ARLINGTON, Texas — Neal Brown has experience with the Big 12 Conference, so he understands what he’s dealing with as he takes over West Virginia this season.
Brown spent three seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Texas Tech under Tommy Tuberville. He kept the Red Raiders wide open on offense, and in his first season Texas Tech was ranked 15th in the country in total offense and 6th in passing offense.
Brown ended up getting his shot as a head coach at Troy, where he spent four seasons leading the Trojans to 35 wins, three straight 10-win seasons, one conference title and one shared division title in the Sun Belt Conference. Brown continued to perfect his offense and led the Trojans to an enormous upset win of LSU in Baton Rouge in 2017.
Brown’s evolution as a play-caller and offensive coordinator has certainly changed over the course of a decade. At Troy, he employed a fullback to provide a smashmouth weapon to his offense and is looking for some of the same at West Virginia.
“We won’t look at it the same way we did (in 2010),” Brown said. “The last time I called plays in this league was in 2012 at Texas Tech. We’ve evolved. We’ve changed. We are probably a little bit more balanced now than we were at that point.”
Now, he replaces Dana Holgorsen with the Mountaineers. Holgorsen did solid work in Morgantown, going 61-41, leading West Virginia’s transition into the Big 12 and taking the Mountaineers to six bowl games. But the lure of a pay raise and a move back to Houston was too much to ignore.
The Mountaineers hit a high-water mark in terms of talent a year ago, led by quarterback Will Grier and wide receiver David Sills V. In fact the Mountaineers lost 26 players from last season, including wide receiver Gary Jennings Jr., wide receiver Marcus Simms, linebacker David Long Jr. and safety Kenny Robinson Jr.
“It’s one of those things where there is so much energy and excitement, you want to make sure they (fans) understand we lost a lot from last year,” Brown said. “We’re going to be a young football team and I think our fan base understands that and there’s going to be some patience.”
Brown has 40 returning letter-winners, but some of that talent is untested. There aren’t many seniors at the top of the WVU depth chart in its media guide, either — tackle Colton McKivitz, tackle, Kelby Wickline, running back Kennedy McKoy, running back Martell Pettway, defensive tackle Reese Donahue, linebacker JoVanni Stewart, cornerback Keith Washington Jr. and cornerback Hakeem Bailey.
The Mountaineers did take in one significant transfer in former Oklahoma quarterback Austin Kendall, who joined the Mountaineers in the spring. While Kendall barely played at OU in his three seasons, he did have the fortune to learn from head coach Lincoln Riley and the past two Heisman Trophy winners in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. When you consider that returning quarterbacks Jake Allison and Trey Lowe III have combined for eight games and one start at West Virginia, the door is wide open for Kendall to take the job with two years of eligibility left. It’s the position battle that will likely define fall camp and the Mountaineers’ ability to compete in early non-conference games with Missouri and North Carolina State.
“I thought we were one of three teams playing 11 Power-5 games,” Brown said. “It’s a very challenging schedule, and if you look at our future schedules those are also challenging. “
Brown and the Mountaineers aren’t rebuilding, but they aren’t exactly reloading, either. But everything is rosy, at least for right now. Brown’s reception in Morgantown has been wonderful, according to him.
“(But) I think it’s because we’re undefeated,” Brown joked.
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