ARLINGTON, Texas – Neal Brown’s message at Big 12 media days echoed what he has been saying all spring – the 2019 Mountaineers are very much a work in progress, and your patience would be appreciated.
“We’re young, very inexperienced,” Brown said. “What we look like in the fall, I’m not sure of. I’m really not. We’ve only had 15 practices. But I do like our guys. They’re hungry and very humble. It’s going to be a fun group.”
According to college football numbers analyst Phil Steele, the Mountaineers are 119th nationally in overall returning experience. That experience took an even bigger hit at the end of spring practice when West Virginia lost three anticipated starters – wide receiver Marcus Simms, safety Kenny Robinson and safety Derrek Pitts.
Pitts transferred to Marshall, Simms entered the NFL supplemental draft, and Robinson remains in the transfer portal.
“It didn’t necessarily come as a surprise [that they left],” Brown said. “We’ve been planning. I don’t know if you necessarily go about replacing an all-conference safety and your leading returning receiver. But I do feel good about how our guys have worked and prepared.”
In addition to the inexperience, Brown jumps into a first-year schedule that offers very few gimmes. The Mountaineers are one of just four programs nationally that are playing 11 Power 5 schools.
“I knew the schedule when I took the job,” Brown said. “We don’t talk to the players about it, kind of in a one-game mindset, that’s cliché. It’s a very challenging schedule.”
Brown said he accepts that West Virginia will always challenge itself outside of conference play due to geography.
“If you look at our future schedules, it’s challenging,” Brown said. “I do think that we have to, being where we fit geographically. I think it’s important for us to play natural rivals. The series with Pitt is coming up, playing Virginia Tech. Those games make sense because it’s hard for our fan base to travel.”
The Hokies and Panthers certainly aren’t on Brown’s immediate radar with the amount of work needed to keep the Mountaineers competitive this season.
For that reason, Brown is grateful for how well he and his family have been received in Morgantown. He has gotten the impression that West Virginia fans are in it for the long haul.
“I can’t say enough about how we’ve been received – not only myself on my family but also our staff and their families,” Brown said. “It’s exciting. [But] we’ve got our hands full. It’s one of those things where there’s so much energy and so much excitement, you want to make sure they understand that we lost a lot from last year.
“We’re going to be a young football team and I think our fanbase understands that and there’s going to be some patience.”
Victories on the recruiting trail will be as valuable as those on the field over the next year, and Brown is optimistic that his recruiting philosophy will provide long-term stability.
“We’re always going to try to build our team through high school football recruiting,” Brown said. “That’s how you build your foundation. I think it’s important to have guys in your program for four or five years.
“But we’re also going to be creative in how we build our roster. If you look at what we’ve done over the summer, you’ll see that. It’s really a year-long approach to building our roster.”