by Jim Buzzerd
It’s early Tuesday morning and West Virginia University has yet to announce the hiring of a new athletic director to replace Shane Lyons who departed a week ago amid building turmoil surrounding head football coach Neal Brown. As the football team struggled this fall at times to even be competitive in Brown’s fourth season, pressure to relieve him from his duties mounted. As the football team’s decline continued and a coaching change became even more imperative, the issue of Brown’s contract renegotiated by Lyons two years ago became a huge stumbling block to allow Brown and WVU to part ways.
West Virginia will have to pay Brown the remaining amount on his contract whenever WVU may decide to terminate him. That number is somewhere near $16 million after this season. With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see how one-sided Brown’s contract was in his favor.
It would seem the more the situation was scrutinized the more it looked like a change needed to be made. From the sidelines one could gather that Lyons was dispatched so that a new athletic director could come in and hire his own football coach. That’s what the timing suggests anyway. After a 48-31 home loss to Kansas State last Saturday the Mountaineers are 4-7 and are eight point underdogs this Saturday at Oklahoma State. The game is at noon on ESPN2.
We’ll know soon who will be running the athletic department and that person will decide Brown’s fate moving forward. The buyout may very well keep Brown employed by WVU for another season, but if you noticed the half empty Mountaineer Field Saturday, you could surmise that bringing Brown back could be even more costly.
On a more positive note, the Mountaineers men’s basketball team that is off to a 4-0 start but has yet to be tested. That will change Thanksgiving night when WVU meets undefeated Purdue in the Phil Knight Legacy Tournament in Portland, Oregon. Purdue features 7’4” Zach Edey who figures to be a handful whenever he takes the floor. After three games Edey is averaging 20.7 points per game, 13.7 rebounds and has committed just six personal fouls while playing nearly 30 minutes a game.
I don’t want to set myself or anyone else up for disappointment, but early on it looks as if head coach Bob Huggins has successfully restocked his team with nine new faces. Last season an 11-1 start fueled belief the Mountaineers were on their way to a successful season, but the team derailed during conference play and finished the season 16-17.
The 2022-23 team looks nothing like last season’s team. Transfers Erik Stevenson and Joe Toussaint, from South Carolina and Iowa respectively, play with a harder edge than anyone I can think of from last season. Emmitt Mathews’ return to WVU following a season at Washington looks to be an upgrade. Texas transfer Tre Mitchell gives the Mountaineers a scoring threat inside and outside.
That’s four Power Five transfers with extensive playing time from previous stops on the roster. That’s big, especially if you want to go back to compare with the new faces that were brought into the program last season, guys with no Power Five experience and, for the most part, no impressive numbers from their previous teams.
With Purdue, Gonzaga, Duke and Xavier in the field this weekend WVU is guaranteed to come out the other side having been tested. Something that should serve them well down the road. Aging fans like this one will be tested beginning with Thursday’s 10 p.m. starting time on ESPN2. A win over the Boilermakers would put WVU into Friday’s 11:30 p.m. time slot. Check your ESPN channel guide for Sunday’s times and matchups.