Neal Brown’s Top 5 Blunders at West Virginia

Photo Credit: Ben Queen, USA Today

Morgantown, West Virginia – Neal Brown has made a lot of mistakes as the head coach of the West Virginia Mountaineers. However, there are five blunders that were particularly hurtful to the West Virginia football program and real turning points for Brown.

#1 – Not naming Jahmile Addae defensive coordinator – After Vic Koenning was fired, Neal Brown had to make a decision about hiring a new defensive coordinator.  However, instead of hiring a defensive coordinator, he chose to name Jordan Lesley the defensive coordinator of the front of the defense and Jahmile Addae as the defensive coordinator of the back of the defense.

That season, in 2020, West Virginia’s defense was one of the best in the nation and ranked 4th nationally, giving up only 291.4 yards per game.  While this arrangement was successful at the time, Addae not being named the defensive coordinator caused a ripple effect that led to a downward spiral.

Addae, who was a four-year starter, two-time captain and two-time All-Big East defensive back for the Mountaineers, realized that he would not ever likely be named the Defensive Coordinator at his alma mater.  Addae then made the difficult decision to leave West Virginia to become the new defensive backs coach at the University of Georgia.

While Jordan Lesley was an asset to the West Virginia football program as a defensive line coach, choosing to promote him at the same time as Addae was a clear sign that Brown wasn’t ready to make either his defensive coordinator.

Jahmile Addae was beloved by his players and was ultimately the more valuable of the two coaches.  Given the fact that he was a former player at West Virginia, that alone should have made him the obvious choice.  When Addae left, that was the end of the climb and the beginning of the decline.

Tykee Smith, West Virginia’s overall best player and one of the top defensive players in the country, followed Addae to Georgia.  Another starter in the secondary, Dreshun Miller, transferred to Auburn.

If Addae was named the defensive coordinator at West Virginia, not only would Tykee Smith and Dreshun Miller still be Mountaineers, Neal Brown would have one of the top young defensive coordinators in the country who was a tremendous presence in the locker room and an even better recruiter.

Jahmile Addae, a real Mountaineer and a truly outstanding coach, was not treated with the respect he earned and deserved, and ultimately the decision to not name Addae the Defensive Coordinator at West Virginia will haunt Neal Brown for years to come.

#2 – Mishandling of the Vic Koenning situation – When Kerry Martin, Jr. spoke out about former defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, Neal Brown said the following in a statement: “I come to you tonight sick about today’s events. Earlier today, Kerry Martin expressed his voice and he had every right to do so. I first learned about Kerry’s stated concerns via Twitter. I care deeply about everyone involved and have waited to speak publicly so that I could first speak with Kerry, Vic, the team, and our administration.

After speaking with Kerry, I took immediate action. Along with Shane and his team, we launched an independent investigation. I spoke with all parties involved, the defense as a unit and the team as a whole. I again emphasized to our team that our program culture will be one of acceptance, respect, tolerance, and positive relationships. I stressed to our team and staff that we will be open and transparent throughout the University process.”

However, it was later determined that Brown did not in fact take any action after speaking with Martin. Martin then came out against Koenning on social media. That’s what made this particularly devastating for Brown; it completely shattered the image that Brown so carefully cultivated.  While we all assumed that the West Virginia players were happy and content in Brown’s bubble, it appeared that that was simply not the case.

Acceptance, respect, tolerance, positive relationships – all pillars of Neal Brown’s culture – suddenly came crumbling down. Real leaders handle misfortune and hardships with class, dignity and resolve, and Brown unfortunately struggled in this situation. Brown’s handling of the situation led to mistrust among the players and revealed to the public that the player-first culture that he was attempting to create was not exactly as it seemed.

#3 – Sticking with Jarret Doege for 2 and 1/2 years – Time after time after time, it was proven that Jarret Doege had no business being a starting quarterback for a Power 5 Conference team. His inability to throw downfield consistently, his lack of movement in the pocket, his poor decision-making, all led to West Virginia losses over and over and over again.

Yet Neal Brown defended him and kept him as the starter each and every game. For those who said, “Who else would Neal Brown have played?” Anyone else!

Brown’s bizarre loyalty to Doege led to many losses and was ultimately one of the worst decisions he has made during his time at West Virginia.

#4 – Not hiring a real offensive coordinator for 3 seasons – Brown refused to hire an offensive coordinator during his first three seasons as the head coach of the Mountaineers. Instead, he called the plays with the help of Gerad Parker, someone who zero experience calling plays.

Brown admitted that this was a mistake prior to last season, saying, “He now saw that he needed to be leader of the team and take a step back from calling plays” after hiring now-former offensive coordinator Graham Harrell.

Unfortunately, this realization came three years too late.

#5 – Not going for it on 4th and 1 against Pitt – In the biggest game of the season, perhaps in over a decade, West Virginia was leading Pitt 31-24 in the Backyard Brawl 6 minutes and 17 seconds remaining in the game. It was 4th and 1 (really, inches) on Pitt’s own 48 yard line and Neal Brown decided to punt to the Panthers rather than giving the ball to the unstoppable freshman phenom running back CJ Donaldson, who had not been stopped all game.

The rest is history. West Virginia went on to lose the game 31-38 to begin one of the most disappointing seasons ever for the Mountaineers, finishing 5-7 on the season and the third losing season out of four for Neal Brown.