The Mountaineers are preparing for not only the 2017 season opener, but for a renewed rivalry with the Virginia Tech Hokies. It was announced earlier this week that former legendary West Virginia head coach, Don Nehlen will be an honorary captain at the Mountaineers’ season opener. This got me thinking and it’s not an idea that just came to me, I’ve had it in my head for years, but never put it in an article. That idea would be honoring Coach Don Nehlen with a statue in front of Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium.
I know some pundits will say,”What’s the point? He never won a national title.” Yes, you do have a point, but if your memory serves your right he led West Virginia to two perfect regular seasons in 1988 and once again in 1993.
In 1988, West Virginia took the nation by storm with a dominating defense to go along with one of the most electrifying quarterbacks in all of college football, Major Harris. Many Mountaineer faithful to this day still believe that if Major Harris never got hurt in the Fiesta Bowl, that West Virginia would have beat Notre Dame to hoist its first national championship. Obviously we will never know the outcome, but man it would have been interesting to see if the game would have had a different outcome. Some of the biggest highlights to the 1988 season would include FINALLY knocking off Penn State, and winning three consecutive road games vs Pitt, Virginia Tech and East Carolina.
The biggest heartbreak possibly in West Virginia football history was in 1993, the other undefeated regular season. The Mountaineers were snubbed of a berth in the national championship game against Nebraska and instead played Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Coach Nehlen said before beating Boston College in the season finale that “If we beat Boston College and they still leave us out of the national championship, they will have to bail me out of jail! Teams that lose a game didn’t do their part, we did what we were supposed to do. I know it’s all political, but we deserve to be in that game. We beat the team that beat Florida State.” I truly believe this scenario is what started the BCS era, it was too obvious that an undefeated West Virginia team being left out of the national championship game was ludacris. Yes, even the current format of the playoff that can still seem political and the truth is there will never be a perfect solution, it will just continue to hurt teams like West Virginia. The marquee win in ’93 prior to the Boston College game was against Miami on November 20th in Morgantown. It was a battle of two top 5 teams, which yielded the largest crowd to ever attend Mountaineer Field.
So this brings me to my point of why Coach Nehlen should be deserving of a statue. First of all, he is the one who drew up the mock logo of the infamous “flying WV” that we see all over the state today, then it goes to the on field production. As I stated earlier Nehlen lead the Mountaineers to the only two undefeated regular seasons in school history, one national championship appearance that should have been two, and completely redirected the program. To be quite honest if Coach Nehlen never became head football coach at West Virginia University, where do you think the program stands today? Nehlen gave this program a jump start, which his predecessor Rich Rodriguez continued the success, to Bill Stewart and now to Dana Holgorsen. Most college football teams have a monument or statue of someone who laid the foundation at the schools program, if you’ve ever been to Mountaineer Field you will notice there is not one. Nehlen is that guy. He laid the foundation, brought in talented recruits, developed them and turned the team into one of the more feared teams in the nation.
Nehlen finished his 21 year tenure at West Virginia with a 149-93-4 record, which makes him the schools all time winningest head coach.
Don’t get me wrong, what the university is doing for him by naming him an honorary captain for the Virginia Tech game is great, but Coach Nehlen, you deserve so much more for what you did for this program, school, and state.