Morgantown, West Virginia – On January 4, 2019, West Virginia University hired Neal Brown, a successful, up-and-coming 38 year old head coach who checked all of the boxes for the Mountaineers.
He was a successful coordinator. He had experience in the Big 12 Conference as the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech and in the SEC where he called plays for the Kentucky Wildcats.
He was also a proven head coach, albeit at a lower level. He was 31-8 in his final three years at Troy and upset major programs on the road with far less talent.
He had Appalachian roots having been born and raised in Kentucky and had experience in the Air Raid offense that West Virginia’s roster was built around.
He was young, proven and he looked the part. When he arrived in Morgantown, he said all of the right things and fans immediately embraced and loved him.
Although the West Virginia fan base always has high expectations for the Mountaineers, they were willing to give Brown time to build his program around his own players and culture.
Brown made a series of mistakes and mishaps that have ultimately led to where we’re at today. Neal Brown has failed. He is 19-21 overall and 11-17 in the Big 12 Conference. He has lost the trust of the supporters of the team that he worked so hard to earn.
The Vic Koenning Scandal (and Neal Brown’s handling of it)
In the summer of 2020, then-defensive coordinator Vic Koenning was accused by sophomore defensive back Kerry Martin of making him feel uncomfortable with his words and pushing religion on him. Martin listed several incidents involving Koenning, one of which included him using the word “retarded” towards Martin after he made a mistake during summer workouts in 2019, and another describing him openly debating the protests going on around the country with the student athletes.
Koenning was immediately put on leave while an investigation was done before West Virginia University and Koenning “mutually separated.” Obviously everything about this is ridiculous. Koenning certainly did not want to separate from the program and the investigation should have revealed why he was dismissed from the team.
However, 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.
Losing Jahmile Addae
When Vic Koenning was released by the program, Jordan Lesley and Jahmile Addae were given the title of “co-defensive coordinators.” Addae, who had experience at the program as an outstanding player and coach, deserved to be the defensive coordinator outright. However, Lesley was Neal Brown’s friend who followed him from Troy to West Virginia, and Brown named him the co-defensive coordinator as well, which was a situation doomed to fail.
In January 2021, Addae left the program to become the new cornerbacks coach at the University of Georgia. Losing Addae was a major loss for the Mountaineers. He was not only a tremendous recruiter, he was also highly respected within the locker room and many players were at West Virginia to play for him. This, of course, led to multiple players leaving to follow him to his stops at Georgia and Miami.
Sticking with Matt Moore as Offensive Line/Assistant Head Coach
Despite multiple years of failure and inadequate performance on the field, Neal Brown’s buddy from Troy, Matt Moore, remained the offensive line coach.
Since arriving in Morgantown, the Mountaineers’ offensive line has been questionable at best. Last season, West Virginia finished 105th in the nation in rushing yards per game, averaging only 116.9 yards, despite having outstanding senior running back Leddie Brown on the team.
This season, with the entire starting offensive line returning, there can be no excuses for poor play. Zach Frazier is one of the top centers in the Big 12, if not all of college football. Left tackle Wyatt Milum is one of the highest rated recruits in West Virginia history. Doug Nester is a former four star recruit who was a preseason All Big 12 first team member. James Gmiter is a talented veteran on the line who has played in 33 games and started 25 during his career. Brandon Yates and Ja’Quay Hubbard are experienced players who round out the highly-touted offensive line.
Brown has not fired anyone from either of his staffs at Troy or West Virginia, and apparently he never will, regardless of performance.
Not hiring an offensive coordinator for 3 years
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 this season, saying, “He now saw that he needed to be leader of the team and take a step back from calling plays” after hiring new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell.
Unfortunately, this realization came three years too late.
Neal Brown’s bizarre loyalty to Jarret Doege at quarterback 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.
Shane Lyons’ giving Neal Brown a contract extension and a raise
Speaking of terrible decisions, West Virginia’s director of athletics Shane Lyons giving Neal Brown a contract extension and a raise after an 11-11 start as the head coach of the Mountaineers might be the worst in program history.
Not only did it make Brown comfortable (which isn’t a good thing as a coach), it also set the expectation that average, mediocre results were acceptable.
Where the West Virginia football program stands right now
Although Brown has failed, Shane Lyons remains committed to him as the head coach of the Mountaineers, saying that there is plenty of football left to play in this season and that he expects the situation to improve.
However, at 2-3 and not favored in any remaining games left on the schedule, that now seems unlikely. Lyons now must find a way to not lose the entire fan base by not making a change at head coach, or cost the university even more money in lost revenue from season tickets and merchandise sales.
At this moment, West Virginia University appears to not take winning football games seriously. If they did, Neal Brown would no longer be the head coach of the Mountaineers.