A coach on the hot seat rarely gets off that hot seat without either good luck, good fortune or the stars aligning. In this business, you are who you are and rarely - not always - do you get to stick around long enough to “change your stars”, to quote A Knight’s Tale. This Saturday, for West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Neal Brown, is a chance to change his stars.
Let’s start with the obvious, Neal Brown has never beaten the Texas Tech Red Raiders in his four years as head coach of the Mountaineers and the scores have been close (23-20 in 2021) to blowouts (48-10 in 2022). Beating the Red Raiders on Saturday would break a 4-game losing streak for Brown to an in-conference foe, one who historically has not been as good as the Mountaineers.
A win on Saturday does not just “break a losing streak”, but also offers Brown something else he has never achieved while the head coach of the Mountaineers - a three game winning streak. Unfortunately for Brown, we have been in the situation before, riding high on back to back wins only to run into a foe who has our number and resets the count.
- 2019 - Wins over NC State and Kansas, loses to #11 Texas
- 2020 - Wins over Baylor and Kansas, loses to Texas Tech
- 2021 - Wins over Long Island University and VT, loses to Oklahoma
- 2021 - Wins over TCU and #22 Iowa State, loses to #11 Oklahoma State
- 2021 - Wins over Texas and Kansas, loses to Minnesota
- 2022 - Wins over Towson and Virginia Tech, loses to Texas
Six times Brown’s teams have been in position to put together a “winning streak” and six times they’ve faltered. No one will blame them for losing to a ranked Texas team or a ranked Oklahoma State team, but losing to Texas Tech in 2020, Minnesota in 2021, or Texas last year were winnable games that could have brought about a winning streak.
Saturday isn’t just about a 3-game winning streak or beating Texas Tech, though those are certainly things Brown needs to show he can do, it is also about starting 1-0 in conference. The last time Brown started 1-0 in the Big 12 was his first, 2019, when he beat Kansas 29-24. Since then he’s lost to Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Kansas to start 0-1 in conference, putting his teams in a hole as they start conference plays.
Brown can finally beat Texas Tech, earn a 3-game winning streak, start 1-0 in conference AND get to 3-1 on the season with a win. The last time Brown’s team was 3-1 was 2019, following wins against NC State and Kansas. It also might be the last time Brown had this much goodwill of the fanbase.
Those three items above are important but they aren’t the issue that faces Brown on Saturday. Against the Pitt Panthers, Brown earned the goodwill of the Mountaineer fanbase, redeeming himself and the team following last year’s 38-31 loss to the Panthers with a 17-6 win in Morgantown, but that goodwill be fleeting should Brown fail to secure the home win against the Red Raiders. Being on the hot seat isn’t a week to week affair but a constant struggle on the season, at least until its proven that the deficiencies that put you there are finally solved.
Brown has a chance to earn some real redemption on Saturday.