Friends of Coal
Coach Don Nehlen
Editor’s Note: “Friends of Coal” is a grass roots organization comprising a motivated high energy group of West Virginia citizens who support the view that coal is working to improve the quality of life in West Virginia. One of the aims of the new organization “Friends of Coal” is to reverse the perception that coal mining has declined in importance in West Virginia and in the country. Former football coach Don Nehlen of WVU is the spokesperson of “Friends of Coal” and addressed the 30th Annual West Virginia Mining Symposium.
Coach Nehlen referred to his first visit underground in a coal mine seven years ago with Bill Raney and when he got there was amazed when he talked to the guys underground.
“I really liked them because they are good old fashioned Americans to me,” said Nehlen. “I liked the look in their eye. I liked the passion they had for their job.”
Coach Nehlen said that people might wonder how a guy that can barely spell COAL is going to go ahead and represent the industry around the state and talk about coal. Coach Nehlen referred to another mine visit a couple of days before his talk and again he saw that something in the eye of the workers, with that passion they have for their job. This really impressed him and is one reason why he is anxious to be on the team.
Some 99% of electricity in West Virginia comes from coal, Nehlen reminded his audience. “West Virginia
produces 170 million tons of coal annually. I didn’t know that. Nobody knows that. Let’s tell them the
best defense is a great offense,” said
Nehlen. “Go after them. West Virginia is the nation’s leading underground coal producer and provides half of America’s coal exports. Coal produces 51,000 jobs, good paying jobs. You tell me where the state of West Virginia would be without these 51,000 jobs paying more than $1 billion in wages.”
He continued, “what I am saying is we have a special industry here that is absolutely necessary for the state of West Virginia to make it and very few people know how good you are. You guys are 10, 11 and 0 and everyone thinks you are 5 and 6 because nobody has told anybody any different. So when you are winning, you got to let people know and I think that is very very important,” said Nehlen.
According to Nehlen, when he coached, every great team that he was associated with had four basic characteristics that hardly ever changed:
· A great football team had great team leadership, with the guys at the top so enthusiastic that the young kids, freshmen, sophomores, and juniors looked up to them. “As I go around this coal industry I meet the people in charge. I have never met a guy yet that hasn’t impressed me and shown me he has got some class and just wants to get the job done,” said Nehlen.
· The second thing, that would never change, is when Nehlen had a bunch of kids that had a passion for hard work. They had that same type of look in their eye and you could tell that they really liked what there were doing.
· The third thing in every one of Nehlen’s great teams is the players had a commitment to each other. “Football is the greatest game in the world today because it is a team game,” said Nehlen.
· The last thing that never changes is unselfishness. “To be successful in coaching, to be successful in mining or any place else, you have to make sure that you have unselfish people. “If you get a bunch of selfish guys on your team, you got a real problem and that is why it is positively so important in Friends of Coal that everybody in this room is on the same page and speaks with one tongue. I used to tell my team if somebody gets a headache, we’ll all take an aspirin, but we got to be together,” said Nehlen. “We all have to be going in one direction and that is very very important. Awesome power game, awesome power, a bunch of guys all going in the same direction and nobody cares who gets the credit. That is the way you win.”
Nehlen said that if every one of the 55,000 coal mine workers in West Virginia take the Friends of Coal cards home and get 10 people to sign up, 10 times 55,000 is about 550,000 and that’ll impress some of the people in that fancy house, the Capitol building. The people in the coal industry are special and everyone needs to know it.
“Another thing about coaching,” according to Nehlen, “is that once you get all the things in place, the most important job of a head coach is making the team believe they can win because when you get a bunch of young guys believing they can win, I guarantee that you are always going to have a chance. I believe that this association can make sure that we can make the people of West Virginia believe what we do is so very very important.”
The image of the coal industry in about a year, according to Nehlen, is going to change. People are going to know how good the industry is, how hard the guys work, and what would happen if West Virginia didn’t have the coal industry.
“Deal from strength. We’re good. Let’s push it. Don’t worry about our weaknesses, everybody has weakness,” Nehlen said. “Let’s try to improve on those weaknesses but deal from our strengths and then talk about our economy and talk about expanding it. Let’s expand coal mining to have more coal jobs and let’s get some of these regulations eliminated or at least made sound so that the guys have a chance to make a couple of dollars.”
Nehlen told the story about visiting Gilbert, West Virginia. He pulled into a gas station to fill up his car and a guy came out of the gas station looking at him. He kept looking and Nehlen noticed he was looking at his wrists. “When he finished pumping the gas, he said, what kind of ring you got on there fella? And I said well it is a football ring. He said a football ring, what do you mean a football ring? I said well if you are a player or a coach and you have a good team, you get to go to a bowl game then you get a watch and you get a ring. He says are you a coach or something. I said yea. He says where do you coach? I said West Virginia. He said oh brother, you better cherish that damn ring, because as long as that guy Nehlen is there you’ll never get another one!
“This is a great industry, good people. You are doing a great service to West Virginia. Let’s go on the offense. Let’s tell the real story about coal. You guys are good folks. You are 10 and 0 as far as I am concerned. Let everybody know it. Thanks a million. I appreciate being on the team.” cl
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