One of the neatest moments during the WVU football coaching transition was captured and shared via Twitter at 6:06 p.m. on Jan. 6.
“The new ball coach,” read the tweet from WVU’s football account, “meets the old ball coach.”
Indeed there was a picture of new Mountaineer coach Neal Brown engaged in conversation with former coach Don Nehlen, who laid the foundation for the program.
It was a very cool sight to see.
“Solid guy,” Nehlen said on Monday. “Thought he had a good plan. I think he’ll be a coach that players will really respect.”
If case you wondered, yes, the two did trade notes rather than simply meet. Nehlen said the get-together lasted around 20 minutes.
“We had a great talk,” Nehlen said. “He did his homework. He knew about our program. Knew about me and Rich [Rodriguez] and Billy [Stewart] and Dana [Holgorsen]. I think he’s going to be really solid. I really do.”
Nehlen said it’s important for any new head coach to understand a program’s past.
“Heavens yes,” Nehlen said. “This is West Virginia. West Virginia is a little different. People like for you to be visible here. People here like for you to be around a little bit. I think he understands that.
“If you don’t understand anything about the history of the program, how the foundation got built, you’re going to make some mistakes. That’s anything, not just football. If you’re going to run a company or a government, you better know what’s been done in the past, both good and bad. I liked him. I really think we hit a home run with Coach Brown.”
I mentioned to Nehlen that Brown not only wants to recruit West Virginia, but the Carolinas and Florida. The latter helped Nehlen build the aforementioned foundation.
Then the old ball coach drew a smile from here. And if you read last week’s New View blog, you’ll know why.
“I think [Brown] said he wanted to draw a circle around Morgantown of 400 miles,” Nehlen said. “I said 300 and then run down to Florida and try to grab a couple skill kids. There’s a ton of players in Ohio. There’s a ton of players in Virginia. There’s a ton of players in Pennsylvania. There’s a few in West Virginia. Not many, but it’s getting better. When I came to Morgantown you had to look under every damn leaf. Now they’re popping up.
“New Jersey is fertile. Kids are not loyal to Rutgers. And all that is within a 300-mile radius of [Morgantown]. Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Youngstown, Columbus, Cincinnati… That’s why Ohio State is so good.
“I think he’s smart in the way he’s attacking recruiting.”
Nehlen also echoed my sentiments of last week regarding the stature of the WVU coaching job. And all I asked was how Brown can elevate the Mountaineers to the next level.
“It’s pretty hard for me to ever envision us having the resources of Texas or Oklahoma,” Nehlen said. “But other than that, in my opinion – and I told [Brown] this – we’re the third-best job in the league. And we have a chance – because of our state loyalty – to catch [Texas and Oklahoma]. I don’t think we’re going to catch ‘em on a consistent basis. But I told him we can catch them some.”
Third best? Nehlen said “Oklahoma State has Oklahoma breathing down their neck all the time” and admitted TCU “might be a toss-up” with WVU. But he finished by saying “this has turned out to be a really good job.”
Oh, and despite grumbling from the last WVU football regime, Nehlen called WVU’s facilities “just remarkable” and added that, as long as Texas and Oklahoma are in the Big 12, the league itself is a strong selling point.
“I think the Brown guy is the right guy at the right time,” Nehlen said. “And he got a heck of a good job.”