It’s easy to say the 2021 West Virginia Mountaineers Football season has been disappointing. From the 2-4 start to the disappointing performance against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl to the exodus of players to the transfer portal, it is hard to find positive things to say about the season. There does seem to be some light at the end of the tunnel, however faint it may be, with a talent-laden group of young players joining the team soon. This class, led by 4-star quarterback Nicco Marchiol, does not solve most of WVU’s issues, though.
The biggest issues remain unaddressed from the coaching staff and athletic department. Players continue to transfer at historic rates, and this includes losing key contributors and starters on both sides of the ball. Additionally, the offense has been below average or worse for all 3 years of Neal Brown, a supposed offensive-minded coach, career.
Let’s start with the offense. Offensive Line Coach Matt Moore, Quarterbacks Coach Sean Reagan, and Inside Receivers/Tight Ends Coach Travis Trickett have each been at WVU since Brown’s hiring. While Trickett has done a great job at developing elite inside receivers such as Winston Wright on top of helping pull in some of the most talent-laden recruiting classes in West Virginia history, Moore and Reagan have coached position groups that have regressed over their tenures.
Additionally, during the season, there seemed to be a “hush order” put around who was actually calling plays for the Mountaineers. Last year, Neal Brown called most of the plays, but it was rumored that Offensive Coordinator, Gerard Parker, may have taken over play calling duties during the 2021 season. However, when Neal Brown was asked about this halfway through the season, he gave a complete non-answer. Yet, it is an important question, and one WVU fans deserve and answer to. The Mountaineers’ defense has been good to great each of the past two seasons. The offense has been the limiting factor on the team, and the fans deserve to know where to place the blame.
In the episode of Voice of Motown Podcast published January 4th, I went into detail on how the offense that was put out against Minnesota wasn’t one that was playing to the team’s strength. The play calls against Minnesota were trying to attack Minnesota deep. However, the Golden Gopher’s defense has been one of the best all year, especially at playing sound defense and preventing big plays. This questionable offensive philosophy led to plays where Jarret Doege was put into situations where he cannot and does not excel: going through his progressions, navigating the pocket, and flipping between sides of the field during his reads. This wasn’t just a one game thing. Doege was always at his best in RPO looks and quick read plays. Doege is and always has been more of a game manager. However, the coaching staff continued to build an offense that revolved, not around getting the ball into its best players like Leddie Brown and Winston Wright’s hands quickly, rather around a quarterback that is not built to be a featured piece of an offense.
And yet, we have not heard news, rumors, or rumblings on any upcoming changes to the offensive staff. The defenders of this administration have cited poor offensive line play, inheriting a depleted roster, and having a sub-optimal option at quarterback. However, the best offensive coaches find ways around this. Good position coaches recruit and develop young players to fill holes and replace sub-optimal performers. This staff, all of which have been with the team for 2+ years, continue to try to swim against the current and force schemes and philosophies that do not fit the personnel that they’ve brought in. Some of these coaches, like Matt Moore and Sean Reagan, and have failed to develop talent in their position groups to help address weak points on the team. WVU fans have seen enough of this offense coaching staff, and Neal Brown and/or Shane Lyons needs to announce that changes are coming. It is important we keep Travis Trickett (our best recruiter) and Chad Scott, who has done a great job at developing running backs during his tenure. However, Matt Moore, Sean Reagan, and Gerard Parker cannot be coaching at WVU next year. Additionally, Neal Brown should step away completely from playcalling and hire a young, innovative offensive mind, either from a smaller school or a quarterbacks coach sitting behind an established offensive coordinator at a bigger school.
The second issue is transfers. WVU currently leads the nation in transfers for the 2021 calendar year, with 30 as of the writing of this article. While this year may be an anomaly due to the NCAA’s waiving of the sit-out year for transfers, WVU has not had a major coaching change is and is still losing key starters across the team. Jackie Matthews, Winston Wright, Sean Ryan, Isaiah Esdale, VanDarius Cowan, and Jarret Doege are confirmed as leaving, and I have heard rumblings of a couple more starters that are uncertain about their situations. While it is expected that depth players transfer, it is not expected that players who have established roles on the team, like Winston Wright and Jackie Matthews, are transferring. And this is hugely concerning for WVU fans.
In our interview with Stedman Bailey on the Voice of Motown Podcast, Stedman noted that there seems to be a disconnect between players and coaches. He stated that numerous receivers have reached out to him to talk about concerns they have. To me, it seems odd that the players feel compelled to address these concerns outside the organization. The transfer issue has been apparent at WVU since the beginning of the season. Why haven’t the coaches been meeting with the players to talk about what they can do better? Have their been exit interviews? Have the coaches tried to convince these players to stay and not transfer?
It is extremely concerning that not only has the transfer problem seemed to have gotten worse, but also that Neal Brown has not addressed these issues for the fans. I understand that there are some things that cannot be shared with the media or fans, but we all are worried. We deserve some reassurances. And yet all we left with is silence, as if we, as fans, do not matter. It seems Neal Brown continues to defend his friends, in Matt Moore and Sean Reagan as well as continuing to behave as if the program is on stable ground. However, we are not stupid. The foundation of WVU football is leaking, and we are left to sit and worry. We deserve better. We deserve answers, accountability, and reassurances.
Be sure the check out the Stedman Bailey interview and my analyses of the WVU football team on the Voice of Motown Podcast: