WACO, TEX. — Former Bowling Green State and West Virginia head coach, Don Nehlen, has been named the recipient of the AFCA’s 2017 Amos Alonzo Stagg Award. The award is given to those “whose services have been outstanding in the advancement of the best interests in football,” and will be presented to Nehlen at the American Football Coaches Awards show on January 10 during the 2017 AFCA Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.
Nehlen began his head-coaching career in 1968 and posted a career record of 202-128-8 at Bowling Green and West Virginia before retiring in 2000. He took the Mountaineers to 13 bowl games, won the Big East Conference and was the 17th coach in Division I-A history to reach 200 victories. Nehlen won AFCA, Walter Camp and Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year awards in 1988 and Big East, Kodak and Woody Hayes Coach of the Year awards in 1993.
“It’s a tremendous honor for me. When I got the envelope telling me that I was being awarded the Stagg Award, I had to check the name to make sure I wasn’t getting someone else’s mail,” said Nehlen. “I’m so proud of the American Football Coaches Association and I’m so proud of football coaches. I’m just honored to receive such an award, and not just for me, but for West Virginia University as well.”
Nehlen was born on January 1, 1936 in Canton, Ohio. He played quarterback at Bowling Green State University from 1955-57 and led the Falcons to a Mid-American Conference championship in 1956. Upon graduation, Nehlen immediately began his coaching career, starting at Mansfield Senior (Ohio) High School in 1958 and serving as head coach at Canton South (Ohio) High School from 1959-62. He spent one season as an assistant coach at the University of Cincinnati before returning to the high school ranks as head coach at Canton McKinley (Ohio) High School in 1964.
Nehlen returned to Bowling Green State as defensive coordinator under Bob Gibson in 1965. After three seasons, he was named head coach of the Falcons in 1968. In his nine years as the Falcons’ head coach, Nehlen led his team to eight winning seasons and a 53-35-4 record. In 1977, Nehlen was hired on by Bo Schembechler to be the quarterbacks coach at the University of Michigan. While there, Nehlen helped the Wolverines to two Rose Bowls and two Big Ten championships.
In 1980, Nehlen was hired by West Virginia to help the Mountaineers get back to their winning ways, and that’s exactly what he did. For 21 years under Nehlen, West Virginia had 15 winning seasons, two .500 seasons, went to 13 bowl games and sent 80 players to the NFL. As an NCAA Division I-A independent program, Nehlen’s Mountaineers competed at high levels, going undefeated in the regular season in 1988 before eventually falling in the national championship game against Lou Holtz’s Notre Dame squad. Nehlen’s team ended the season at No. 5 in the polls and Nehlen was awarded the AFCA, Bobby Dodd and Walter Camp Coach of the Year Awards for his work.
Nehlen led the Mountaineers from being an independent into the Big East Conference, where his team would win the title in 1993, earning Nehlen another Top 10 finish in the polls and Coach of the Year honors from the Big East and Kodak, as well as the Woody Hayes Trophy. He retired from coaching after the 2000 season, with a record at West Virginia of 149-93-4, making him the winningest coach in school history. His record of 202 wins also puts him among a very elite group of coaches with over 200 career wins to their name, such as Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes and Lou Holtz.
Nehlen has received many awards and honors throughout his career as a coach and a player. He was inducted into the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame in 2005. Nehlen also was inducted into the West Virginia University, Mid-American Conference, Bowling Green, Peach Bowl and Gator Bowl halls of fame. He served on the AFCA Board of Trustees from 1989-1997, serving as president of the association in his final year. Nehlen also earned two AFCA Regional Coach of the Year honors during his career.
Nehlen and his wife, Merry Ann, have two children -- Danny, the Mountaineers’ equipment manager, who is married to the former Janie Gorda; and Vicky, who is married to former NFL quarterback Jeff Hostetler. Coach Nehlen is most proud of his five grandchildren -- Jason, Justin and Tyler Hostetler and Ryan and Danielle Nehlen.