Let’s go back to Jan. 1, 2019, the day Dana Holgorsen resigned. A sitting Power Five head coach coming off an eight win season voluntarily left for a job at Houston, a Group of Five school.
Just four days later, Athletic Director Shane Lyons hired Neal Brown, the head football coach at Troy. It was a good hire at the time, as Brown compiled a 35-16 record and three bowl wins in his four seasons with the Trojans.
Now, after losing at home to Kansas in the team’s first conference game of the season, it’s no longer a good hire. It's time to let Neal Brown go.
The first year of Brown’s tenure at WVU was pretty much what people expected. The team lost a lot of talent after 2018. From there, it was an uphill climb.
The Mountaineers fought hard and played some of the best teams in the Big 12 in 2019, coming within a score or two of winning against opponents like the Texas Longhorns and Baylor. Season one ended with a 5-7 record. Trust the climb.
There was a reason for hope heading into the 2020 season because of how well Jarret Doege played in the final four games after taking over as quarterback for Austin Kendall.
In Brown’s second season, we saw what we had hoped to see: improvement. Even during the pandemic, Brown seemed to get the most out of the talent on his roster.
In the Big 12, the Mountaineers defeated Baylor, Kansas University, Kansas State and TCU. Jarret Doege played decently enough, the defense was statistically the best in the Big 12. The team even made it to a bowl game.
This was an improvement.
Season two ended with a 6-4 record, including a win over Army in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Brown was given a two-year contract extension through 2026 following the season. Trust the climb.
Year three for any head coach is generally when you’d want to see the most improvement, but Brown had to face something he hadn’t faced before at WVU: expectations.
The 2021 season did not start out well with WVU losing on the road to an improved but still pedestrian Maryland team. The Mountaineer’s performance was so poor that I wondered if the defense would have been able to stop Morgantown High School’s offense, giving up 30 points and nearly 500 total yards.
However, the team bounced back, beating Long Island University and a ranked Virginia Tech at home. Later, they gave fourth ranked Oklahoma everything they had, losing late by three in Norman.
Then came the meltdown. Doege fell apart as the Mountaineers went 2-4 over their next six games, losing against Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma, and Kansas State. No matter how it ended, it was a disappointment of a season.
WVU went on to defeat Texas and Kansas to reach a bowl game. The Mountaineers were outclassed by Minnesota in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. Season three ended with a 6-7 record. Trust the climb?
Finally, entering his fourth year, Brown finally got his guy in the former five-star recruit and Georgia transfer, JT Daniels. There were mixed expectations heading into this season but I thought they had a chance to win nine games if things went right. However, things have not gone right.
Let’s be clear: JT Daniels is the real deal.
His first pass attempt as a Mountaineer was a throw I had not seen any Mountaineer quarterback make in my four years on campus. He dropped back and threw from the far hash to the right sideline on a rope for a completion — an NFL throw.
Fast forward and it’s fourth and inches just on Pitt’s side of midfield. WVU was up seven points on the road with six minutes remaining against your most hated rival with nothing to lose. And then Brown did what he’s done for the past three years.
Brown’s play calling was timid. He coached not-to-lose instead of coaching to win. We all know how that game ended, and we all know what happened last weekend at home against Kansas.
It’s time to end the climb. Although it will come at a cost — about $20 million right now and $16.7 million after Jan. 1, 2023 — there is nothing left to find out about Brown. And nobody survives a home loss to Kansas.
Brown did not drop the pass that turned into a pick-six giving Pitt the lead late in the game; Bryce Ford-Wheaton did. Neal Brown did not throw a pass in overtime that was at best a five-yard completion and at worst a game-ending interception; JT Daniels did.
But over the past few seasons, Brown has fostered no improvement in the Mountaineers. In fact, we’ve seen regression in terms of drops, defense and run game.
The head coach has not gotten any better with clock management or knowing when to call timeouts in four years either. On more than a couple of occasions, he has called a timeout early in the third quarter with the offense on the field.
But worst of all, Brown continues to coach as if he is scared, taking too much caution by avoiding a run on fourth-down and inches. This is inexcusable.
We have all been told to “trust the climb,” but week after week it feels like we are following closely behind Brown scaling up a mountain. Just as we make progress, he keeps turning around and throwing rocks at our heads.
I will continue to show up every week, but my trust in Neal Brown has vanished. If something doesn’t change soon, that will be the case for Shane Lyons too.