Morgantown, West Virginia – Neal Brown and Vic Koenning are not only colleagues, they are very close personal friends. Both coaches bounced around quite a bit as assistants before ending up at Troy, where Brown – in his first stint as a head coach – hired Koenning to be his defensive coordinator.
While at Troy, Koenning and Brown meshed really well on and off the field. After their initial year at Troy in 2015, Koenning’s defense was spectacular. In 2016, Troy’s defense was 22nd in the nation in scoring (22.1 points per game), 13th in yards per carry (3.38 yards) and 4th in overall takeaways. In 2017, it only got better for Troy’s defense under Koenning – 11th nationally in scoring (18.5 points per game), 3rd in rushing yards per carry (2.87) and 16th in the country in takeaways. In 2018, the duos final year at Troy before leaving for West Virginia, the defense stayed consistently great, giving up only 22 points per game (28th in the country), 3.29 yards per carry (11th) and 3rd in the nation with 31 takeaways.
Koenning runs a base 3-3 front with an 11th player either being a fourth linebacker, second end rusher or fifth defensive back based on the situation, and it has proven to be successful at all of his stops as a defensive coordinator. Although the Mountaineers finished with the 74th ranked defense nationally in Koenning’s first year with the team, the defensive line is loaded with talent and there’s incredible potential for the upcoming season to be significantly improved.
With this said, the sticky situation that Neal Brown and his longtime friend and defensive coordinator find themselves in is going to be very difficult to navigate. Brown knows that Koenning will bring a successful defense to the Mountaineers and he also trusts him. Both would love for the Kerry Martin accusations to simply go away (or not have happened at all), but that is not the case.
Upon learning about the social media posts from Kerry Martin, Brown likely picked up the phone and immediately called Koenning. Below is hypothetically, very likely, how the conversation went.
Brown: Vic, are you doing all right? I’m totally caught off guard and stunned here.
Koenning: Yeah, I’ll reach out to Kerry to try to figure out what’s going on. I’m as shocked as you are. I’ve had some talks with the team about the protests and what’s going on in the world, but I never thought I crossed a line or said anything out of bounds.
Brown: I know you are a good man and we’ll get this figured out. I spoke with Shane (Lyons, athletic director) and we’re going to put you on administrative leave while we do an investigation and get this all figured out.
Koenning: If there’s anything you need from me, let me know. I’ve really tried hard to do right by these kids and I feel awful that this is happening.
Brown: I know. We will reach out to the players and be in touch with you. It’s important that we’re sensitive to the needs of the players during this time.
And with that, the short, awkward, unfortunate conversation between two friends at a very difficult time was over. The decision whether Koenning will remain employed or fired in the hands of an independent investigation by West Virginia University.
This has to be an extremely tough time for Koenning, but also Neal Brown, who has built his culture at West Virginia on the foundation of trust, respect for players and family. Not only does this put a crack on an otherwise pristine facade of the West Virginia football program, he could also lose a very close friend and someone he truly trusts in the process.