Ahead of his opening game as the head coach of West Virginia’s football team, Neal Brown addressed the media in his weekly Tuesday press conference at the Milan Puskar Center in Morgantown.
Overall, Brown said he feels his team is where it needs to be ahead of the season opener, but that both teams—and teams around the country—are still going to be unprepared. This is certainly true for the matchup between the Mountaineers and the James Madison Dukes, who will both debut new head coaches.
Brown was previously a head coach at Troy University in Alabama for the previous four seasons, 2015-2018. Curt Cignetti comes to JMU after two seasons at Elon, in North Carolina, and six seasons at Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania.
The resounding message from Brown is that his staff has prepared the team well, but they are eager to see how the players respond to in-game scenarios.
Below is a recap of the event:
- “It’s time to find out where we’re at.”
- James Madison has a proud football tradition. “I know the program well from my time in the old Atlantic 10.”
- “They probably more experience than any team I’ve lined up against.” JMU returns 20 of 22 starters and are a veteran football team.
- Offensively, when JMU has the ball, first-year head coach Curt Cignetti is a guy with an offensive background. The offensive coordinator has been a HC.
- “I have known the OL coach for a while.”
- “It all starts at quarterback, the Pitt transfer (Ben DiNucci). I like him a lot on film.”
- “Running back is a position of strength for them, like it is for us.”
- “Stapleton kid at tight end is versatile and they got him the ball last year very effectively.”
- “The no. 17 Dean is really talented... reminds me a lot of Sean Ryan.”
- OL-wise, they return four starters. Will probably run six or seven deep on the line.
- Defensively, they were top 5 in country last year in FCS. The defensive coordinator comes from Maine, which was a top defense in FCS as well.
- “Their Two DEs could be NFL players.”
- At linebacker, the Holloway kid made a bunch of plays last year.
- Rashad Robinson, who missed all of last year, returns at cornerback.
- “I think special teams will be a huge factor in this game.
- Harry O’Kelly, Australian punter, “sprays the ball all over the field”
- Safety D’Angelo Amos returns as the punt returner.
- “I appreciate the fans for selling out the stadium on opening weekend.”
- “Want to take a second to encourage our student body… I firmly believe that she students set the tone for the entire stadium.”
- Acknowledged the 20th year of the Mountaineer Maniacs.
The challenges of Cignetti’s first game as a head coach:
- “The challenges are significant in any first game. It’s a challenge for them just like it’s a challenge for us.”
- Coaching staff has watched film of Cignetti at Elon, OC at Charlotte and DC at Maine.
- “You go back to your strengths and do what your players do well.”
Handling a young team in the first game:
- “You want them to play fast.”
- “You’re going to find some things that don’t go the way they want them to be.”
JMU defense strength:
- Went back and watched every game Elon played on offense, on defense, and Maine’s defense because he thinks there will be a lot of crossover. Watched film of the players at JMU.
Importance of depth:
“We’ve got some depth on the D-line.”
“They’re going to want to play with some tempo, so to counter that you’re going to play with depth. Probably two or three deep.”
The importance of the differential in scholarships between the two programs:
- “We’re not playing with 85.”
- “They have a lot of quality players.”
- “I’ve been at the FCS level and the Group of Five level. I understand what their mentality is in that locker room coming into a Big 12 stadium. A lot of their players believe they should be playing in these programs.”
- “To be honest, we’re so young, I’m going to be worried about what we’re doing. If we had an experienced team, I’d be much more worried.”
- “According to some, they have more NFL prospects than we do.”
- “I don’t think we have to worry one bit about our guys overlooking them.”
How Austin Kendall has reacted to be being named starter:
- “What I’ve seen him do is be more vocal. He knows it’s his offense and he’s being more vocal.”
How did the “Dress Rehearsal” last weekend go?
- “The dress rehearsal is as much for the coaches as it is for the players.”
- Went through all parts of the gameday timeline.
- Not really hard on the guys’ legs, more just walking and talking, going through scenarios.
- Nothing will change from past gamedays or the rehearsal that is of interest.
- “I wanna play these guys.”
- “Coordinators always want to play the guys who have experience, but as a HC, I’m the opposite. If a guy’s gonna play, I want to maximize his playing. I’m constantly asking, ‘Coach, what series or play is so-and-so going into the game.’
- “Are our young guys gonna makes mistakes? Yes. As long as they’re playing with perfect effort, I can deal with it.”
- “I’d rather them play with nerves early than deal with it late.”
- “We’ve had guys we’ve designated will play in this opener, but to be honest, that list is shorter than most games because we’re relatively healthy.”
Editor’s note: This was part of a bigger point about how they are managing redshirt games. Basically, they are going to hold onto some games to cover for the inevitable injuries the team will suffer throughout the season. This game won’t see all the redshirts play.
- “I think we’re in pretty good shape.”
- Dreshun Miller has been ruled out of the game against JMU.
How things are around the Brown household?
- “Dax doesn’t even know we’re playing.”
- Wife, Brooke, is just trying to figure out where she can park and how to get the kids inside
- Father-in-law had hip surgery, trying to figure out how to “wheel him in here.”
What will keep you up at night?
- “Friday night, I’ll be good.”
- “It’s just the unknowns of a first game. As a coach, you want to prepare the kids as best as you can, but the first game has so many unknowns. We’ve got to be simple enough and versatile enough to counter whatever what they’re going to show us. There are going to be surprises—both positive and negative—but I think I have a good feel of where we are right now, but we’ve gotta go see it in a game.”
- “There are some real positives about having a young team, like they’re going to be excited to play.
- Wants to see how young guys deal with adversity. “Those are the things we’ve gotta go out and find out.”
On Josh Sills being named starting center:
- “I think it’s been a positive” for Sills.
- “I’ve seen and increased awareness and leadership role. His study habits have improved because he has to communicate so much across the line.”
- Sills volunteered to play center.
Other position battles:
- “I’ve been pleased with TJ Simmons and his physicalness.”
- “In spread formations, your slot receivers are really important.” Still looking for who’s gonna play behind TJ.
- “Tevin Bush has been up and down... He’s one of our more explosive players and we need him to be consistent.”
How the leadership council has impacted the team:
- “Our players vote on that, but we have final approval as coaching staff.
- “We train them all summer on how to be leaders.”
- “Sometimes it’s important issues, sometimes it’s what do they want for Friday night dinner.
- “Really, it’s about feedback. It allows them to give direct feedback to me.”
Has Neal thought about his first pregame talk at WVU?
- “I’m a real short pregame guy. I think if you’re not ready to play by the time kickoff is coming, then nothing I say will make you play better.”
- “I usually have one theme of the week and I’ll tell them that and then, ‘Let’s roll.’”
- “As we get closer to the games, I speak less and less to them because they should be ready for the game. If they’re not, then nothing I say is going to make them ready to play.”
On how he decides which coaches are in the box and which ones are on the field:
- You always need eyes in the box and on the field.
- “For example, you want your O-line coach on the field cause you want to make adjustments in between series,” but he needs somebody’s eyes in the box to see the other half and to look at it from the defensive standpoint.
- “(Sean) Reagan is always giving me Down, distance and hash.”
Brown closed by saying the team will not have season-long captains, but that “We’ll have week-to-week captains.”