Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
Morgantown, West Virginia – West Virginia’s new director of athletics Wren Baker has now landed in Morgantown and will officially start his duties on December 19th, but in addition to getting acclimated with the area, Baker has big, major decisions to make over the next several weeks.
The hard work starts now for Wren Baker. Baker must decide the next steps with head coach Neal Brown. Brown, who is currently under contract until 2026 and is owed approximately $16 million by the university on that deal, will be back in 2023, but his actual future with the team is very much up in the air.
Bringing Brown back next season buys Baker time, but it certainly doesn’t mean that Brown is safe. In fact, Wren Baker’s top priority over the next couple of weeks is likely to find a way to negotiate Brown’s contract to make it more favorable for West Virginia University.
Neal Brown did not want to be fired after a 5-7 season. Being fired after four seasons of mediocrity would nearly be a death sentence for his future as a Power 5 head coach and he firmly believes that he can turn things around next season for the Mountaineers. Because of this, West Virginia University has the leverage and power now.
Unlike two years ago, when Brown’s name reportedly came up for other jobs such as Auburn and South Carolina, no one is going to come searching for him after a 21-25 start to his time at West Virginia, regardless of how respected he is in coaching circles.
Brown has to succeed at West Virginia now or his time at this level is likely over for the foreseeable future.
Baker should – and almost certainly will – have the following open, honest discussion with Neal Brown. “Neal, we will support you and do everything we can to help make you successful next season, but you have to work with us on this contract. You have had four seasons here and if you don’t get it done in Year Five, we will have to let you go. You will be evaluated on a week to week basis and there’s a very good chance that you won’t meet our expectations. If you don’t, we do not want to owe you $16 million in unearned salary. We are giving you this year to prove yourself and earn your future with the university.
Adjusted Contract Terms That Makes Sense For Everyone Involved
1 year deal that pays Neal Brown $5 million a year with a $5 million contract buyout. Brown would get a slight bump in his yearly salary and if he’s successful next season, a new contract will be negotiated. If he’s not successful and does not meet the expectations of Baker, he will be fired and the university will owe him a much more reasonable $5 million.
Why would Neal Brown accept these terms? He’s betting on himself. He understands that he’s failed over four seasons and doesn’t deserve his current contract. In addition, he is grateful to the university for another chance to prove himself at the Power 5 level. In addition, if he doesn’t accept these terms, West Virginia could always fire him and destroy his future. West Virginia doesn’t want to pay the enormous buyout and Neal Brown doesn’t want to be fired. No one wants it to come to this and that’s why Brown will be amenable to accepting an adjusted deal.
Neal Brown Might Have to Make Changes to His Coaching Staff
Brown hired a bunch of his buddies to be on his staff and has been reluctant to make changes or fire anyone during his career, despite them under-performing with the Mountaineers. After a brief evaluation of the program, Baker will want to surround Brown with new energy and proven assistant coaches who have been successful at the Power 5 level. This means that Brown will have to fire a few of the assistants on his current staff.
Offensive line/associate head coach Matt Moore, secondary coach ShaDon Brown, inside linebackers coach Jeff Koonz, tight ends coach Sean Reagan and even defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley will at the very least have their performances evaluated.