As National Signing Day approaches, Mountaineer Nation looks ahead to another spring with a sense of optimism that I would’ve not thought possible even as recently as three weeks ago. The whirlwind that has been the last two-and-a-half months as a Mountaineer fan has been well documented by my colleagues here at the Smoking Musket, but the TL;DR is Dana Holgorsen out, Neal Brown in, and hope restored to program that seemed destined for despair.
I will admit that I didn’t know much about Neal Brown before December 29th, but after having consumed literally all of the Neal Brown and Neal Brown-adjacent content on the internet over the past three weeks, it’s very easy to see what Shane Lyons saw in him. Quick shout out to Shane here - he's handled every step of this process exceptionally well and it's reassuring to know that we have an adult in the room when these kinds of decisions are being made.
Anyways, once it was official I started indoctrinating the wife into Neal. Her take: he sounds like the Friday Night Lights guy. She's not wrong. It really feels like we hired real life Eric Taylor.
I'm sure that Brown's first three weeks on the job have been a bit of a blur, but every single thing that he's done during that time has only bolstered those early impressions. The way he handled his first meeting with his new team, the way he handled his last meeting with his old one, the way he went back and said goodbye to the fans at Troy - you just don't see things like that very often.
Simply put, Neal Brown is the real deal. He’s everything you look for in a football coach - he has a vision, he’s principled, and most of all, he’s genuine. He just seems to have that unique ability to get people to buy what he's selling, and make no mistake, everybody that I know is all the way bought in. I literally have a 30-year old buddy practicing field goals with his two remaining years of eligibility in mind, and he's only doing it semi-sarcastically. More importantly though, it seems like another group of people share his enthusiasm.
One of the biggest concerns during a coaching change, and especially one that occurs this close to signing day, is losing recruits whose connections were closer with the departed coach than they were with the program or school. Players already on campus occasionally jump ship, as well, and both the former and the latter are perfectly justified in those sentiments.
It's a testament to Brown's character that to date not one player has decommitted, and only one has left the program. He reassured guys like Ali Jennings, Winston Wright, and Nicktroy Fortune who were understandably waffling on their commitments. He pulled Mike O'Laughlin out of the transfer portal, and convinced Colton McKivitz to return for his senior season, and secured the transfer of QB Austin Kendall from Oklahoma. That's a solid few weeks of work, but the best may be yet to come.
You see, Morgantown had a special guest this past weekend. Darnell Wright is an offensive tackle from Huntington High who just so happens to be the #11 overall prospect and #1 tackle in the 2019 recruiting class. He liked us early, but for whatever reason Dana didn't make building a relationship with him a priority, and as a result he's been a strong Tennessee lean for the majority of his recruitment. That's all changed with Real Deal Neal.
Brown stated in his introductory presser that he wants to make in-state recruiting a priority. West Virginia isn't a recruiting hotbed by any stretch of the imagination, but if you're here and you're good at football, Neal wants to make it hard to say no. He's suiting the action to the word with regards to young Darnell. We weren't even in the picture with Dana; three weeks later we're one of three schools getting an official visit. There are obviously no guarantees here, but even turning it into a tough decision for the kid is a win. Wright is the kind foundational recruit that can start a trend, and if Neal is doing things like this in his first few weeks then I can't wait to see what he can do with a few years.
Buckle up, gang. This thing's just getting started.