Bowl Notebook : Nehlen Needles Former Employer, but, Shhh! It’s Off Record

From Times Staff Writers

West Virginia Coach Don Nehlen is fielding a lot of queries about where he’s going after Morgantown; that’s the price of bringing any team to the brink of a national championship. However, he says he’s probably not going anywhere. He hates traffic.

One place he’s not going, for sure, is back to Bowling Green, which he left for West Virginia in 1976, after a 9-year record of 53-35-4.

At a Wednesday morning news conference, Nehlen said he could have stayed at Bowling Green another “12 years, but the president didn’t like me and I didn’t like him. He never fired me, of course. He didn’t have the guts to fire me. Thank goodness I had a chance to go where they play real football.”

He closed, “This is between you, me and the lamppost.” A crowd of 200 reporters nodded.


Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz has been building the Mountaineers up to mythical status, worrying about West Virginia’s offensive size (the line averages 271 pounds) and his team’s nagging injuries. “And we have too one-dimensional an offense,” he continued, “and West Virginia does not make mental errors, which we are more apt to do. If we have to get into a high- scoring game, we’re in trouble. This is the type of team that can embarrass you.”

Nehlen was in the back of the room listening to this and then came forward. “Half the people in the country don’t think we even belong here, how we never play a strong schedule and he’s got us as the greatest team in football. He’s the greatest con man in America.”

UCLA will play in front of a decidedly pro-Arkansas crowd Monday in the Cotton Bowl.

About 35,000 tickets were sold in Arkansas, whereas fewer than 3,000 were sold at UCLA, believed to be among the fewest tickets ever sold to a participating school, according to a Cotton bowl spokesman.


“I wish more people were coming in from the West Coast,” said Jim Brock, executive vice president of the Cotton Bowl, “but I’m not going to say we’re disappointed because we’re not.

“When we started looking at the West Coast, we anticipated selling about 2,500 to 5,000. A lot of people are scared of our weather.”

Nevertheless, the 72,032-seat stadium has been sold out for several weeks, and Brock calls it “one of the hottest tickets we’ve ever had.”

Part of the reason for that, Brock said, is the tremendous local interest in UCLA’s quarterback Troy Aikman, who is expected to be the Dallas Cowboys’ No. 1 pick in the National Football League draft.


Coach Ken Hatfield of Arkansas will replace Vince Dooley at Georgia, according to an ESPN report, but Hatfield declined to discuss the situation.

“I’m not going to talk about any of that until after Jan. 2,” Hatfield told reporters. “I’m not going to talk about it to you guys. I’m not going to talk about it to the team.

“The only thing I’m going to talk about is beating UCLA in the Cotton Bowl. This is the first time we’ve been here in 13 years and we’re going to enjoy it.”

UCLA Coach Terry Donahue was quoted last week as saying that Bret Johnson, a freshman from El Toro High School who was redshirted this season, probably would be the Bruins’ starting quarterback next season.


Donahue said Thursday, though, that he was misquoted.

“Maybe I said that Johnson was a talented player,” Donahue said of the report in the Herald Examiner, “but I certainly wouldn’t have said he’d be the starter. Not at this stage. He hasn’t done anything.”

Three other quarterbacks--Ron Caragher, Bobby San Jose and Jim Bonds--will return for UCLA next season.

“It’s going to be wide open in the spring,” Donahue said. “Probably the guy that knows the offense best right now is Ron Caragher.”


USC quarterback Rodney Peete has been named the winner of the Pop Warner Award, given annually since 1949 to be the best senior player on the Pacific Coast.

The award is presented by the Palo Club in Palo Alto. Peete is the 13th Trojan player to receive the award and the first quarterback.

Michigan quarterback Michael Taylor can’t get a break.

After recovering from a broken collarbone, Taylor is questionable for Monday’s Rose Bowl Game against USC because of the flu.


A starter before he was hurt, Taylor was supposed to back up Demetrius Brown in the Rose Bowl.

If Taylor is unable to play, Wilbur Odom will be Michigan’s No. 2 quarterback. Odom, a 6-foot sophomore, played in only 1 game this season.

Elvis Grbac, a redshirt freshman quarterback, is imitating USC quarterback Rodney Peete at Michigan’s practices this week.

“He’s not exactly Rodney Peete since he’s 6-6, 210 pounds, but he’s doing a good job,” Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler said.


Schembechler didn’t plan to stay long when Michigan made its traditional pre-Rose Bowl visit to Disneyland Wednesday afternoon.

A school official said the coach would pose with Mickey Mouse and leave.

“Mickey and I are the same age, so we’ve got a lot in common,” Schembechler said.

On his way to Fair Grounds racetrack Thursday afternoon, Auburn Coach Pat Dye dropped by Sugar Bowl headquarters in New Orleans to make two points about one of his favorite sports:


--He said will play to win Monday night, unlike last season, when, in the final seconds of the 1988 Sugar Bowl game, he called on his kicker to tie Syracuse, 16-16.

“If the circumstances were the same, I’d do the same again,” Dye said. “But in an Auburn-Florida State game, (the circumstances) won’t be the same. I won’t play for a tie.”

--He favors a final-four playoff system for college football, with two Saturday games after the bowl games, the last one for the championship on the day before the Super Bowl each year.

“You’d have to have sudden death in the (major) bowl games and in the playoff games,” Dye said. “It would create a lot of excitement for the bowls.”


Two or three Florida State players came to practice with the flu Thursday, Coach Bobby Bowden said. And one, nose guard Frank Romeo, was bedded down at the hotel.

“It’s scary,” Bowden commented. “When this happens, you’re always worried about an epidemic.”

Freshman Brad Johnson, a 6-5 backup quarterback, flew to Orlando, Fla., after practice to play for Florida State in the final round of the Red Lobster basketball tournament Thursday night against Villanova.

He is due back in New Orleans for Friday’s Sugar Bowl practice.


“I’m glad Brad can play both sports this year,” Bowden said. “But he’s a very promising quarterback. One of these days, he’ll have to decide between football and basketball.”

The Sugar Bowl is being billed in New Orleans as a classic adventure between a spectacular offense, Florida State’s, and a dominant defense, Auburn’s.

“But I think it will be decided by their offense and our defense,” Florida State’s Bowden said.

Noting that his team is a 6-point favorite, he said: “Our defense will have to shut them out, because two field goals are all we’ll get.”