West Virginia-Virginia Tech: Ex-coaches Don Nehlen, Frank Beamer glad programs are meeting again
Don Nehlen originally was going to plop down on his couch with a hot fudge sundae to watch West Virginia and former Big East rival Virginia Tech open the college football season on television.
The Hall of Fame coach instead will have to find his favorite treat in the vicinity of FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.
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Nehlen's not sure who will be doing the honors.
"We'll flip a coin to see who gets to flip the coin," Nehlen said. "I'm anxious to see Frank, because when I coached, he was one of my favorite guys."
The pair will be honorary captains in helping bring back a rivalry that, like some throughout college football, got lost in the shuffle of conference realignment. Others include Texas and Texas A&M, and Kansas and Missouri.
No. 21 Virginia Tech and No. 22 West Virginia are just four hours apart but haven't crossed paths in more than a decade.
"I'm really glad this game is back on the schedule," Beamer said. "I think it has new meaning in that now we represent different conferences. I'm just relieved that I'm not going to need a ticket to get into the game."
Virginia Tech and West Virginia played every year from 1973 to 2005. The rivalry stepped up in intensity after Beamer took over in 1987, then stopped after the Hokies moved to the Atlantic Coast Conference. West Virginia eventually joined the Big 12 in 2012.
They are dusting off the Black Diamond Trophy, a nod to the region's rich history with coal. Just as the trophy has been on a shelf, the coal industry has experienced a huge downturn with the closing of mines and the loss of thousands of jobs.
The schools also have a home-and-home series scheduled in 2021 and 2022. Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock is a former assistant AD at West Virginia.
West Virginia is renewing another rivalry with East Carolina next month and also will reacquaint itself in future years with old foes Maryland, Pittsburgh and Penn State.
"Pitt, Penn State and Virginia Tech, when I coached here, they were monumental games," Nehlen said. "Everybody looked forward to them. Our kids did. Our fans did. So the fact somebody's coming back on the schedule is big."
Other FBS schools are bringing back rivalries, too, to the delight of their fans.
Penn State and Pittsburgh started meeting again last season after a 15-year hiatus. Michigan and Notre Dame will play next year after a four-year break. Nebraska has future meetings with Oklahoma and Colorado. Florida and Miami (Fla.) will square off in 2019, and Texas and Arkansas will play in 2021, a game rescheduled from the 2014 season.
Nehlen coached at West Virginia from 1980-2000, had a career record of 202-128-8 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005. Beamer retired following the 2015 season after winning 238 games. He made his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot this year. The newest class will be announced in January.
Beamer went 9-5 against Nehlen, whom he calls "a great friend," and won 12 of 19 meetings overall against West Virginia.
None were bigger than the 1999 game in Morgantown, West Virginia, when the Mountaineers led No. 3 Virginia Tech 20-19 after scoring two touchdowns in two minutes. But the Hokies had Michael Vick.
On the game's final drive, the redshirt freshman couldn't find an open receiver and took off toward the right sideline. Just as it appeared he would step out of bounds 10 yards downfield, he darted ahead for 16 more to put Tech in field-goal range with 23 seconds left.
Shayne Graham's 44-yarder as time expired won it. Virginia Tech won the Big East title and went on to play for the national championship, losing to Florida State in the Sugar Bowl.
"In my opinion, Michael Vick was the best college football player that we ever played against," Nehlen said.