MORGANTOWN, W.VA. Don Nehlen, who has spent 21 seasons as West Virginia's football coach, retired Saturday following a 31-27 loss to Syracuse.
His retirement takes effect at the end of the season. Nehlen is one win shy of becoming the fifth active coach with 200 career victories.
"I just thought it was time for me to get on down the pike," the 64-year-old coach said. "I want to check around to see if there's still something else to do. I don't even know how to keep score in a bowling game."
Nehlen had not hinted that he would be moving on. The dean of Big East coaches has a 199-127-4 record in 30 seasons, including 21 at WVU.
"I've said when I retire that you'd be the first to know. Well, you're the first to know," Nehlen said. "I told my staff yesterday. I told my team about 10 minutes ago. It was a pretty tough time to drop that bomb on them."
Nehlen's voice quivered but he never broke down during his 10-minute talk. He was flanked by his wife, Merry Ann, and his two children, their spouses and his grandchildren. Nehlen's daughter, Vicky, is married to former NFL quarterback Jeff Hostetler, a WVU alumnus.
West Virginia's players were stunned following the double-whammy of Nehlen's announcement and the loss to Syracuse on R.J. Anderson's 13-yard TD toss to Malik Campbell with 10 seconds left.
"I thought I had heard him wrong at first in the locker room, but it was true," said offensive lineman Rick Gilliam. "It's just too much."
News spread quickly to the Syracuse locker room. Coach Paul Pasqualoni called Nehlen "a great coach and man."
Nehlen discussed his retirement with athletics director Ed Pastilong two weeks ago and Pastilong asked him to hold off so Pastilong could think about the move.
Many players figured Nehlen would have at least waited until the end of the season to make the announcement in order to keep the team focused.
Pastilong said the announcement was made this weekend to get a jump on other coaching vacancies that occur this time of year. He said a national search would begin immediately.
Nehlen said he would like to help select his successor. He said he would prefer that one of his assistant coaches take over.
West Virginia has lost eight consecutive bowl games. One of them was to eventual national champion Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl after the 1988 season. That was one of two undefeated regular seasons for Nehlen; the other came in 1993.
The Mountaineers (4-4, 2-2 Big East) will need to win two of their last three games in order to give him the chance to break the bowl futility streak.
West Virginia plays on the road next week at Rutgers, returns home to play East Carolina and finishes the season at Pittsburgh.
Nehlen has a 146-92-4 record at West Virginia. He was 55-35-4 in nine seasons at Bowling Green.