By Mickey Furfari
For The Register-Herald
Don Nehlen admittedly had some great linebackers in his 21 years as West Virginia University’s outstanding head football coach.
But he thinks that Darryl Talley clearly was the greatest of the bunch on the basis of playing ability.
“First of all, Darryl had ‘it’,” Nehlen said last week after returning from New York and seeing Talley inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. “Exactly what ‘it’ is, I’m not quite sure.
“When you coach, every now and then you get a kid with ‘it.’ He could just play great and Darryl Talley was just an outstanding outside linebacker.”
The East Cleveland, Ohio, native actually was recruited by Frank Cignetti in 1979. He played for Nehlen in 1980-81-82.
Nehlen, who’s also in the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach, recalled, “When we got Darryl, he was skinny and a little bit undisciplined, but he’d been in the program heavily and we put about 35 pounds on him in about a year and a half.
“The big thing, he could run and he had great striking ability and we could play him at a lot of different places.”
Talley, who now resides in Orlando, Fla., made consensus All-America status as a senior in 1982. Talley had a school record 484 tackles for his collegiate career. Grant Wiley topped the mark with 492 tackles from 2000-03.
Talley also ranks sixth all-time in career quarterback sacks with 19.
“For his first position, we moved him out to a corner and took the other corner and shifted him to safety,” Nehlen remembers. “And we shifted the backs all the way around.”
Nehlen noted that Talley was about 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds in his prime. He had excellent speed, was smart and he loved to tackle.
“When he tackled you, you really were tackled and you knew it,” Nehlen stressed.
“I think that was true (about his tackling ability) in the NFL, too. He set the career record for tackles with the Buffalo Bills.”
The retired coach, WVU’s winningest ever in football, said Talley was a pleasure to coach and a really, really solid performer.
“He’s just a fine young man,” Nehlen said. “And he looks like he could still play football.”
Nehlen believes that Talley’s greatest game was against Pitt on the road in 1982. The Panthers were ranked No. 4 nationally and Talley was a wild man against the Panthers. He intercepted a Dan Marino pass and also blocked a punt for a touchdown. Paul Woodside tried to tie the score with a game-ending field goal.
But the ball hit the upright and fell down. Pitt finally won the game 16-13.
Nehlen said Talley also was highly instrumental that year in the 19-18 victory over Maryland in Morgantown.
“We knew they would go for a two-point conversion, and Talley hit the tight end so hard he knocked the ball loose,” Nehlen remembers.