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Player development, on and off the field, remains a focus for Neal Brown

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — With a roster that contains over a hundred players, ten full-time on-field assistant coaches and dozens of support staff members, WVU head coach Neal Brown oversees a large group of personnel within his program. A simple, three-word message that rests on his desk at the Milan Puskar Center allows him to reset if needed.

“It is easy to get distracted. It is easy to lose focus on what your main things are. I have a sign on my desk that says, ‘Coach the team’. Because of all the things I am responsible for, the most important thing is coaching the team,” Brown said on Tuesday’s edition of MetroNews Talkline.

“What that signifies to me is dealing with the players. The players are our first priority and we need to coach them. That term has a broader meaning. It means we have to develop them. That is a daily reminder for me. Regardless of what is going on, budgets, attendance, conferences or whatever it is, the main thing is coaching the team.”

Eleven days ahead of the season opener at Maryland, Brown broke from a late-game strategy session Tuesday morning for an interview with Hoppy Kercheval.

Neal Brown leads the Mountaineers to the practice field (Photo by Joe Brocato)

“Right now, I am going through offensively, our ‘last play’ menu. You want to have a menu of certain plays that when you get into the last play of the game from certain yard lines, whether it is the 40, the 25, the 10, 5 or whatever it is, if you need a touchdown and you only have one play, you have to have a list of plays. And you have to rep those in certain situations. We’ll do some of that tonight.”

In a position where the office hours go well beyond 9-to-5, Brown’s workday begins long before arriving at the football facility.

“Once you get into the office, there’s so many things. We’ve got over a hundred players. We’ve got several staff members. There’s a lot of external factors here. Everything I want to get accomplished, I try to get accomplished before I actually come in the office. And then once I am here, it is about managing our staff and managing our players.”

Development on and off the football field

Since being hired to lead the WVU football program in 2019, Brown has launched a number of initiatives to foster growth and development of his players beyond the bounds of practices and games. Those include a Name, Image and Likeness program, and a partnership with brand marketing consultant Jeremy Darlow.

“It all matters,” Brown said. “I really believe that better people make better Mountaineers. So much of our game is about commitment, trust, forming consistency and being accountable to others. Those are all traits that I would list when talking about high-quality people. The things we are trying to do off the field, it all correlates on the field.”

In May, WVU introduced the ‘5th Quarter Program’. Among the many goals of the program are to build character, leadership and career development and building a bridge to life beyond however long a player’s football career may last.

WVU head coach Neal Brown (Photo by Joe Brocato)

“Our goals are, in no particular order, are to develop men, graduate and place them in employment. Hopefully that is in the NFL but that is not going to be the place for all of them. And to win, those are our three goals. Everything we do wants to have one of those in mind. That is the end goal. And our 5th Quarter program is really about the development of men but also setting them up for job placement once they graduate and their eligibility is expired.

“The program is in its infancy. The athletic department has given us the tools to grow it and I am appreciative of that. Paige Diggs, who has her MBA and her law degree from here, is doing a fantastic job of programming and fundraising for that.”

Beyond formal programs, Brown keeps a schedule of individual meetings with his players throughout the year.

“I try to meet with all of our players on our team, and be intentional about it, four to six times a year. That’s just planned. A lot of the meetings are them coming in because they have issues or I call them in because I want to talk about certain things.

“We go over an IDP, which is an individual development program. But our position coaches, they are meeting with individual players almost on a daily basis. It can be about life issues. It can be about academics or things our support staff is helping them deal with. Maybe it is sports psychology. Maybe it is strength and conditioning or nutrition.”

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