Nehlen meets with longtime friends James, Fahlgren
PARKERSBURG — Hall of Fame coach Don Nehlen visited his longtime friend Smoot Fahlgren at Fahlgren’s home in Wood County Friday.
Fahlgren, a retired advertising company owner and executive who is in the West Virginia Business Hall of Fame, celebrates his 89th birthday today.
Nehlen and Fahlgren’s friendship goes back many years.
Nehlen first met Fahlgren in 1980, during Nehlen’s first year as head football coach at West Virginia University.
Donnie Young, WVU football’s recruiting coordinator for Nehlen, brought Nehlen to Parkersburg High School in 1980 to meet head football coach Buddy James.
“Buddy had the only football program in West Virginia. There were a lot of football teams,” Nehlen, 83, said Friday.
“I didn’t know how to get to Parkersburg. Donnie Young (from Clendenin) knew West Virginia,” said Nehlen, who was from Ohio and had coached in Ohio and Michigan.
James, 82, of Vienna recalled that the PHS football team was running its winter conditioning program when Nehlen visited PHS.
“He (Nehlen) stayed and liked what we were doing,” James said Friday at Fahlgren’s home.
During that 1980 visit to Parkersburg, James said, he introduced Nehlen to Fahlgren at his advertising agency office.
A few weeks later, James got a telephone call from Nehlen, saying Fahlgren offered his airplane for WVU football recruiting trips, James said.
Since then, Nehlen has come to Parkersburg to play golf and see his friends Fahlgren and James. James and Fahlgren also would go to Morgantown to play golf with Nehlen, James said.
Several Parkersburg High School graduates have played football at WVU while Nehlen was coach from 1980-2000, including Rick Phillips, Jeff Eddy, Mike Scott and Don Stemple. Stemple, a defensive back on Nehlen’s first team, was defensive most valuable player on the Mountaineer team that defeated Florida in the 1981 Peach Bowl.
“Don Stemple was a great kid,” Nehlen said Friday.
First-year WVU head football coach Neal Brown asked Nehlen to speak to the Mountaineer team last Saturday about the history of the football program.
Nehlen said he told these football players they are fortunate to be playing college football with nice athletic facilities and academic programs.
The program’s foundation has been built, now keep it going, Nehlen said he told the football team. The 2019 team can accomplish a lot if it believes in itself, Nehlen said.
Nehlen noted how the 1993 Mountaineers were not highly regarded before the football season but won the Big East Conference title and finished at 11-1.
Success on the football field does not come easy, Nehlen said. Players have to work hard during the summer and winter, he said. “The fall is fun.”
Nehlen said he believes Brown will do a “good job” as head coach. “He is doing the right things,” Nehlen said.
WVU has beautiful athletic facilities, Nehlen said.
The WVU administration has a great commitment to the football program and other sports at WVU, said Nehlen, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005. He is the winningest football coach at WVU with 149 wins.
Parkersburg native Shane Lyons has done an “outstanding job” as director of athletics at WVU, Nehlen said.
Nehlen told Fahlgren he appreciated his friendship.
“Smoot has been with me … win, lose or draw,” Nehlen said.
“You have been a credit to the game,” Fahlgren told Nehlen.
“Stay in touch, Don. We’ve got some good times left,” Fahlgren told Nehlen as he left his house.
Paul LaPann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org