The biggest question going into the WVU football season was whether head coach Neal Brown would be able to keep his job. His record through four years was below .500 (22-25) and three of his four seasons ended with losing records.
Yet there was this consistent desire by the University’s Director of Athletics to find a way to keep Brown.
Shane Lyons said near the end of last season, just prior to his firing as Athletic Director, “I would want to keep him. I think he checks every box that we’re looking for as a head coach.” However, Lyons also added the importance of outcomes. “Unfortunately, the big box that he needs to check is to win more football games. I believe that’s coming in the future.”
Lyons’ successor, Wren Baker, also expected more wins, but he said his analysis of Brown would include other metrics as well, as he explained in an interview on the 3Guys podcast.
“I want to look at, are we doing things the right way? Are we recruiting and retaining players? Do we play football that’s disciplined football? And do we feel like the momentum is there for us to continue to build?” Baker said.
At the end of this regular season, Baker can answer all those questions in the affirmative. The eight-and-four regular season record is Brown’s best in five years. And with the expected return of Garrett Greene along with the core of this year’s team, the pieces are there to build on for next season.
A portion of WVU’s fan base will be displeased with Baker’s expected decision to keep Brown. I suspect some disgruntled Mountaineer fans have been rooting against WVU so that Baker would be forced to fire Brown. And the Mountaineers nearly gave Brown’s critics more ammunition with Saturday’s narrow victory over Baylor.
Texas A&M’s decision to fire Jimbo Fisher set off a flurry of message board talk and water cooler gossip suggesting WVU should fire Brown and hire Fisher. The abbreviated version of the argument is that Fisher has a national championship and he’s from West Virginia.
Okay, but his tenure at College Station was an epic failure. The school is going to pay him $77 million not to come to work. An investigative piece by The Athletic into Fisher’s tenure painted a picture of a “disjointed and, at times, chaotic atmosphere.”
We West Virginians tend to wrap ourselves like a lonesome dog around anyone who has any connection to the state, often without regard for other important characteristics.
The larger story during the off season is how successful will the Country Roads Trust be in recruiting donors for NIL money. The Trust’s accounts are private, so there is no way to know how much money it is raising or how much players are paid. Many fans do not like the new reality of college sports, but it is just that—the reality.
The success of this WVU football season completes the circle that both Lyons and Baker wanted. With Brown, the University has always had an individual of high character who consistently projects a positive image for the program, the school and the state.
And now Mountaineer Nation has victories to go with it.