Don Nehlen spoke to West Virginia University’s football team on Saturday.
It was at the request of new Mountaineers head football coach Neal Brown.
That is the kind of rapport Brown already has established with the iconic WVU coaching great.
Just ask the 83-year-old Nehlen.
“First of all, Neal is just a good guy,” said Nehlen, who won 202 games at WVU from 1980-2000. “That’s the big thing. He’s personable. He’s easy to get to talk to. He wants to know everybody in West Virginia. He wants to be a West Virginian. You know, he was born and raised in Kentucky. So, he’s got a little bit of us in him, to a degree.
“I can tell just by talking with him and listening to him talk and talking to the secretaries ... because his secretary was mine for years and years and years. And she tells me she’s really excited. He’s well-organized. The kids like him. He hired a good coaching staff.”
Nehlen firmly believes the 39-year-old Brown was a good choice.
“I think they really did hire the right guy,” said Nehlen during a telephone interview. “They needed somebody to pull everything together. I liked [former WVU coach Dana Holgorsen]. Dana was a friend of mine. But he was more difficult to get to know. Neal is not like that at all. He comes off as more of a people person.”
Nehlen learned that first-hand when Brown invited him to breakfast and reached out for advice.
“He really did,” said Nehlen. “He has reached out to me. He asked me about my philosophy of recruiting. I told him that I feel very strongly that if you draw a circle around Morgantown of 300 miles ... you’re talking Washington, D.C., you’re talking Cleveland and Columbus and Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
“And, then, go down to Florida and try to pick up a couple of skilled kids — running backs, wide receivers. And we just talked a little bit about that. Like I say, I really think he’s the right guy at the right time.”
Nehlen believes that for several reasons. But, perhaps, the prime factor is Brown’s sense of values. Not just as a coach, but as a person.
“There isn’t any question,” replied Nehlen quickly. “When you meet him, you’ll know what I am talking about. And when you meet the rest of the coaches ... you know, good guys attract good guys.
“My son, Dan, is the equipment manager so he sees everything in a different light. He sees the kids and he gets to know all the assistant coaches. And he told me, ‘You know, Dad, they are all good guys. The kids are happy and flying around.’ So, that’s all good.”
It appears the timing of Brown’s hire was good across the board.
“The university has made a tremendous commitment to football,” said Nehlen. “It’s absolutely amazing what we’ve done. The stadium is gorgeous, the locker rooms ... just everything. And they’re putting $40 or $50 million more into the Puskar Center.
“And, I mean, it’s top-drawer now. So, I can just imagine what it’s going to be like. It’s going to be beautiful.”
So, it’s looking more and more like Brown was the perfect hire at the perfect time. Why, he even has Nehlen’s stamp of approval.
“I think he’s going to be good,” said Nehlen.
That’s why Neal Brown is WVU’s best hire since … well, since a guy named Nehlen.