MORGANTOWN — Don Nehlen is concerned about the direction the sport of football appears to be headed.
“Participation in football is rapidly declining,” the retired National College Football Hall of Fame head coach said in an interview last week. He attributes that slide to the increase of concussions and the ill effects being reported by former players.
“We didn’t have concussions when I played football,” said Nehlen, who’s 78 years old now. That was in Canton, Ohio, in high school from 1955-58.
Then he coached football in high school before serving for nine years as head coach at Bowling Green, his alma mater. Before coming to WVU in 1980 and staying 21 years, Nehlen served as an assistant at Michigan.
Nehlen has been retired since the year 2000. However, he has kept close tabs on college football nationally.
Darryl Talley, a prolific linebacker at WVU in 1979 through 1982, was quoted in the Buffalo (N.Y) News recently that he’s suffering from health problems from his playing days. That triggered Nehlen’s interest and concerns.
“I don’t know, but constant hitting to the head is bound to take its toll a little bit,” Nehlen declared. “It’s spreading.
“And I think the only way they’re going to correct this problem is to admit that football does have a little bit of a problem.”
He honestly believes fewer younger people are so concerned that they are skipping football as a participant.
“If they eliminated the facemask,” Nehlen suggested, “that might reduce the effects of hard-hitting football.
“The facemask with the helmet has become a weapon,” Nehlen stressed. “When I first played football, I never heard of a concussion. You blocked with your shoulder (not head).
“When I started coaching football and did for a long time in high school before I did, I taught blocking like I did here.
“I taught everything with a shoulderblock. You should block with your shoulder. Maybe if they went back to the old helmets, and no facemask, we could eliminate some concussions.”
Nehlen, a head coach of 30 years at the collegiate level, emphasized that “The players today are so much bigger and faster and stronger, you know.”
“When I first played, my coach, who was great, never would let us lift weights.
“Now, if you don’t lift weights, you aren’t on the team. These kids now are lifting weights almost 365 days a year.
“They lift 460 and 500 pounds and some 600, 700 and 800 pounds.
“And they have flexibility coaches and running coaches and they’re running faster. They take a 245-pound linebacker as strong as the devil and run 35-yard dashes, colliding with another guy. That’s a head-on collision there.”
Nehlen firmly is convinced that with players being much bigger and stronger, “It’s a different game today than it had been for many years.
NOTE: During the football season, Don Nehlen teams up with former Marshall coach Bob Pruett for a weekly football talk show on the radio.