The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

May 16, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Nehlen sees big difference with transfers

MORGANTOWN — The sports news at West Virginia University over the past week has been dominated by the rash of transfers that have left the Mountaineer basketball program, most recently Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, making it 13 recruited players having either transferred or failed to suit up since the Final Four team in 2010.

Transfers have reached such epidemic proportions that an NCAA study showed as many as 40 percent of incoming freshmen transfer by their junior year in basketball while football transfers also are on rise.

Don Nehlen, a winner of 202 games as a college coach living in retirement in Morgantown, says he’s read about the increase in transfers.

“Cripes,” he says, “21 years at West Virginia I probably didn’t have three kids transfer.”

He pauses for a moment, realizing that statement is probably not accurate, then adds, “Oh, I may have, but I don’t remember them.”

The big difference between what is going on today is there are a lot of players transferring in all sports who are starters, important players with big roles to play. Harris averaged 17.8 points a game last year, Henderson 11.2. In football, Rushel Shell was a top recruit who played at Pitt as a freshman before coming to WVU; Charles Sims a star at Houston who used the graduation rule to allow him to transfer for his senior year without sitting out.

“My transfers were guys who were third-stringers,” Nehlen noted.

In fact, Nehlen noted, that his transfers actually helped get another coach untracked in his coaching career, a coach you know quite well.

“When Rich Rodriguez coached down at Glenville he’d come up here and I’d say, ‘Hey, Rich, take a look at these 10 or 11 kids; they’ll never play here. If you can give them room or board in Glenville I’ll encourage them to come down. They’d be good players for you.’”

Rodriguez was just getting started as a head coach.

“Rich was 0-11 his first year and then he started getting my transfers and started winning,” Nehlen said. “He had all my quarterbacks. He got Jedd Drenning and Scotty Otis and Wilkie Perez and all those kids. They went there and won a ton of games for him.”

But those transfers weren’t going to play at WVU, and Nehlen actually found them a home, a place where they could display their talents.

“I had those kind of transfers, but for kids to pick up and leave … that’s so hard to believe,” Nehlen said.

Nehlen did bring in some transfers over the years that helped his program, the most

notable being Jeff Hostetler, who transferred from Penn State when beaten out by Todd Blackledge after he had started three games.

“I got some guys in here like Hostetler, but I never had a Hostetler leave,” Nehlen claimed.

In fact, he’s not even sure he ever had to talk a good player out of leaving.

“I may have had one or two in 21 years here and my 12 years at Bowling Green, but I don’t ever remember a kid we were counting on coming in and saying, ‘Coach I want to leave.’ Does that mean it never happened? I don’t know, but I don’t recall it.’”

At this point, Nehlen was asked why he thinks there is so much more transferring of good players.

“That tells me they don’t like competition,” Nehlen said. “Guys that transfer after a coach recruits another one or two players at his position think this guy went out and recruited two or three of these guys because ‘he doesn’t like me anymore.” I don’t understand that.”

Nehlen also believes he wasn’t troubled much by transfers because of the manner in which he recruited, often taking a lot of players that didn’t interest other coaches coming out of high school.

“When I was here – you know they have five-star recruits and four-star recruits – we didn’t care about any stars. We tried to recruit tall kids, put them in the weight program and in three years they’d weigh 270. Maybe that’s why we didn’t have many guys leave the program, because until my last eight or nine years we didn’t have many highly recruited guys on my team.”

So what’s changed now in college sports to turn transferring into an epidemic?

Nehlen doesn’t hesitate with his answer.

“I would say the social media has become a nightmare for the college coaches,” he said. “Every kid knows what everybody else is doing. To get one tailback, you have to recruit three or four or five. Now, you get one and the other three or four know it right away and are looking elsewhere, but you still would like to have two of them.

“I got in when that stuff was just starting with the recruiting services and stuff like that, but the social media wasn’t near what it is today.”

That was not said as a complaint.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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