West Virginia Mountaineer fans have been flooded with news, almost all positive, over the past month. The Early Signing Period featured no surprises and the Mountaineers landed their most important early targets. West Virginia also hired promising young up-and-comer Neal Brown to lead the program into its next phase. Brown has made positive waves among Mountaineer faithful. Through it all, excitement builds for the Mountaineers this off-season.
Neal Brown Does the Right Things
Since being announced as the Mountaineers’ head football coach, Brown has done all the right things. He gave a heart-felt speech to Troy fans before leaving town. He came to Morgantown and met immediately with West Virginia legend Don Nehlen, the man responsible for bringing the Mountaineers into the modern era.
— West Virginia Football (@WVUfootball) January 7, 2019
Brown also heard concerns from residents about the perception that the program pays too little attention to in-state prospects. And he promised to rectify it by working hard to keep in-state talent home.
— West Virginia Football (@WVUfootball) January 9, 2019
He supports other Mountaineer teams and has even earned the praise of Coach Huggins.
Brown met individually with current Mountaineer football players within the first days of his coming to Morgantown. And he immediately reached out to all of West Virginia’s incoming football recruits. He has even impressed them enough to keep the entire class together so far despite some early concerns being expressed by a few of the incoming athletes.
Brown even took time to join Bluefield High School in mourning local hero Tony Webster, a 17-year old student athlete who tragically died of an aneurysm that burst while weightlifting.
Fair or not, West Virginians never felt that former coach Dana Holgorsen “fit” the state’s culture. They openly criticized him for being callous, for overlooking local talent, and for skipping over the details of being not just a head coach, but West Virginia’s head coach.
That job is a big one, and it is more than just being a football coach. In a state with just over a million people and no professional teams, West Virginians often view the football team as a beacon for the state. Home games are the biggest social events of the year. Win or lose, the fans love their Old Gold and Blue. And Mountaineer fans expect their head coach to be a “man of the people.”
The early verdict is that Brown is representing the State well. He embodies a culture that places faith, family, future, and football in that order. And he has shown it so far. Most recently, he has even taken the football players to a team outing for bowling. And although nobody bowled a 300, the team appears to have enjoyed the event.
No 3️⃣0️⃣0️⃣s today, but the Mountaineers had a good time at the lanes! 🎳 pic.twitter.com/oPQUR7V380
— West Virginia Football (@WVUfootball) January 21, 2019
As we suggested in our three-part series on Mountaineer history and wrote in our article announcing the hiring of Coach Brown, Mountaineer fans have been divided since the hiring of Bill Stewart. That division has never healed properly. Nonetheless, Mountaineer fans have largely been unified in their praise for Coach Brown and optimism for the future of the program under his guidance. If Brown accomplishes nothing else in Morgantown, consider that alone a substantial victory. As a result, palpable excitement builds for the Mountaineers.
The Immediate Future
Brown’s focus is already paying dividends. Though coaching changes offer recruits an opportunity to withdraw their letter of intent without penalty, the Mountaineers’ 2019 recruiting class remains unchanged from the Early Signing Period preview. Indeed, West Virginia even added graduate transfer signal-caller Austin Kendall from Oklahoma.
This leaves the Mountaineers with six additional scholarships to give in 2019. After an official visit over the weekend, it appears likely that Rashean Lynn, a 6’5” 3-star safety from Florida, will take one of those scholarships. The Mountaineers could also stand to add a couple offensive linemen, a couple defensive linemen, and a wide receiver.
One of the biggest successes early in Coach Brown’s tenure also came this weekend. Elite in-state offensive line recruit Darnell Wright from Huntington had largely spurned the Mountaineer program to date. Much has been written about the reasons why, but those articles can be summarized into the following three categories: “Huntington kids are raised to hate the Mountaineers”; “Wright’s high school coach is a huge Tennessee fan”; and “The prior staff never recruited in-state.”
None of this impacted Brown. He came in and immediately secured an official visit from Wright. And while it still seems likely that Wright will commit to Tennessee, Brown came in and moved the meter. That says a lot about his priorities.
Maybe Brown and staff add Lynn and only one more three-star player. Even in that situation, the Mountaineers’ incoming 2019 class will hover near the top 30 (unofficially, of course) when adding transfers Vandarius Cowan and Kendall to the composite score. That is definitely not a bad start. Indeed, it gives Brown and staff a lot of athletes to plug into their system. In short, the cupboards definitely are not bare this time around. And that is also cause for excitement.
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