Does Neal Brown Have Control of His Locker Room?

Morgantown, West Virginia – Since taking over as the head coach of the West Virginia Mountaineers, Neal Brown has made creating a winning, player-centric culture a top priority.  Creating a culture that puts the needs of players first has many positive but also some negative effects.

College football today is very different than it was when Don Nehlen or Rich Rodriguez were in charge of the West Virginia football program.  The players, in particular, are very different.  They have a voice – on social media and otherwise – and they certainly aren’t afraid to point out injustices or speak out about what is currently bothering them.

Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the players individually, but for a team, for a football program, it can be devastating.  When sophomore defensive back Kerry Martin, Jr. spoke about publicly about then-defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, it set off a firestorm of controversy and issues that ultimately led to the firing of Koenning.  Many wondered why Martin couldn’t simply approach his coaches with concerns and why he had to make an otherwise private issue public?

This is the world we live in.  Players have all of the power.  Coaches are no longer allowed to truly hold players accountable.  Rather, coaches must walk on eggshells and treat the player as a product, as a brand, as more important than the team.

Neal Brown’s misguided brand-building idea was his first real misstep since arriving in Morgantown.  Treating individual players as brands makes them value themselves more than their team.  This is precisely why so many Wets Virginia players speak out on social media.  They feel that their feelings, their thoughts – regardless of how destructive it may be for their team – are so important that they must be shared with the world.

This – combined with a perceived lack of overall discipline on the team – gives the impression of “the inmates running the prison.”  When players blatantly call out coaches, referring to them as “liars”, there has to be consequences.  Whether the players involved are suspended or simply don’t start, a message must be sent.

This isn’t the first time that TJ Simmons, who is a member of the leadership squad for the Mountaineers, has made a disappointing choice this season.  He was also suspended for the first game of the season for a “violation of team rules.”  Although West Virginia University did not release the exact reason, it was reported that it was because Simmons was caught drinking alcohol in the Mountaineers locker room and filmed it live on his social media.

Brown is clearly an outstanding leader, but it appears that a few holdovers from the Dana Holgorsen era could be causing problems in the locker room.  Although Brown obviously wants to run a player-centric program, it’s time he take real control and discipline these players for actions that can only be seen as destructive for the West Virginia football program.