MORGANTOWN — Everyone has something that no matter how hard they try to look in a different direction, it comes back like an itch you can’t scratch. For Ryan Nehlen, that was coaching.
To no one’s surprise, the grandson of former WVU head football coach Don Nehlen could not get coaching out of his blood.
After spending five seasons hopping from program to program as an assistant coach and graduate assistant, Ryan is back home in Morgantown as an offensive analyst with the WVU football team.
“It’s great to be back,” said Nehlen, who played for the Mountaineers from 2008-’12. “When I left in 2012, I had been away since then. It’s exciting to be back. There’s a lot going on around the program, the community, and Morgantown has really grown.
“It’s an exciting time to be around West Virginia football.”
A first-team all-state receiver at University High, in 2007, Nehlen walked on at WVU, where he spent five seasons, hauling in 12 passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns.
But his academic success far out-weighted anything Nehlen was able to accomplish on the field. He was on the dean’s and president’s lists, even causing head coach Dana Holgorsen to think Nehlen would follow a different career path outside of football.
“I thought he was going to be a doctor,” Holgorsen quipped.
But Holgorsen recognized how difficult getting the game out of your system can be, especially when you grew up around it.
“He couldn’t get the coaching thing out of his blood,” he said. “Ryan’s been a graduate assistant for a couple of years, and he’s a really smart kid. In those analyst positions, it’s critical to have a lot of sense. He has plenty of that, so I’m anxious to see what he brings to the table.”
After graduating, Nehlen knew his playing days were over but wasn’t ready to say goodbye to football just yet. He joined fellow WVU alum Terry Bowden at Akron, as a graduate assistant. From there, Nehlen became the wide receivers coach at Glenville State. He learned to recruit and settle in as a positions coach.
Next, Nehlen joined Doc Holliday at Marshall as a graduate assistant before getting a call from Jim Harbaugh, at Michigan. He spent two seasons with the Wolverines as a graduate assistant.
When Dan Gerberry was promoted from analyst to offensive assistant, that left a position open for Nehlen to take with the Mountaineers. Although it’s still unclear exactly what Nehlen will do in his role, it will be on offense.
Don Nehlen, who coached the Mountaineers from 1980-2000, won 149 games, the most in school history, during a hall-of-fame career. Don’s son, Dan, has been an equipment manager with the football program for30 years.
Of course, Ryan has no problem picking his grandfather’s brain.
“He’s excited for me to be back and listens to me any time that I call him and need advice,” Ryan said. “He’s right there with me, and he wants me to create my own path, as well. He stays his distance, but any time I need advice, he’s right there with me. He always supports me.”
Outside linebacker Quondarius Qualls suffered an ACL injury last week and will miss the rest of spring camp and summer drills.
“He was a guy who was really standing out, and then, ‘Boom!’ there goes another one with a knee,” Holgorsen said on MetroNews’ “Statewide Sportsline,” on Monday night.
Holgorsen said he hopes to have Qualls back by the season. He had 10 tackles last season, and was poised to alleviate depth concerns at “Sam” linebacker.