Eighteen months into his tenure, West Virginia football coach Neal Brown is facing his first crisis. It’s not hyperbole to say how he handles it could affect the rest of his career at WVU.
Vic Koenning, Brown’s defensive coordinator at West Virginia, has become the center of an accusation firestorm generated by West Virginia safety Kerry Martin, Jr. In a lengthy social media post on Tuesday, the sophomore accused Koenning of a myriad of abusive behavior directed at Martin and other players. In response to the allegations and ensuring media uproar, WVU athletic director Shane Lyons announced Koenning has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation of Martin’s accusations.
That’s not enough. Brown needs to fire Koenning.
This is the football case for firing Koenning. Here is the moral case.
Koenning is 60-years-old. Martin’s accusations make the case that Koenning’s is either too old or too out of touch. Or both. The incident that appears to have propelled Martin to go public with his grievances about Koenning was a virtual meeting with the Mountaineers safeties. Koenning is Martn’s position coach as well as defensive coordinator.
Martin wrote: “The Most recent incident with Coach Vic was in our position meeting on June 22, 2020. Coach Vic tells us about the conversation he [had] with his son about the rioting and protesting and his exact words were, ‘if people did not want to get tear gassed, or push back by the police then they shouldn’t be outside protesting. I then spoke up instantly and asked what he meant by that and he couldn’t give a straight answer.”
Put aside whether you agree or disagree with Koenning’s viewpoint. That’s not germane to this discussion.
The fact that Koenning, in a meeting with a group of young black men, in the current environment, didn’t understand how bad of an idea making that statement was shows how out of touch he is with the players he’s coaching.
It’s called reading the room, and Koenning apparently has absolutely no ability to do this. That is bad. For a college football coach, it’s fatal.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of a college football program. Reading the room is absolutely essential in recruiting. A coach has to go into the home of a recruit and his family. He has to know what the recruit is looking for from a college football program. He has to know what the family is looking for from the coaches and the program. He has to be able to deliver the answers and tone that the player and his family want to hear. He also has to know what they don’t want to hear. You do that by reading the room.
Does Koenning making that statement about the current unrest in the nation to a group of college-aged black men sound like a man who has the skills to ascertain what a recruit and his family want to hear?
There are other accusations Martin made that, if true, show Koenning’s coaching deficiencies.
Martin wrote: “In the month of June, 3 weeks after we reported back to campus for summer workouts, I had my first incident with (Koenning) after a mistake I made on the field that he called me retarded for doing the wrong technique. I have family member that are actually mentally ill and for him to say that hurt me because it was an action we could fix.”
Put aside the absolute disgusting nature of this insult (this aspect is addressed here). Look at the end of Martin’s last sentence “…it was an action we could fix.”
Martin nails it. This moment called for coaching. Koenning instead chose to issue a disgusting middle-school insult. This is the action of a poor coach and a poor communicator.
Koenning doesn’t appear to have the ability to effectively communicate his point. What benefit are we to ascertain that Koenning thought Martin was to gain from being called “retarded”?
Bill Belichick is the best football coach in NFL history. He is a strict taskmaster. He also doesn’t call his players “retarded.” He doesn’t scream. He teaches. He schemes. He communicates.
Nick Saban is the best coach in college football history. Like Belichick, Saban is strict and coaches his players hard. And he does so without schoolyard insults.
In other words, they “coach.”
Outside of friendship and/or loyalty, there is no reason for Brown not to jettison Koenning. And friendship and loyalty shouldn’t be enough for Brown to potentially sabotage his first (and maybe only) Power 5 head coaching job.
Brown must fire Koenning.