By Bob Hertzel, For the Times West Virginian
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It is an old, oft-told story but considering the state of West Virginia University’s athletics today it fits in nicely with the honor being bestowed on Don Nehlen during Saturday when his name will be immortalized among the all-time greats in a place of honor in Mountaineer Field.
Considering the fact that the street that runs alongside the stadium is named Don Nehlen Drive and the fact that his first game as Mountaineers coach was the inaugural game in a 80% completed new stadium in 1980 and that the foe was the same University of Cincinnati team that WVU will face in the 2:30 p.m. game that is being shown on ESPN+, the ceremony could not be better timed.
Much as today’s coach Neal Brown came into Morgantown to inherit the ruins of a down sliding program from Dana Holgorsen, so, too, did Nehlen come into a situation that had produced four losing seasons in five years under an ill Frank Cignetti.
Why would someone who was the quarterback coach at Michigan, himself a one-time head coach in another difficult state while winning at Bowling Green, move into such a challenging situation?
He worked for Bo Schembechler, a Hall of Fame coach at Michigan, and as an advisor Schembechler very strongly questioned his sanity of returning to head coaching in this spot.
“Don, are you crazy?” he said. “I’m looking at that West Virginia schedule and I see Pitt on there. I see Penn State. I see Oklahoma coming up. There’s Maryland, Virginia Tech and Boston College. You’ve got four, five or six losses on here right away.
“Every coach that’s ever coached there if they win, they leave, and if they lose, they get fired,” Schembechler lectured him. “This is just a huge mistake on your part. You’re making good money here, we go to the Rose Bowl every other year, and in two or three more years I’ll get you a good job.”