So after additional reflection, based solely on the response to my piece calling for an end to the Neal Brown era — and in lieu of power rankings that I doubt anyone in the readership actually cares about — I wanted to sort of respond, clarify, and add some additional thoughts to that post, which you can read here.
I do not have any personal connections to Neal or frankly anyone actively coaching the team. I also have only seen two of his games in person — the NC State win and last year’s bowl game. This comes after having missed, I think, one home game from 2003 to 2018. Before you jump to conclusions, I lived in Morgantown for that time period and worked in the press box on game days, either as a runner for the Sports Information gang (to whom I will always be eternally grateful) or working with various television production crews on stats. I now live in Arizona, so it’s a little pricey to come back for more than one or two games. My sense of him being “a nice guy” comes from the personal reflections that others who do have a tighter connection to the program these days have shared.
I would not be surprised if a decision does not come down until either the season is completely lost (so if you’re not really optimistic, after the Oklahoma game) or after the season has formally ended. If it were my decision, which it very much isn’t, I probably would have fired him after the game last week — especially after what I felt like was a bad press conference. Why? Because I think it’s clear to me that he ain’t got it, and I want to get ahead of the coaching search.
In the past, I’ve often found that phrase to be, well, dumb. I’ve seen a number of programs fire a guy early only to hire a turkey after a prolonged search. That was the past. In the Portal Era, I think it is more important than ever to have your new guy in place ASAP so that he can maybe hold onto your various good talents and start looking to plug holes. So that’s why I think you probably should just rip that band-aid off now and get started.
I also think that this is, at least so far, a pretty good cycle for WVU to be on the market, relative to other cycles — particularly last year. What do I mean by that? This gets into some other thoughts I have about replies and comments elsewhere on the old series of tubes.
- WVU remains a pretty attractive opening for most coaches. We’re in a good conference that, at least in the short to medium term, appears to have secured its future. And our conference schedule is about to include a regional game and a trip every other year to central Florida. We have excellent facilities and continue to invest in those. And we’ll likely be able to continue to pay at or above the market rate for a coach. So don’t doom and gloom that we can’t hire anyone or that no one will want us.
- Most of the current openings are not going to be recruiting against us for a coach. Nebraska and presumably Auburn, are absolutely in a different tier than us both in prestige and the sheer money those schools are able to marshal. Georgia Tech has a whole bunch of behind-the-scenes issues that make that job special. Wisconsin is probably going to hire their interim, but again we’re not in that tier, both in money and prestige. That leaves Arizona State, which while an absolute sleeping giant of a program, has questions around their AD, their conference, and NCAA violations hanging over their head like the Sword of Damocles. Colorado is an absolute shitshow. The only other programs that are not yet on the market that could be in the FBS realm are probably (in order of likelihood) Missouri, Louisville, and Northwestern. Of those only Louisville poses any real threat to who we’d be looking at, which if anything is just another reason to get started sooner rather than later.
- I don’t think a decision has actually been made, contrary to some of the rumors floating around. I could be wrong, but it seems a little strange that we’d make a deal already and start working on a replacement while letting Neal lame-duck it out without saying it.
- WVU should abandon trying to compete offensively with the rest of the conference and instead forge our own identity. We’re never going to out-recruit the Texas schools for the type of QB talent you need to run the more exotic air-raid, pass-heavy offenses. Kansas State has long recognized they can’t, and they’re frankly in a better geographic position to do so. I have ideas for what that “Mountaineer DNA” might look like, but it's not really my decision to make. I could also probably write a whole article on it.
As far as the next guy, I have my own personal list for who, were I Shane Lyons, would call. And two real quick things — I think Shane should get to make this hire and I don’t think we should use a search firm. Shane’s hiring record so far has been pretty good, and at the time, Neal was actually a very good hire who just didn’t work out. (These things are pretty heavy roulette.) Search firms, or head hunters, I think just add layers of bullshit. In theory, they should help you find a broader base to hire from than just one’s own networks, and could actually help improve diversity in head coach hiring but the statistics don’t actually show that to be happening.
My List, In order:
- Matt Rhule: Matt probably can take any job this cycle he wants, or hold out for another year and pick which job he wants next year when some bigger jobs are likely to be open (yet another reason not to be on the ride next season.) Matt has won everywhere he’s ever been in college, including making Temple respectable and getting the school that shouldn’t have existed back to prominence in a hurry. The downside, I think to him, is just you’re hiring him with the foreknowledge that the moment Penn State comes open, he’s probably adios.
- Dan Mullen: I tweeted last week during the game that the thing this season has done most that I do not like, is making me think Dan Mullen is a good hire. But, I think he’s proven he can win at the level we expect at a similar program (Mississippi State) and I think he brings a brand of football that we can be successful running. He would also bridge a gap back to the era most fans remember as the height of the program. The downside is that everything I’ve ever heard about the dude makes me think he’s a dickbag, but you know, he’d be our dickbag. I also don’t know if he wants to leave ESPN, but it’s worth kicking the tires.
- Jamey Chadwell: Put Coastal on the map, and runs a fun offense that I think can work. Definitely feels like he’s waiting for the right job to come along, though. Is West Virginia it? Maybe, but he’s probably the best G5 guy on the board.
- Matt Weiss: I am not a big guy on coordinators, especially ones without some previous head coaching experience, but Michigan’s OC Matt Weiss is certainly a guy who I’d consider worth taking a serious look at.
- Tee Martin: See above, but I feel like Martin has a ton of experience and would be great on the recruiting trail. Could West Virginia get him to leave the NFL, where he’s in his third season at Baltimore as a position coach, for the grind of college?
- Some names I would not, under any circumstances, broker: Urban Meyer, Hugh Freeze, Rich Rod.
Those are my thoughts. They should not be construed as me predicting who we will/would hire. I think if you look at both recent WVU history and Shane’s profile for hires, the profile is probably a “successful G5 coach, with an understanding of the history and location of the program. That’s not a problem, to be honest, just not my own criteria.