WVU’s hire of head football coach Neal Brown in 2019 was a no-brainer. Brown had coached Troy to a 31-8 record in the previous three seasons while racking up bowl victories and conference titles.
He was the hot coach and WVU Athletic Director Shane Lyons saw a perfect fit with Mountaineer Nation. “When I started this national search, I learned very quickly that he checked all the boxes of what I was looking for in our next football coach,” Lyons said at the time.
It was evident early that Brown was a refreshing change from the departed Dana Holgorsen. He quickly ingrained himself into the state’s culture, brought badly needed organization to the Puskar Center, and improved recruiting, all while creating a family atmosphere within the Mountaineer program.
In short, heading into his fourth season, Brown has checked all the boxes that Lyons talked about. Except one, the biggest box of all, and that is success on the field. The Mountaineers are 17-20 overall during Brown’s tenure and just 11-16 in conference play.
Grumbling within Mountaineer Nation started last season and now has increased to outright hostility following disappointing losses to Pitt and Kansas, with some fans calling for his firing.
“Trust the Climb” has devolved into “Fear the Decline.”
Lyons expressed his frustration to the Associated Press. “Everyone involved knows that the on-field results have not met expectations and absolutely no one is satisfied.” But Lyons also indicted he was not about to make a move, at least not yet.”
“There are 10 games left in the season and the focus is still on getting the results that we all expect,” he said. That should start Saturday with a win over FCS opponent Towson, but the competition gets increasingly more difficult after that.
Firing Brown now, or before the end of the season for that matter, would be a mistake.
First, there is the buyout. Fire Brown now and the University would have to pay Brown the remainder of his contract, roughly $17 million over the next four years, minus whatever he would earn from another football job during that period. * That is a huge amount of money, especially for an athletic department that is still trying to rebound from the financial setbacks of the pandemic.
Second, all of Brown’s actions off the field have restored credibility and pride to the program. The quality of his character, work ethic and willingness to embrace the values important to Mountaineer Nation should earn him more time to accomplish what he was hired to do.
To his credit, Brown is not leaning on the common coaching crutch of making excuses. “The bottom line is, it’s not okay,” he said. “We’re 0-2 and we haven’t done the things we need to win football games.”
That is true, and if the Mountaineers have another losing season, the decision on Brown’s future may make itself. However, the preferred outcome would be for the Mountaineers to begin to turn the corner and for Brown to settle in for an extended tenure in Morgantown.
Then Mountaineer Nation would have a winner on and off the field.
*(Correction: An earlier version of the commentary incorrectly stated the University would have to pay Brown the total amount due within 30 days.)