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Asti: It Will All Come Down to the Backyard Brawl for Neal Brown at WVU



WVU Football HC Neal Brown leading team

It all comes down to this. Neal Brown and his legacy at WVU, maybe even the future of the West Virginia program, may come down to what happens in the 2023 Backyard Brawl.

That might sound strong for some. And in all reality, it’s almost impossible to say one single game is all that matters for a coach or program. But that’s also how important WVU’s upcoming matchup with Pitt is to the Mountaineers.

When two historic programs play, the game matters to a certain degree. When there’s some bad blood between the fans and players, it turns up the heat even more. And when there are major moments of the past that will stand the test of time, the game becomes one people who normally don’t follow either team care about. Not that it even needs said, but the Backyard Brawl has all of that and so much more.

However, the 2023 Brawl isn’t about the past, it’s very much about the here and now. It’s no secret Brown’s seat becomes warmer and warmer with every loss. And as Brown owns a losing record overall in his fifth year as head coach, all West Virginia fans want from him is to win more. They don’t want to hear excuses or about how unfair the schedule has been (even if he’s right). They just want their beloved Mountaineers to win and get WVU to start feeling like the 15th winningest program once again.

Asti: Dissecting Good, Bad, Ugly of Neal Brown’s Tenure at West Virginia

It’s difficult to compare eras, but if success is a barometer, it’s a fact that the Neal Brown Era stands as one of the worst periods for the Mountaineers since before Don Nehlen took over. There’s no one still trusting the climb. Everyone wanted it to work. Most experts thought WVU hiring Brown was a home run back in 2019. Brown at West Virginia just hasn’t worked out, at least not yet.

Brown does have some big wins and nice moments to his credit. He did get West Virginia a win over Oklahoma last season, the first for the school over the Sooners since joining the Big 12. That was something fans desperately wanted to claim before Oklahoma left for the SEC. Brown did win a the Liberty Bowl after the 2020 season. He can even say he was the head coach when WVU the Black Diamond Trophy in back-to-back years. But no single victory comes close to what beating Pitt would mean to his legacy.

Brown and the Mountaineers got close in 2022 in Pittsburgh, feeling as if they let that game get away. A win and Brown finally has his staple win at West Virginia. A win and there will be a jubilation among all of Mountaineer Nation that hasn’t been felt in a long time. A win and Brown likely earns himself more time to keep building back up a program that means so much to a state that he clearly does love and fit in well. Debates about if he will finish the season probably cool off significantly, and at the very least, Brown will get 2023 to prove he deserves to be back in 2024 and beyond.

Let that all sink in, and really try to understand what a win in the 2023 Backyard Brawl could mean for Neal Brown.

But now think about a loss too. A loss and it’s just the same old story of Brown’s tenure. It’s close but no cigar like last season. It’s another loss on the resume and another year WVU fans have to hear about why Pitt is better, possible even from some of their friends, colleagues and neighbors. Moral victories don’t exist, but they especially don’t exist when it comes to a rivalry. How you get the win doesn’t matter either. Just win.

Would Bowl Game be Enough for WVU to Keep Neal Brown?

A loss and Brown is likely cast into a situation that requires he run through Big 12 play to do enough to be retained. A loss puts West Virginia at 1-2 with their only win coming against an FCS school on a night that saw a long weather delay help to ignite Brown’s team. Even if you want to argue that a loss in the Backyard Brawl won’t make things any worse for Brown or the program, a loss certainly won’t make anything any better either.

At least this time, it’s clear Brown is aware of the magnitude of the rivalry. He’s also well aware how most of the fan base feels about him at this point and that his time could be running out.

Neal Brown All in on Brawl, Out on Playing Multiple P5 Rivals in Same Season

Brown might be on borrowed time at WVU already, but beating Pat Narduzzi and Pitt could stop the clock ever so slightly. It could serve as a way to change Brown’s legacy at West Virginia forever.

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