Mountaineer football coach Neal Brown’s mantra is Trust the Climb. The adage serves two purposes; it buys him some time as he tries to rebuild the program and it establishes the basis of the relationship between his staff and his players, as well as Brown and the fans.
The climb also states clearly that Mountaineer Nation will reap the benefits of that trust—wins over ranked opponents and rivals, and contention for a Big 12 championship.
That trust was tested this past Saturday.
The Mountaineers’ 20-point lead over rival Virginia Tech was slipping away. A late turnover gave Tech the ball deep in West Virginia territory with just over two-minutes remaining. Tech pushed the ball down to the three yard line for a first and goal. A touchdown and extra point would have given the Hokies a one-point victory.
However, the West Virginia defense did not yield and Braxton Burmeister’s fourth down pass attempt was broken up by Jackie Matthews. The Mountaineers prevailed 27-21.
The stakes were incredibly high for an early season non-conference game. Tech is a rival and came to Morgantown ranked 15th in the country. West Virginia had already lost to rival Maryland, so another setback may have caused fans to doubt the climb.
Additionally, frittering away a big lead would have added insult to the injury of defeat. The victory was thrilling for Mountaineer fans, but a loss under those circumstances would have been devastating and raised serious doubts.
The win helps solidify the trust Coach Brown has asked for, from his players and the fans. That trust must be mutual. Brown and his staff must have the confidence that WVU’s athletic administration is committed to his program, that fans will give him the opportunity to build a program, and that, in return, Brown will have success and produce teams the fans can be proud of.
Trust creates strength because it is truthful, and Brown is one of the more honest head coaches you will find. Ask him a question, and he will answer it. His candor is refreshing in a profession where coaches are masters at saying nothing substantive or are outright misleading.
For example, West Virginia was driving near the end of the first half. The offensive line was opening holes for Leddie Brown, who carried three times for 23 yards, including an 11 yard carry to the two for a first and goal.
However, the next play was a fade pass from Jarret Doege to Isaiah Esdale in the end zone that fell incomplete. That was followed by a Doege bootleg that lost two yards. West Virginia had to settle for a field goal.
Why run a fade that rarely works? As Brown explained on MetroNews Talkline Monday, that was not the play call. Brown was supposed to get the carry, but a bad snap pulled Doege out of position and forced him to throw it away.
The next play was also supposed to be a run, but a Tech defender penetrated and stopped the handoff, causing Doege to scramble awkwardly before losing two yards.
So, we know what happened. A mistake was made, and a Tech player made a play. That is part of the game, and more forgivable than a bad play call. Brown’s candor is refreshing. He explained what happened. That helps build trust.
We do not know how coach Neal Brown’s tenure will play out at WVU. If the program does continue to climb, then the victory over Virginia Tech will have been a defining moment.