Neal Brown will not be fired after this season
Ok now that that statement is out of the way, let’s have a conversation. The West Virginia Mountaineers are now 4-3 after seven games into the 2020 season with three games remaining. TCU Horned Frogs, [bye], Oklahoma Sooners, and Iowa St. Cyclones. According to ESPN’s FPI, the Mountaineers are favored slightly against TCU but are underdogs against the Sooners and Cyclones.
For Neal Brown, TCU is a very critical game. For one, it is the most winnable game of the three remaining. Two, it also likely represents the only chance for the Mountaineers to stay above .500. If the Mountaineers lose to TCU, 4-6 looms very large on this season. The good news is that according to the bowl committee, records don’t matter for bowls this season. However, if the Mountaineers do finish 4-6, Neal Brown becomes the first West Virginia coach since Frank Cignetti to post back to back losing seasons. Worse, it would be since Cignetti in 1977-1978 that a coach posted back to back losing seasons and got worse his second year. He would be joining infamous head coaches Frank Cignetti, Art Lewis (58-59, his final seasons as well), and Marshall Glenn (38-39, final two seasons as well!).
Since we all think of the modern age of WVU starting in 1980, when Don Nehlen was hired, Brown would become the first coach of the past five (Nehlen, Rodriguez, Stewart, Holgorsen, Brown) to post consecutive losing seasons and if we aren’t selected to a bowl game, would be the first time since 1991-1992 that the Mountaineers didn’t play in the post season in consecutive years.
We all knew coming into last year that it was going to take some time for Brown to get the program straightened out. His predecessor did him no favors, going all in on 2018 and leaving little depth behind him. That is on Holgorsen, full stop. Still, there is some damning evidence here. Without “his kids”, Don Nehlen went 6-6, 9-3, 9-3. Without “his kids”, Rich Rodriguez went 3-8, 9-4, 8-5. Without “his kids”, Stewart went 9-4, 9-4, 9-4. Without “his kids” Holgorsen went 10-3, 7-6, 4-8. None of the previous four coaches had a losing record after two years. If Brown loses to TCU and does fall to 4-6, his two year record at WVU would stand at 9-13, four games under .500. It means in year three, Brown would have to do at least 8-4 just to get to .500 as a coach at West Virginia. EEK.
It’s not just that the numbers show that its going to be a harder slog for Brown but also natural attrition could make it harder. The NCAA has allowed any athlete to claim this year as a free year. That’s good news. My suspicion is that mostly applies to freshman and not seniors. Players who have already put several years on tape don’t want to waste another year playing for free. The threat of injury is too great. That could mean you lose: Tony Fields, Alonzo Addae, Scottie Young, Darius Stills, TJ Simmons, Jeffrey Pooler, Dylan Tonkery, Charlie Benton, Sean Mahone, Michael Brown and Chase Behrndt. All of those players are significant contributors to the team and many are on the defensive side of the ball where the Mountaineers are thriving this year. The loss of Pooler and Stills especially hurts as they help make up one of the best defensive lines in the country.
But the offense will be better! Will it though? Jarret Doege is a redshirt junior and is almost certainly going to enter 2021 in a QB competition with Garret Greene. If Doege wins the competition, will the offense be better? Will there be a deep ball? Coincidentally, if Greene wins, how much better will the offense be with a player who has thrown four passes this season? There is still a a learning curve, no matter how good you are.
There is a lot at play on Saturday and for Neal Brown and the Mountaineers, a win would help ease many fans minds going into next season, because going into next season, results are going to be expected.