MORGANTOWN, West Virginia — West Virginia University can afford to fire Neal Brown. In fact, firing Neal Brown might be the most financially responsible move that the university could possibly make. Neal Brown makes $4 million a year, up from $3.5 million last season. That’s right, he got a raise after a 5-7 overall record and a 3-6 record in the Big 12 Conference. In his four seasons with the Mountaineers, Brown is 26-28 overall and a 16-23 in the Big 12.
Although West Virginia owes Brown approximately $13.5 million if he were fired today, there are several donors that are willing to write that check right now under the right circumstances. Those circumstances include but are not limited to helping to choose the next head coach of the Mountaineers. Obviously, if a donor is going to pay for Brown to be fired, they want to make sure that an appropriate replacement will be hired. Given West Virginia’s recent questionable decision-making in terms of hiring football head coaches, that seems very reasonable.
However, this is not acceptable to university president Gordon Gee and director of athletics Wren Baker. They believe that it is their job to hire a potential replacement and do not want to be beholden to donors. Many top boosters and donors want a West Virginia guy like Tony Gibson or Rich Rodriguez to return home to lead the Mountaineers back to its former glory, but Gee and Baker view bringing back former Mountaineers as very problematic. Because of this, Gee and Baker will likely stick with Neal Brown for as long as possible.
The extension that former director of athletics Shane Lyons gave Brown in 2021 will go down as one of the worst contract moves in West Virginia history and perhaps ever in collegiate athletics. That extension runs through the 2026 season and the contract is very coach-friendly.
West Virginia is going to have to pay Neal Brown. Whether they fire him midway through this season or after the season or if he somehow survives through 2026, Brown is getting paid and there’s not much that West Virginia University can do about that. If West Virginia fires Brown now, he will be owed a huge chunk of change, but the reality is that keeping Brown and accepting the mediocrity that he has brought to the West Virginia football program will cost the university far more in the long run.
Ticket and merchandise sales naturally suffer when the team performs poorly and boosters are far less likely to donate money to a program that isn’t winning on the field. Donors are a very big part of college athletics and winning brings in the big bucks. When Colorado signed Deion Sanders as its head coach, he was given a 5 year, $29.5 million incentive-laden contract. Colorado couldn’t afford the contract at the time, but they knew that bringing the right coach in to lead the program would bring in money from donors and boosters, and Colorado was right.
Colorado’s ticket and merchandise sales went through the roof and boosters donated in record numbers. This is forward-thinking. Colorado made decisions that had a certain level of risk but it has paid off big time for their school.
Neal Brown is the opposite of Deion Sanders. He isn’t sexy, he isn’t a winner and he’s not going to ever make the program money. Brown will ultimately cost West Virginia University millions and millions of dollars, but keeping him beyond when he should have been kept is costing the university more and more every day.