Don Nehlen coached unbeaten WVU teams in 1988 and 1993
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Don Nehlen was WVU’s head football coach for more years than anybody in the school’s history.
He came from Michigan where he had been an assistant under Bo Schembechler, and took the reins in 1980 after Frank Cignetti was let go after his four straight losing seasons.
Nehlen was the Mountaineers’ leader for 21 seasons, amassing a school record of 149 wins against 93 losses and four ties.
Today, at age 83, he still resides in Morgantown as a much-revered retired coach and occasional representative of WVU.
Nehlen accomplished enough in his decades-long tenure at WVU to be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Two of his years were marked by unbeaten regular seasons. And his team once faced Notre Dame in a bowl game, where the winner would be crowned the national champion. Notre Dame won that game.
After his team waded through the undefeated 1988 season, Nehlen was voted coach of the year by the Walter Camp group, by the Bobby Dodd group and by the American Football Coaches Association. Following the equally unbeaten 1993 season, the same AFCA made Nehlen its coach of the year again.
The native of Canton, Ohio was introduced to WVU fans in time to play his first season at newly christened Mountaineer Field (now Milan Puskar Stadium).
As the only WVU football coach to guide his team to the national championship game, Nehlen drew attention from other football outposts in need of elevating their programs but he remained in Morgantown with his wife, Merry Ann, and their two children. He now has five great-grandchildren.
Early in his days at WVU, he began taking his players to the school’s medical center, where they regularly visited children in the facility.
He made a request to athletic director Fred Schaus to begin charging a nominal fee to fans coming to the annual spring football game. The proceeds from those spring football events total $740,000, and a fee is still charged today and is donated to the children in the hospital.
Remaining active, Nehlen has been called on to be the chairman of other fundraising events held by the university.
West Virginia University climbed its highest football mountains with Nehlen as its leader, and he’s still accomplishing things as a quiet and humble ambassador of the school.