Re•spect | re’spekt | noun- a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something.
To the folks in the state of West Virginia, the word respect means everything. Respect the tradition, the culture, the history, the people, and what the state stands for. If you do that, odds are there won’t be any issues.
However, earlier this week Mountaineer fans felt disrespected. In an article released by Sports Illustrated , it was implied that West Virginia has severe recruiting disadvantages and the quote, “We weren’t going to get high school kids at West Virginia that we were going to win the Big 12 with.” really ignited a flame with the Mountaineer fan base and rightfully so.
It even caught the attention of junior defensive lineman Darius Stills (Fairmont, WV native) — and let’s just say, it did not sit well with him.
So you gon give them a preferred walk-on then give them a scholarship a play them a year later ?😂 basically how it went https://t.co/OpJUIEsD1s
— Darius C. Stills (@DariusStills56) May 1, 2019
There is no question that transfers, junior college transfers and grad transfers have had a major impact on the football program in recent years. But if we are going to be honest, it’s not like there haven’t been any solid players that came via the high school route. In fact, 15 of the 25 players drafted in the last eight years came straight from high school.
When I first heard that quote, I saw it as an excuse.
Yes, the state of West Virginia doesn’t produce as much high-level high school talent as other states, but it was not made a priority to keep the talent within the state. Not long after Neal Brown was announced as the new Mountaineer head coach, he made the trek to Huntington to make a last ditch effort to wrangle in consensus five-star offensive lineman Darnell Wright.
Brown is going all out for Wright, gotta love it. pic.twitter.com/lKvSm5YA66
— Schuyler Callihan (@DVNCallihan) January 30, 2019
Brown put on a Bob Huggins-esque full court press bringing 10 assistant coaches to visit with Wright before he made his decision. It was going to be a long shot, but all of a sudden, there was a slim chance that Wright could ultimately stay home. In the end, Wright chose Tennessee, proving that too little is sometimes too late. If the previous staff would not have ignored the thought of recruiting the high-level players in the state, who knows what could have happened.
Wright even took to Twitter last night to voice his displeasure in the former staffs effort to recruit in-state talent.
You gotta try first https://t.co/S5K7vI6UkJ
— Darnell Wright (@darnell_5232) May 2, 2019
As those who watch college football religiously know, West Virginia is not just some “average Joe” program that randomly puts together a ten-win season. According to Winsipedia, the Mountaineers are the 14th winningest program in college football. So…somehow, some way, Bobby Bowden, Don Nehlen, Rich Rodriguez, Bill Stewart and others found a way to bring in talent that won 691 games, 14 conference championships and 13 bowl games. But all of a sudden, “We weren’t going to get high school kids at West Virginia that we were going to win the Big 12 with.”
In the same SI article, it was mentioned that the staff would concentrate on bringing in some of the top talent in the greater Houston area which is a tad odd considering that it would be a new recruiting strategy (focusing on in-state recruits).
When the head football coach at West Virginia University stops by a high school in the state, you feel the presence. It’s the flagship university and the only Power Five school in the state, unlike the state of Texas which has five Power Five programs (Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, TCU and Baylor). I’m not so sure Houston has that same appeal to Texas kids, especially the really good ones.
So was it more of a lack of wanting to develop high school talent than it was an impossible feat? It’s possible. It’s much easier to rely on veteran transfers and former five-star players looking for a second chance and there’s nothing wrong with pursuing those individuals, but saying talent can’t be brought to Morgantown is questionable.
The Mountaineer fan base has been divided for quite some time, but with the hiring of a new head coach it seems as if there is unity for the first time in over a decade. Regardless as to what was said in the SI article, the only thing that truly matters is what the future holds. There is a reason why the rear view mirror is a lot smaller than the windshield – it’s time to look forward, but at the same time don’t forget what got you to where you are.
Neal Brown has done a tremendous job of winning over the fan base and creating a culture that gives fans something to be excited about. Family matters and it’s more than just football to this new staff – it’s not just about a paycheck.
Earlier this year, he had all members of the media individually get their headshot taken so that he could learn everyone’s name. He truly cares about everyone in his surroundings and that’s something that has been missing from that position for the last eight years.
Even with the Dabo Swinney-like environment, it all comes down to wins and losses at the end of the day. Does it make sense for West Virginia to be listed as a top three candidate to win the Big 12 in year one with a new coaching staff, new quarterback and new playmakers?
The beauty of this situation is that no one has any idea what to expect in 2019. Had the old coaching regime not have left, we would have a pretty good idea what to expect or in some instances what not to expect. The new staff might get players to develop at a faster and more desirable rate which could translate to more wins than expected in year one.
The future certainly is bright, but don’t have blue blood expectations. Be optimistic, not unrealistic. Eight to nine wins is not ideal, but for the first few seasons it would be considered overachieving.
Mountaineer football is en route to regaining its true identity in the college football landscape. The nasty break up is over and it’s time to put one hundred percent focus on the present.