As we wrote here, Dana Holgorsen recently ended his tenure with the West Virginia Mountaineers. After an efficient search for Holgorsen’s replacement, Athletic Director Shane Lyons made the call late last week. And, just like that, the Neal Brown era begins in Morgantown.
The move has been called a home-run hire by members of the national media. Chris Anderson at EerSports compiled various commentary here. The quote that sticks out most comes from Tom Fornelli: “There’s a very real chance WVU lost its coach to a G5 school and then replaced him with a better coach.”
Brown checks several boxes for West Virginia. Most importantly, he is a class act. He is inviting of local and national media. Brown adores and is adored by fans. He shares a mutual respect with his players. And he knows their names.
This is to say nothing ill of Holgorsen. It is no secret that we believed and wrote that Holgorsen was a solid coach who, together with his staff, recruited and developed talent very well in Morgantown. He was, without doubt, an excellent coach to guide West Virginia into the Big 12 from the former Big East.
That said, Neal Brown should allow West Virginia to take the next steps forward just fine.
The complete contract between West Virginia and Brown is not yet publicly available. However, multiple outlets have reported some of the key details over the past few days. West Virginia will pay Brown $3 million to start. In total, the Mountaineers will pay Brown $19 million over six years. The first two are fully guaranteed. After that, the Mountaineers guarantee Brown 75% of his pay in the event he is fired.
Brown’s average annual pay is only slightly lower than Holgorsen’s was, and Brown gets two years guaranteed with a slightly higher buyout thereafter (75% versus 60%). At the end of the day, Brown gets a substantial pay raise (about 350%) and the Mountaineers get one of the hottest young commodities in college football. But why is he worth this investment, and why is the national media heaping such praise on Brown?
Brown’s Records at Troy
Brown passed his first test with flying colors. The 38-year-old’s first head coaching job began four seasons ago when the Troy Trojans hired him to lead their program. Brown was only the second coach in Troy’s history, in fact. In that time, Brown led Troy to three straight seasons with ten or more wins. Those are, by the way, the only ten-win seasons in Troy’s history.
And Brown, by the way, is one of only six FBS coaches to have ten or more wins in each of the last three seasons. Six. Two of those play for the national championship for the third time in four years. The other three are Urban Meyer (Ohio State), Chris Petersen (Washington), and Bryan Harsin (Boise State). Pretty good company.
The fact that Brown has done this at Troy renders the accomplishment less meaningful for some. But that looks at it the wrong way. Certainly, Troy is not playing a Top 25 schedule. But Troy plays teams well within its range of talent. 247Sports publishes team talent composite rankings each year. The rankings calculate and order teams based on the recruiting composite scores assigned to each player on the team’s roster.
The last three years, Troy has played 20 games against teams with a higher talent composite. In other words, Troy only should have won 19 games during that span. Instead, Troy finished these three seasons with a combined 31-8 record. And during this span, Troy has gone 2-1 against Power 5 teams.
Brown Can Recruit, Too
Keenan Cummings over at WVSports gathered several stories about Brown’s recruiting prowess. Cummings also discusses the fact that Brown is an able “CEO” of a program. Brown effectively delegates authority and heaps praise on his staff for recruits and other successes that fall on their shoulders.
This combination of individual recruiting prowess and solid leadership allowed Brown and his staff to compile quite the recruiting class in Troy this year. That class is currently ranked 70th in the country (per 247Sports). The average class ranking between 2010 and 2018 for Troy is well into the 90s, depending on which service is being used. Brown has lifted the program substantially during his short time there.
Additionally, while offensive coordinator at Kentucky under Mark Stoops in 2013 and 2014, Brown was lead recruiter for Drew Barker, Matt Elam, and Eli Brown. All three were 4-star recruits per 247Sports. And per the same source, all three are in the top 20 all-time recruits in Kentucky. Barker and Elam were both top 10.
Brown is a Heck of Guy
As it turns out, Neal Brown is also a great guy. In an era where coaching positions are revolving doors, most coaches flee town for the next gig without much fanfare or communication to the fan base. Brown stands as a counter-example. He understands and appreciates what he meant to the Troy football program. And he addressed fans accordingly at Troy’s basketball game Saturday.
Neal Brown speaking to the crowd at Trojan Arena.
West Virginia announced him as its next head coach this morning, but Brown wasn’t there.
He’s in Troy, saying goodbye. pic.twitter.com/B64XbsgJPv
— Scott Watkins (@scottwatkinsTU) January 5, 2019
Fans of the Troy program will certainly miss Brown.
I want to say CONGRATS and THANK U to @NealBrown_WVU. We will miss you terribly at @TroyTrojansFB but @WVUfootball just gained a good one! I will never ever forget the day Coach took the time out to say “Thank You” to me when my time with Troy was coming to an end. #respect pic.twitter.com/GtPlBsDRzA
— Tiffany R Chandler (@Fit_Tiff_Pro) January 5, 2019
And those fans beg West Virginia to take good care of him.
— Whitney Ortiz (@whitneysortiz) January 5, 2019
And according to those who have worked for or with him, Brown’s allure isn’t just wins and losses. He has a charming personality, and he expects as much from himself as he does from others. In other words, he carries the hallmarks of a true leader.
Neal Brown Era Begins
Mountaineer fans are understandably anxious about their program. Most agreed that 2018 was now-or-never for the team to appear in the Big 12 Championship under Holgorsen. Yet, in its seventh year in the Big XII, West Virginia finished fourth in the final conference standings.
Fans were just as disappointed when the Mountaineers lost to Syracuse in the Camping World Bowl, marking the third straight bowl loss for West Virginia. After the game, the Mountaineers fell to only 2-5 in the postseason under Holgorsen. Then, the coach told fans in post-game remarks that they should moot their expectations because they were playing “big boy football.” After that, even some of the loudest Holgorsen supporters turned on him.
No surprise then that Lyons refused to cave to Holgorsen’s demands for more money, a longer term, and a larger contract guarantee. As we wrote here, though, the state of the program was largely determined by an emotional decision by former Athletic Director Ed Pastilong over a decade ago. As such, the search for West Virginia’s next coach was viewed by many, including us, as a pivotal moment in Mountaineer football history.
And Lyons conducted it masterfully. He concluded the search without fanfare and, more importantly, without scandal. If social media is any indication, the fan base is more united than it has been in a decade. And the Mountaineers hired a young up-and-comer with national esteem. Brown was the subject of an extremely flattering article by Sports Illustrated that chronicled Troy’s preparation for an ultimate win over Nebraska. And just last month, SBNation asked: “how in the hell is Neal Brown still at Troy?”
West Virginia, you have your next coach. It does not appear you will be disappointed.
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