by Jim Buzzerd
Welcome coach Brown
It’s the first week of January and normally the discussion here would involve West Virginia University basketball, but the university has a new football coach, so that will dominate this space today. I will take a moment for a brief update on the basketball team.
WVU is 8-6 overall and have lost their first two conference games. Derek Culver has returned from his suspension and may be the lone bright spot so far this season. Conversely, Sagaba Konate has missed five straight games nursing an ‘injury’. I quoted injury because MRI’s of his meniscus have been negative, but the junior has been on crutches. According to head coach Bob Huggins, Konate will be back when his family tells him he can play, and suggested that Konate may not return this season. There is something strange going on here, so stay tuned.
Last week I mentioned that rumors had surfaced during the Camping World Bowl that head football coach Dana Holgorsen was likely coaching in his last game as a Mountaineer. I wrote last week’s column less than two days after the rumor broke, which was Sunday. By then the rumor was fairly credible, but neither the WVU camp, nor the Holgorsen camp could say much about it because of Holgorsen’s contract.
Holgorsen’s contract stated that if he left WVU prior to January 1 (Tuesday), he would owe West Virginia $2.5 million and that number dropped to $1 million on the first. By Monday Holgorsen’s departure was all but confirmed, just no official announcement had been made. I guess because the 1st was a holiday the official announcement did not come until Wednesday, By then it was speculated that West Virginia athletics director, Shane Lyons, had already focused on a list of replacements.
Troy coach Neal Brown was supposed to be the top choice followed by Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell. Those two quickly emerged as the top two targets and, apparently to appease the players and some boosters, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson was interviewed. On Saturday Brown was announced as the university’s 35th head football coach. Lyons is getting high marks across the board for finding a high quality candidate and wrapping up the search so quickly.
WVU President Dr. E. Gordon Gee, in conjunction with Lyons officially signed Brown to a six-year, $19,050,000 contract on Saturday. Brown has spent the last four years as the head coach at Troy University, compiling a 35-16 record, including 3-0 in bowl games. The Trojans posted a 31-8 record (.795) over the past three seasons, tying for the highest winning percentage nationally among non-Power 5 schools. Troy has won 17 of its last 20 games and 22 of its last 26. After directing the Trojans to the 2017 Sun Belt Conference Championship, Brown was honored as the league’s coach of the year.
“I am pleased to welcome Neal Brown and his family to West Virginia University,” Gee said. “Having met with Coach Brown over the last few days, we are confident he is a good fit for our University, our football program and our state.
“He is a well-respected man of purpose and integrity and has a strong, exciting vision to lead our football program to unprecedented places. There is a new energy at our University within our football program, and I am excited for the future.”
During his highly successful tenure at Troy, Brown’s signature wins included a 24-21 victory in 2017 at then-No. 22 ranked LSU in Baton Rouge, which snapped the Tigers’ 49-game non-conference home winning streak and a 24-19 win at Nebraska on Sept. 15, 2018. Also impressive was his team’s narrow 30-24 loss at eventual 2016 national champion Clemson.
“On behalf of my wife, Brooke, and our children, Adalyn, Anslee and Dax, we are thrilled to join the Mountaineer Football Family and become a part of Mountaineer Nation,” Brown said.