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Don Nehlen ‘by no means dreamed’ his identify can be added to Milan Puskar Stadium alongside WVU’s greats

MORGANTOWN — Saturday’s win over Cincinnati was an necessary one for the West Virginia soccer staff. Not solely did it push the Mountaineers to seven wins, their most beneath fifth-year head coach Neal Brown, however it additionally got here on the day when the College honored former head coach Don Nehlen.

Nehlen, whose 149 wins at WVU are probably the most ever, was honored after the primary quarter when his identify was added to the Diversified Power Terrance inside Milan Puskar Stadium alongside the Mountaineers’ six retired numbers.

“I’m glad our crowd gave him an extended ovation there,” Brown stated. “On the occasion (Friday) evening there have been a ton of former gamers and individuals who have been linked to this system throughout his time. I’m simply glad he was capable of take pleasure in that. What a well-deserved, well-earned honor.”

WVU gained the sport simply, 42-21, and rushed for a season-high 424 yards within the course of.

“Our gamers did perceive the magnitude of him getting honored and we did a superb job on Friday educating them about him and what he was capable of accomplish right here,” Brown stated. “They knew that this was a recreation not solely we wanted to win to get to seven (wins), however a day that we’re recognizing Coach Nehlen, we have to play our greatest.”

Following the ceremony, Nehlen joined the published sales space on ESPN+ to debate the second.

“It’s been humbling to be trustworthy about it,” Nehlen instructed commentators Jorge Sedano and Orlando Franklin. “I by no means dreamed my identify can be up there with the greats…I used to be shocked, I had no concept that they’d do one thing like that.”

Former WVU soccer coach Don Nehlen’s identify was added to Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday. (William Wotring/The Dominion Submit)

Nehlen got here to WVU in 1980 and his first recreation was the debut of the newly-constructed Milan Puskar Stadium.

“We had 50,000 folks right here,” he recalled. “I used to be so nervous for that recreation as a result of everybody within the state was so excited. 50,000 folks, at the moment, that was the most important metropolis within the state of West Virginia. It was unbelievable.”

Fittingly, Nehlen’s first recreation was additionally a win over the Bearcats, 41-27, on Sept. 6, 1980.

“The governor was right here and we had a good time that day,” Nehlan stated. “John Denver sang ‘Nation Roads’ and away we went.”

WVU went 33-15 in Nehlen’s first 4 seasons with three straight nine-win campaigns from 1981-83. The staff was simply 17-27 within the 4 seasons previous to Nehlen’s arrival.

“Once I got here right here, this system was sort of in a funk,” he stated. “That they had had 4 straight shedding seasons and my first staff I by no means had a child on the staff that had ever performed on a successful staff. That complete spring I simply needed to work from the chin up. I needed to make them consider that they might turn out to be winners.”

A part of Nehlen’s success at WVU got here from an, on the time, formidable recruiting technique. He went past the bounds of West Virginia to usher in a great deal of out-of-state expertise.

“Once I got here right here, I bought on an airplane and flew over West Virginia and all I noticed was bushes,” Nehlen stated. “I stated ‘I don’t suppose there are lots of gamers in these bushes.’ Once I fly over Ohio I see rooftops, once I fly over New Jersey I see rooftops and there are children in these homes. There have been only a few soccer gamers within the state of West Virginia in 1980…I took a circle and I went a 300 to 400-mile radius round Morgantown and that’s the place we concentrated, together with the state of Florida.”

Nehlen was one of many first coaches exterior of the South to begin to recruit gamers out of Florida and produce them up north.

“I simply instructed them ‘Boy oh boy, you’re going to like these mountains whenever you go up there,’” he stated with amusing. “After which after they bought up right here, I simply prayed we wouldn’t have a snowstorm.”

It didn’t take lengthy for Nehlen to propel the Mountaineers to new heights because the staff went 11-0 in 1988 and performed Notre Dame within the Fiesta Bowl for the Nationwide Championship.

“The large factor we did was we made the state pleased with the soccer program,” Nehlen stated. “The entire state simply turned excited. At the moment, they have been down just a little bit and so they simply turned enthusiastic about soccer. They have been all the time enthusiastic about basketball right here. Jerry West had a legacy and we gave them a legacy for soccer. No person ever dreamed we might play for the nationwide championship in soccer and we did it.”

WVU once more went 11-0 and performed for a share of the nationwide title in 1994 within the Sugar Bowl in opposition to Florida.

Whereas Nehlen coached his final recreation in 2000, he has remained across the program ever since. Brown stated Nehlen speaks to the staff a number of instances yearly and his son, Danny Nehlen, has been the staff’s tools supervisor since 1988.

Together with his identify now displayed contained in the stadium, Nehlen will stay linked with this system for an extended, very long time to come back.