4 Miami.
Success on the Field:
Under Nehlen’s guidance, WVU experienced unprecedented success, claiming numerous conference championships and making bowl game appearances a regular occurrence. His ability to develop talented players and implement strategic game plans contributed to the team’s consistent competitiveness on the national stage.
The hallmark of Nehlen’s coaching career was the 1988 season, where the Mountaineers finished with an impressive 11-0 regular-season record. Although the team narrowly missed out on a national championship berth against Lou Holtz and the Fighting Irish, the accomplishment remains etched in the annals of WVU football history. Nehlen would also finish undefeated in 1993. Nehlen’s leadership during this period elevated the program’s profile and instilled a sense of pride among the Mountaineer fanbase.
Coach Nehlen’s impact extends beyond wins and losses. His commitment to the development of student-athletes is a defining feature of his coaching career. Many players under Nehlen’s tutelage not only excelled on the field but also found success in their post-football endeavors, a testament to his dedication to shaping well-rounded individuals. Nehlen continued to be a brand ambassador for WVU and the state of West Virginia long after retiring in 2001.
Don Nehlen’s distinguished career as the head coach of WVU transcends the boundaries of sport. His leadership, resilience, and commitment to excellence have left an enduring legacy that continues to inspire generations of Mountaineer players, coaches, and fans. Nehlen’s contributions to the world of college football and his indomitable spirit will forever be celebrated as an integral part of West Virginia University’s storied athletic history.
If you need any reason at all to come to Saturday’s contest against Cincinnati, do it for Coach Don Nehlen. He deserves a sell out crowd for this incredible honor. Thank you coach for the memories.