January 1, 1936 |
Mansfield, Ohio, U.S.
|Coaching career (HC unless noted)|
Bowling Green (assistant)
|Head coaching record|
|Accomplishments and honors|
1 Big East (1993)
|College Football Hall of Fame
Inducted in 2005 (profile)
Don Nehlen (born January 1, 1936) is a former American football player and coach. He was head football coach at Bowling Green State University (1968–1976) and at West Virginia University (1980–2000). Nehlen retired from coaching college football in 2001 with a career record of 202–128–8 and as the 17th winningest coach in college football history. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005 and has served as a president of the American Football Coaches Association.
Nehlen played quarterback at Bowling Green (1955–1957) and led the team to a Mid-American Conference championship in 1956. He began his coaching career in 1958 at Mansfield Senior High School and then served as head coach at Canton South High School and Canton McKinley High School. Nehlen was later an assistant coach at the University of Cincinnati, Bowling Green, and the University of Michigan.
Since his retirement from coaching, Nehlen has been a spokesman for the coal industry. Nehlen received the 2002 Distinguished West Virginian Award from the West Virginia Broadcasters Association. In 2006, Nehlen published a book called Don Nehlen's Tales from the West Virginia Sideline, an autobiographical account recalling his 21-year tenure as the head football coach at West Virginia.
At West Virginia
Nehlen served as the quarterbacks coach at the University of Michigan under Bo Schembechler from 1977 to 1979 before taking the head coaching job at West Virginia. Nehlen became West Virginia's 29th head football coach on December 7, 1979, replacing Frank Cignetti, who had posted four straight losing seasons.
Nehlen first hired Gary Tranquill as the offensive coach. In an effort to emulate the Michigan defense, Nehlen hired Dennis Brown away from the Wolverines. Nehlen hired a number of coaches he worked with at Bowling Green. Nehlen also retained Donnie Young, Cignetti's former assistant head coach, as his recruiting coach. Tranquill left West Virginia after three seasons to become head coach at Navy, taking graduate assistant Steve Dunlap with him. Dunlap later returned to serve as West Virginia's defensive coach. One of Nehlen's most famed assistants was Doc Holliday, who served the assistant head coach and recruiting coach for almost 20 years before leaving for North Carolina State University. Holliday was sent to Florida every year to find recruits and found many talented players there, including linebacker Steve Grant. When Nehlen arrived at West Virginia, he introduced the Mountaineers' first "home and away uniforms" and a new helmet logo, "The Flying WV," which became the official logo of West Virginia athletics and, eventually, the university itself.
In 1980, Nehlen's first season at West Virginia, the Mountaineers went 6–6. In 1981, led by quarterback and future WVU athletic director Oliver Luck, West Virginia went 9–3 and upset the Florida Gators in the Peach Bowl, 26–6. In 1982, led by quarterback Jeff Hostetler (who ended up marrying Nehlen's daughter, Vicky), West Virginia started the season with an upset over the #9 Oklahoma Sooners. In 1984, Nehlen's squad posted wins against Boston College, led by eventual Heisman Trophy winner, Doug Flutie, and over Penn State for the Mountaineers' first defeat of the Nittany Lions since 1955.
The 1987 season marked the beginning of the Major Harris era at West Virginia. In Harris' sophomore season, 1988, the Mountaineers went undefeated in the regular season and faced top-ranked Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Harris was injured on the third play of the game and West Virginia lost, 34–21. Notre Dame was crowned as national champions.
In 1993, Nehlen led West Virginia to another undefeated regular season and a Big East Conference title, but the Florida Gators exacted revenge in the Sugar Bowl, winning 41–7. Nehlen's 1994 team started the season with a 1–4 record, but rebounded to qualify for the Carquest Bowl, where they lost to South Carolina, 24–21.
In 1998, West Virginia featured a number of future NFL players including Marc Bulger, Amos Zereoue, Anthony Becht, Gary Stills, Barrett Green, Solomon Page and John Thornton, to form what Nehlen called "his best West Virginia...squad." The Mountaineers opened the season with a home loss to Ohio State, but finished the season with an 8–4 record, losing in the Insight Bowl to Missouri, 34–31.
Following a loss to Syracuse in 2000, Nehlen announced that the season would be his final one as head coach. On December 28, he coached his final game against Ole Miss in the Music City Bowl. After winning three of their first four bowl games, Nehlen's West Virginia teams had lost eight straight postseason contests, but his final squad, led by the offensive attack of quarterback Brad Lewis, tailback Avon Cobourne, wide receiver Antonio Brown, and fullback Wes Ours, handled the Rebels, 49–38.
Nehlen completed his tenure at West Virginia with a record of 149–93–4. His 149 victories are the most in school history. With the Mountaineers, Nehlen coached 15 first team All-Americans, 82 All-Big East Conference honorees, and 80 future NFL players. In 1988, Nehlen was recognized with three national coaching awards, the Walter Camp Coach of the Year Award, the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award, and the AFCA Coach of the Year. In 1993, he was named the Big East Coach of Year. Nehlen was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
Head coaching record
|Bowling Green Falcons (Mid-American Conference) (1966–1976)|
|West Virginia Mountaineers (NCAA Division I-A independent) (1980–1990)|
|1981||West Virginia||9–3||W Peach||18||17|
|1982||West Virginia||9–3||L Gator||19||19|
|1983||West Virginia||9–3||W Hall of Fame Classic||16||16|
|1984||West Virginia||8–4||W Bluebonnet||18|
|1987||West Virginia||6–6||L Sun|
|1988||West Virginia||11–1||L Fiesta||5||5|
|1989||West Virginia||8–3–1||L Gator||21|
|West Virginia Mountaineers (Big East Conference) (1991–2000)|
|1993||West Virginia||11–1||7–0||1st||L Sugar†||6||7|
|1994||West Virginia||7–6||4–3||T–3rd||L Carquest|
|1996||West Virginia||8–4||4–3||4th||L Gator|
|1997||West Virginia||7–5||4–3||T–3rd||L Carquest|
|1998||West Virginia||8–4||5–2||T–2nd||L Insight.com|
|2000||West Virginia||7–5||3–4||T–5th||W Music City|
|National championship Conference title Conference division title|
|†Indicates Bowl Coalition, Bowl Alliance, BCS, or CFP / New Years' Six bowl.
#Rankings from final Coaches Poll.
°Rankings from final AP Poll.
- List of college football coaches with 200 wins
- List of presidents of the American Football Coaches Association
- Legends Poll
- Don Nehlen on Facebook
- Don Nehlen at the College Football Hall of Fame
- Don Nehlen at the College Football Data Warehouse