Firing a head coach is much more complicated than it may seem, especially for a college program. And since there’s so much talk about the future of the West Virginia football team and if it should continue to be led by Neal Brown, it’s time to tackle both the pros and cons to moving on from a head coach.
Before I dive into this, I do want to add my stance. I already wrote that “something has to give” for a coach in year 4, and I firmly believe that. I like Neal Brown. I genuinely do. I, like many others, wanted it work out with Brown at WVU. He fit culturally, he instantly ingratiated himself to the fans, media and past greats of the program, even cleaning up some burnt bridges left by his predecessor. But it’s a results based business and the results just haven’t been there. With that said, there’s a valid argument to be made on both sides to this.
Pros to moving on from Neal Brown
Those ready to be done with Brown aren’t going to be convinced to stay the course. I get that and I understand it. Honestly, it’s impossible to trust a climb that has either been in neutral or dropped for two years now. Brown was offered patience in his first year. It seemed like things were headed in the right direction with a bowl win in his second season. But a lack of big wins, a losing record and getting blown out in important games is making it tough to believe right now.
Moving on sets the standard for a program that should expect more. I’ve detailed what the reasonable expectations should be for WVU before, so I won’t repeat that here, but I think everyone can agree it’s fair to expect more than is currently being delivered. Moving on also allows you an offseason to find the right guy. Waiting could mean that right guy is no longer available in a year. Waiting could mean another school snatches Graham Harrell up as that attractive young offensive mind that fits the popular football trend of head coaches. Waiting keeps the program in neutral, creating a sense of uncertainty that could be a concern for recruits.
Imagine if Brown has to answer the question “well, are you sure you are going to be there to actually coach my son?” parents may ask a coach on a hot seat and floundering. This could be an issue for any coach on Brown’s staff too since their futures might be connected to his. Every year you keep a head coach you aren’t sure on yet could mark it more difficult to recruit and retool the team.
There have also been in-game decisions that could have changed the fortunes in some of the close game losses. The 2022 Backyard Brawl sticks out as a prime example.
There are always cons to firing a head coach
Those done with Brown likely won’t even read this far into this. As I said earlier, I get that at this point. However, to ignore that there could be consequences to a big decision like firing a head coach would be careless, especially when that coach has such big buyouts. Brown’s buyout is $20.2 million for 2022 and still a hefty $16.7 in 2023.
A head coach is always going to be mostly judged off his record, but there’s more to the job at the college level. Recruiting is just as important as any aspect to running a college program, arguably the most important part. And despite the roller coaster ride on the field, Brown has done a solid job at recruiting. As things stand, he has 17 total commitments from the 2023 class, most notably Rodney Gallagher and Jahiem White. He’s also been extending offers to players as far out as the 2025 class.
Gallagher and White are game changer type of players. They could hep change life at WVU. And they have both made it crystal clear the coaching staff is a major factor in their decision to come to Morgantown. White even told me this directly recently. While they have both been vocal in their support of the Mountaineers, especially Gallagher who is building his brand around coming to WVU with his sister, things can always change. No one should feel secure about any recruit until they officially step foot on campus to start classes and train for football.
In addition to a worry about losing top recruits already locked in or struggling to turn offers into new commitments, the transfer portal makes this decision more complicated than it would have been just a couple years ago. Would players on the current team decide to transfer if Brown and his staff are removed? Would Nicco Marchiol, who surprisingly picked WVU and has been fine with waiting in the wings under JT Daniels, still feel West Virginia, a place so far from his home, is best for him if that meant being coached by someone he doesn’t have a relationship with? Would he, or any of the other incumbent players, even fit as well system wise with the next head coach? These are all things to think about.
The future of the quarterback position, and several other key spots on the roster, is bright, but that could flip on a dime off one, seemingly simple but actually very big, decision.
I said it before, and I still believe it now, WVU has to reach a bowl game, or certainly get damn close to one (5 wins with strong finish) for me to bring Brown back. But with that said, I would understand if he does return, and he will likely return regardless, based on the buyout structure and all of the reasons I detailed above.
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