I have always considered myself a friend of Mountaineer football. I make no secret that I’m a Mountaineer partisan, that I am biased. I have done what I can to defend the Mountaineers reputation.
I’ve done my best to remind the national media the Mountaineers are the little program that could. West Virginia’s been playing football for 131 years. Since the Bobby Bowden days, straight through the Don Nehlen era to Rich Rodriguez, Bill Stewart, and Dana Holgerson, the Mountaineers have been a national Force.
While it is true the Mountaineers have never won a national championship, that fact alone does not tarnish their blue-chip veneer. They played for a national title in 1988, were in the hunt in 1993, and just lost out playing in the national championship game in 2007. In all other aspects the Mountaineers are blue chip program that does not get the respect of their peers.
As I am a loyal friend to the Mountaineer program it is my duty to speak the truth, even if it is an uncomfortable truth. Hiring Neal Brown was a mistake, giving Brown an extension was a mistake. It’s time for WVU to admit the mistake and make the painful and costly choice to fire Neal Brown.
When Neal Brown was hired in 2019, he asked us to “trust the climb.” And we did… until it became clear that Brown was digging a hole, not climbing to the Mountain top. I always assumed I could trust WVU’s administration to admit to mistakes and take corrective action, no matter how costly. But over the past few days, reports have surfaced that Brown will be brought back in 2023. I do not find these reports credible as they do not accurately reflect the facts. However. Just in case, the rumors are a trial balloon sent up to gauge fan reaction, we as fans must make it clear Brown’s return in 2023 is unacceptable.
The rumors come with plausible explanations, but none of them reasonable. I do not buy the argument that allowing Brown to coach in 2023 saves money. The financial harm caused by bringing him back for another year might eclipse his total guaranteed salary. Likewise, I do not buy the argument that the new AD will not have enough time to fire Brown and hire a suitable replacement.
There is one aspect of the rumor that rings true. I believe President Gee does not want to fire Neal Brown. Dr Gee has great affection for Brown. And Brown is likely to be the great family-oriented person he is reported to be. But Brown is clearly in over his head as WVU’s football coach.
If Gee allows whatever warm and fuzzy feelings he has for Coach Brown to interfere with his judgment then he is making a serious mistake.
I get it. Firing Brown is difficult. We all wanted Brown to succeed. But we cannot compound the mistake of an unfortunate extension with giving Brown another year to turn the program around. WVU has enough data to know that the football program has regressed badly under Coach Brown, and nothing suggests the trend can be reversed. The fans have seen enough too.
It’s time for a change. We need it. Brown needs it.
We trusted the climb. We have broken bones to prove it!
And that is why every Mountaineer fan should call for interim athletic director Rob Alsop to terminate Brown when the team returns to Morgantown after the season finale.
Please forget the financial aspect of the argument for keeping Brown another year. How much would that save? $6 million in salaries?
The cost to bring Back in 2023 is likely to be astronomical. Season ticket sales would plummet. Regular season attendance would be the lowest in the program’s 132-year history. Donations would dry up. And generalized fan disgust would reduce every conceivable revenue stream.
Sponsorship income would certainly suffer. The Mountaineers’ Learfield – IMG College deal was restructured to accommodate for the loss of Tier 3 television rights. The base pay was lowered, and performance incentives added. Now imagine the impact of the newly added performance incentives on WVU’s Learfield – IMG College revenue stream if Brown returns in 2023.
And consider the direct correlation between the ability of a college to raise money, both for academics and athletics, with a winning football program. Success on the gridiron is more than a point of pride – it deepens and reinforces the emotional attachment between donors and the schools they support. Winning football teams directly equate to the generosity of benefactors and how frequently they give. are more generous and give more often if they emotionally vested in football.
The holistic view proves that benefits of a winning football program go beyond donations. Teams that win on the football field see increases in student applications. Prospective students want to be a part of what they see on TV. The more successful the program, the more applications for admissions.
Losing programs have the opposite effect. Revenue streams drop across the board, applications for admission fall off… and most importantly… angry, disgruntled donors give less.
And that’s exactly what WVU would have if Brown comes back in 2023… angry, disgruntled donors.
Now imagine you are the new athletic director WVU. You have no choice; Brown is going to coach the Mountaineers in 2023. Part of your mandate as athletic director is to improve Fundraising. What are you going to say to the disgruntled donors to justify Brown returning? How are you going to raise money when they are mad and upset? How are you going to ask them to “Trust the Climb” another year when they have been embarrassed by Mountaineer football for the first time in their memory?
How are you as athletic director going to go on the road with Coach Brown for the Coaches’ Caravan and ask fans to support another year of blowouts and embarrassments? How are you going ask a hostile audience, with Brown at your side, to donate to the program and buy season tickets?
This is the part where a devoted friend tells the uncomfortable truth. President Gee, Interim director Alsop, if you bring Neal Brown back as coach in 2023 then you betray everyone emotionally invested in WVU or WVU football.
Money makes the world go around, but there’s more than revenue at stake. Mountaineer football is the Pride and joy of West Virginia. If you allow Brown to return in 2023 for any reason, then you disrespect the previous 131 years of Mountaineer football. You risk fan disgust becoming terminal apathy. You risk sentencing WVU football to a life sentence of Irrelevancy.
The uncomfortable truth is that change must be made, the sooner the better. If you do anything else, then you betray our trust.
WVU cannot afford anything less an A+ hire for WVU’s next football coach. Clearly the most qualified candidate, the coach most qualified to fix what is wrong with Mountaineer football and return the Mountaineers to national prominence is Hugh Freeze.
I have first-hand knowledge that president Gee and interim athletic director Alsop – know of Hugh Freeze’s interest in coaching WVU. Gee and Alsop know Freeze’s buyout at Liberty is only $2.5 million – ironically, Jimbo Fisher’s buyout at FSU back in 2008, the one WVU declined to pick up, was also $2.5 million.
I understand that President Gee does not see Freeze as a potential fit for WVU because of his (Freeze’s) checkered past and misconceptions about his character. As much as I respect Dr. Gee, it would be a grave mistake on his part to rule out Coach Freeze based on his past mistakes.
Gee should understand better than most that everyone deserves a second chance as his career is not without controversy. He was forced out at Ohio State for comments about Notre Dame and a spending controversy. As president of Vanderbilt, he eliminated the organized athletic department at Vanderbilt and consolidated its activities under the Division of Student Life.
WVU gave Gee a second chance. Now Gee needs to prove he learned his lesson and give Hugh Freeze the second chance he deserves.
And there is precedent for WVU hiring an elite coach with a checkered past. The Mountaineers hired Bobby Huggins, despite his reputation as a coach and the personal issues lurking in his past.
There is no doubt Hugh Freeze would be the A+ hire WVU needs to reenergize the fan and donor base. Freeze is a proven winner and program builder. He’s the only current head coach to have 10-win seasons at four different programs. His career winning percentage is hovering around 70%. He (Freeze) is considered an offensive mastermind, recruiting ace and QB guru.
Freeze, a native Mississippian, and devout Christian would fit right in with West Virginia. All he needs is a chance.
Yet, I fear West Virginia University will make the same mistake it made in 2008 when Jimbo Fisher expressed his interest in coaching the Mountaineers. WVU passed on Fisher, easily the most qualified candidate for the job, and made the emotional decision to hire Bill Stewart in the afterglow of a Fiesta Bowl win. The way Stewart was hired split the fan base and alienated donors. The program has never recovered from that mistake.
The Mountaineer football program doesn’t belong to Godon Gee, Rob Alsop or whoever the next AD is… the program belongs to the people of West Virginia, WVU’s students, alumni, t-shirt alumni, donors, and benefactors…anyone who bleeds old gold and blue.
There is no doubt the program is at a critical crossroads, no doubt that Neil Brown is not the man to lead the football program, no doubt the Mountaineer program is in danger. The mediocrity of the last 10 years eclipses everything that came before. Fans are losing hope. Bad football and disappointment are the new normal. And there’s no doubt that losing is a cancer that must be removed before it can metastasize – before it becomes terminal.
Unfortunately, there’s no doubt another year under Brown risks a continuation of the downward trajectory of the program and infecting the loyal fanbase with terminal apathy.
And that’s why I’m asking every Mountaineer fan to reach out to Dr. Gee and interim director Alsop and demand change, demand that an elite caliber head coach like Hugh Freeze, who wants to be at WVU, gets the interview he deserves.
Whatever we do, if the rumors about Brown returning in 2023 are a trial balloon, we need to make sure Gee and Alsop know it’s a lead balloon that will drag Mountaineer football to the bottom of the Big 12.
The contact information for Dr. Gee and interim director Alsop is below:
Dr. Gordon Gee
Rob Alsop, Interim Athletic Director
Years ago I vowed that I was done writing about WVU football. At the time there were just too many people covering the Mountaineers. There was nothing I could add, no insight I could share, no perspective I could give that was unique or worthwhile. I was both right and wrong. So much is said by so many different voices that clarity is impossible.
Yet, over the past few months I began to realize there was a story nobody was telling. Problems within WVU’s athletic department and MAC. I wasn’t the only one who knew all was not as it appeared. And even then I wanted to look the other way and pretend everything was alright… until the problems couldn’t be ignored any longer. I had to do something…
It was when ESPN picked up on a tidbit from Hoppy Kercheval about Neal Brown possibly coaching for WVU in 2023 that I knew I had write something. Why? Because I believe WVU floated the rumor as a trial balloon.
I believe Neal Brown is coaching his last game as WVU’s head coach today. And this is the last time I will write about WVU football.
Cue Country Roads