High School Football

The Backyard Brawl Will Determine the Arc of Neal Brown’s Career

WVU head coach Neal Brown. Photo by Teran Malone


Saturday night’s football game between Pitt and WVU in Morgantown will be the most significant game in head coach Neal Brown’s career.

Yes, there have been more important program games in the 44 years since Milan Puskar Stadium opened, and even bigger Pitt games—the 2007 13-9 loss to Pitt that kept the Mountaineers out of the national championship comes to mind—but tomorrow night Brown’s coaching career is on the line.

He won’t be fired if WVU loses and his job won’t be secured if they win, but the result will start an arc toward one of those outcomes as the season progresses.

Let’s say Pitt wins. The already shaky fan base will be further inflamed by a second consecutive loss to an archrival, and at home before a sellout crowd no less. Their confidence in Brown and company to reach even modest expectations of Mountaineer Nation will continue to evaporate.

Yes, Brown could survive a Pitt loss, but he will have dug himself a sizable hole. The Mountaineers would probably need to win seven of the remaining nine regular season games to provide some job security for Brown. Six wins or less, combined with a Pitt loss, might force Director of Athletics Wren Baker to make a move.

But what if WVU beats their longtime rival? Mountaineer Nation will be a in celebratory mood which will help create a renewed sense of optimism. Much of the rest of the schedule will seem more manageable. Maybe Brown can survive a six win season if one of those wins is Pitt, while seven wins with a victory over Pitt would likely secure his tenure.

Naturally, as a WVU grad and a fan, I am hoping for a Mountaineer victory. The Mountaineer faithful pour a lot of time, energy and money into all things related to being a fan. They deserve a return on their investment.

But I’m also rooting for Neal Brown.

He has worked tirelessly since he arrived in 2019 to embrace the state and Mountaineer Nation. Brown is sincere and authentic, which is refreshing considering the duplicity that is often common in high-level coaching. He is a devoted family man. In short, Brown embodies what you want in a coach representing the University and our state.

Yes, of course wins are essential. A college football coach with great character but only five wins loses out every time to a miscreant with ten wins. To believe otherwise is to subscribe to the lingering myths about the purity of big time college athletics.

Maybe Saturday night will be the moment, a seminal game where the arc of Neal Brown’s career at WVU begins to bend toward the kind of success that Mountaineer Nation expected—that HE expected—when he took the job.

To quote Tony Caridi, that would be a “great night to be a Mountaineer, wherever you may be.”




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