A lot of college football coaching staff are built through personal relationships, however, the 20-plus year relationship between West Virginia coach Neal Brown and new defensive backs coach ShaDon Brown might be something special.
Neal and ShaDon both grew up in Danville, Kentucky and came to know one another as rival three-sport athletes in high school. Neal went to Boyle County High School, while ShaDon attended cross-town rival Danville High. The pair competed all year long, as both played football, basketball and baseball.
“We have known each other since 1994,” ShaDon said during his introductory press conference Thursday. “That’s when his dad took over as the principal at Boyle County High School, which was a rival high school of mine. I played at Danville High School, it’s a huge cross-town rivalry. I’m sure we weren’t as friendly back then as we are now”
ShaDon Brown said he and Neal kept in touch even after they left Danville and became college athletes. He went to Campbellsville as a linebacker and Neal Brown went to Kentucky and later Massachusetts as a wide receiver.
“As we graduated and went our separate ways, one of his roommates in college was one of my best friends in high school, so we always stayed in touch,” ShaDon Brown said. “Once we got into our professional careers, we would text and call and get together in the offseason.”
“It’s funny how life kind of goes full circle,” Neal Brown added. “One of the things that drew my attention to ShaDon [as a coach] was I really like these guys that have worked their way up. You’re talking about a guy who played at the NAIA level, coached at that level and then was at high school and slowly made his way up.”
Now at West Virginia, ShaDon Brown said he is still working to internalize WVU’s defensive scheme as the start of Spring practices is just around the corner.
“This defense is very complex, it’s got a lot of moving parts,” he said. “I think it’s very conducive for kids to play in because it allows them to be free and run around and make plays as opposed to a system that I would call a stagnant defense. I’m learning as we go. I tell the freshmen, ‘I’m just like you guys’.”
WVU will return a number of starters in its secondary in 2021, including All-American Tykee Smith, Sean Mahone and Aonzo Addae. The Mountaineers will also return experienced players like Scottie Young, who sat out due to transfers for much of last season, and Kerry Martin, who opted out of the 2020 season.
“I’m more of a blank slate guy,” ShaDon said. “I like to evaluate what I see and I don’t watch a ton of film, some people think that’s crazy.”
ShaDon said he wants to give every player a fresh start with him, free of any preconceptions or expectations.
“I give all the players a clean slate because I want them to think it’s a fresh start as well,” he said. “I don’t want guys to feel like, ‘I don’t have a chance if I wasn’t a starter last year’ or ‘I was a starter last year and I get to coast’. I want it to be where the guys have to compete and I love to see guys that’re in that underdog role raise their level of play and get a chance to make plays.”