SECOND OF A TWO-PART STORY: The primary chapter on West Virginia’s new football coach appeared in Sunday’s version of The Dominion Submit.
MORGANTOWN — The mad sprint to National Signing Day was behind him, and West Virginia’s class emerged fortified. His teaching employees had been assembled, clustered into an extended-stay lodge close to campus and handed their recruiting priorities for 2020 and past. Blueprints for the Puskar Middle renovation have been being scrutinized and revamped. Highschool coaches in every cranny of the state had met him personally or taken his name. And now, together with his frantic introductory period starting to feel stabilized, the shifting vans arrived from Troy and Neal Brown was joined in the rental residence by his spouse and three youngsters.
So the head coach allowed himself a breather.
He referred to as defensive coordinator Vic Koenning and stated, “I’m not coming into the office today.” Which only meant Koenning had better brace for tomorrow.
“I’m sure Neal was around his family all day, but you knew his mind was still working. So of course the next day we all had a big, new list of things to do,” Koenning stated. “Even when he’s not in the building, he’s always figuring out ways to get better.”
‘This guy is gold’
Seth Doege signed with Texas Tech to play quarterback beneath Mike Leach, to whistle passes via the Lubbock wind, to set off the “Air Raid” offense. So after two years in improvement, Doege should’ve felt the West Texas earth quaking beneath his cleats when Leach was fired, and of all replacements, Tommy Tuberville — with a background for SEC powerball — turned the new coach.
“It was nerve-racking. On Leach’s staff was Lincoln Riley, Seth Littrell, the guys who recruited me,” Doege stated. “When that new staff came in, all the quarterbacks and everybody offensively was skeptical.”
Luckily for Doege, Texas Tech administrators insisted Tuberville’s employees proceed using the aerial assault that had turn out to be the faculty’s brand. Much more fortuitously for Doege, Neal Brown was the best out there coordinator on the “Air Raid” teaching tree.
They clicked instantly during the spring of 2011 — the new play-caller anxious to refine his quarterback’s fundamentals, and Doege prepared to regulate.
Brown scrutinized his dropback mechanics and issued day by day breakdowns on how footwork tied into totally different routes.
“He was so precise. Every little movement was coached,” stated Doege. “There was so much structure to it, that at first you don’t feel as free throwing the ball. But when you see the results getting better and better, like I saw, that’s when you trust it. He made me conscientious of all those little things every day.”
WVU witnessed Doege’s best recreation in 2012: A six-touchdown, 499-yard performance that culminated in a 49-14 win and the senior being lifted atop the shoulders of students who stormed the turf.
In recounting the second where Brown touched him the most, nevertheless, Doege rewinds to his worst recreation.
It got here Nov. 12, 2011, when Doege was a redshirt junior making his 10th start. The Pink Raiders, sinking into a five-game skid, had been crushed in their own stadium, 66-6, by No. 2 Oklahoma State. The QB’s psyche was almost crushed in the process.
“I was just awful, and there was talk of me getting pulled,” he stated. Rattled and despondent, Doege left the locker room alone and commenced strolling house “because I just didn’t want to be around anybody.” He made it several blocks from the stadium when Brown’s truck pulled up subsequent to him.
“Coach Brown knew I was nervous they have been going to put another person in, but he stated he wouldn’t let that happen. He knew I had labored means too exhausting, and that I used to be still the leader of the workforce, and he didn’t want to destroy my confidence.
“I always think of him having my back. He really stuck his neck out for me.”
Doege recovered to finish the 2011 season ranked eighth nationally in passing yardage and 13th in completion proportion. In 2012 he rose to third in each categories with 4,205 passing yards and a 70.2 completion price.
They remained in touch by way of Doege’s three-year pro profession and Brown’s meteoric rise at Troy. The quarterback was invited to volunteer coach at the Trojans’ spring apply and stayed at Brown’s home. When Doege’s wife gave start last October, one among the first footage was texted to Brown.
Doege’s advice for any Mountaineers players who is perhaps skeptical about their own coaching transition: “I’m telling you, West Virginia got a steal. This guy is gold.”
She’s coach at house
Brooke Brown snickers when her husband calls her “the coach at home.” He’s not the only one handing out laurels.
Troy’s longtime play-by-play broadcaster Barry McKnight, having witnessed a career’s value of coaches’ wives, raved about Brooke: “She’s a phenomenon.”
Tony Franklin, whose four many years in football included stints at Cal, Louisiana Tech, Auburn and being Neal’s position coach at Kentucky, stated of her: “She’s a star.”
These close to the couple see a glove-like fit, a marriage of stability, teamwork and shared ambition. Perhaps it’s as a result of Brooke grew up the daughter of a small-college basketball coach, and recollects being “a gym rat from the get-go,” which helps her navigate the seasonal and weekly cycles that fluctuate with wins and losses.
“I take my cues from Neal before games,” she stated. “If he’s not nerved up, I’m not nerved up.”
Having dated Neal since high school, she saw him progress from player to lowly paid graduate assistant to a head coach now incomes $3 million annually. Though the tax bracket has modified, the magnitude of each new remaining rating still makes it vital to decompress when coach returns to father.
“I don’t know how he shakes off some of the losses, because the dude is intense on the field, but when he gets home he’s just dad. Our kids deserve that,” Brooke stated. “Now, when the kids are in the bed and everyone else has gone home, there’s some sulking for sure. But if you can’t turn the page quickly it starts to taint the next week.”
When West Virginia provided Brown the job in late December, there was never a doubt Brooke and the youngsters would be a part of him as quickly as attainable. (“We are better together than we are apart” has been their philosophy via every coach transfer.) Their Troy house bought inside days of hitting the market — “definitely a God thing,” Brooke surmised — and the household reunited in Morgantown by early February.
“A normal person would probably finish the school year before moving up there, but it’s a big deal for the kids to get to Morgantown and get locked in. I want them to be part of the excitement,” she stated. “Besides, we needed to get up there to make sure Neal is actually eating and sleeping.”
The Mountaineers additionally might use Brooke’s help as an unofficial recruiter.
When she jokes that “I know how to sell a program” it’s a lesson in reassuring the families of prospects.
“We’ve got players in our homes about as much as the NCAA will allow. It’s an important piece of recruiting for them to really see Neal and the coaches as husbands and dads,” Brooke stated. “I try to connect with the mamas and the grandmamas and the aunties. I know someday my kids are going to go away from home, and I sure would like for someone to love them up.”
The life coach
Neal Brown stunned offensive lineman Josh Sills one morning outdoors the Engineering Research Constructing. Moments later across campus, he caught up with receiver Dillon Spalding and tight finish Mike O’Laughlin.
“Another successful class check,” the coach tweeted.
Brown’s holistic strategy to team-building starts by doing his own legwork to verify that athletes show up for courses. His drop-ins at Troy lecture rooms turned so frequent they could as nicely have been a part of the syllabus.
“One professor was like, ‘If Neal pops his head in today, this class is cancelled,’ and then it happened,” SGA vice chairman Morgan Long stated.
A sports administration main with intern expertise for minor-league baseball, Lengthy stated Brown typically ate in the scholar dining hall and didn’t mind “if you wanted to talk X’s and O’s for a second.” That accessibility extended to the quarterly pep rallies round campus. Brown all the time showed up and all the time with a couple of gamers in tow.
When Troy certified for the Greenback Common Bowl in 2016 — its first bowl bid in 5 years — Brown showed up at the ticket line and paid for the first 100 students. By the time the Trojans made it three straight bowl journeys in 2018, he and Brooke gave away 300 tickets.
“You saw him everywhere,” Long stated. “At church on Sundays, at the rec fields with his kids, and he was always approachable. He didn’t act like he was better than anybody.”
Lengthy occurred to be in the visitors’ section at Demise Valley on Sept. 30, 2017 — the night time Troy jumped by 17 points and surprised LSU. The reminiscences stay crystal: The disbelieving expressions from the LSU alumni nearby, and Brown’s self-assurance never wavering.
“Yeah, of course we were the underdogs, but seeing him on the sideline, he looked so confident,” Lengthy stated. “It was freaking awesome because we really controlled that whole game. For the atmosphere around the football program, that night changed everything.”
Tony Franklin vouches
In mid-January, as Neal Brown began familiarizing himself with highschool coach across West Virginia and the mid-Atlantic, 61-year-old Tony Franklin was scouring the opposite coast, aiming to recruit California junior school expertise to Middle Tennessee State.
No disrespect, but Franklin hopes to sign receivers who’re a lot quicker than the Brown kid he once coached at Kentucky from 1998-2000. (Brown made 10 career receptions for the Wildcats, averaging a strong four.8 yards per catch.)
In 2003, Franklin found himself teaching Brown once more, this time for the Lexington Horsemen of the Nationwide Indoor Football League, the place groups practiced only a couple occasions every week and players acquired $250 per recreation.
“Neal was the typical overachieving possession receiver,” Franklin stated. “But he loved that league because we could have three guys in motion at the same time. So he would start off about 20 yards behind the play and by the time the ball was snapped, his 4.75 40 looked like a 4.4. It’s probably the only time he ever felt fast in his life.”
No less than Brown proved to be a quicker learner.
When Franklin turned Troy’s offensive coordinator in 2006, he wanted a receivers coach and Brown quickly had his first FBS coaching supply.
Along with being sensible, younger and energetic, Brown was reasonably priced. “We couldn’t pay a whole lot of money and he was willing to work for very little,” Franklin stated.
And work he did.
On prime of handling place duties, Brown ready each week as if he have been calling performs. That typically led to artistic ideas that Troy’s offense included — and some recommendations that didn’t pan out.
“He wasn’t afraid to get his ass chewed,” Franklin stated. “Just very meticulous and detail-oriented and extremely confident. Neal was preparing not only to be a coordinator but also to be a head coach.”
In 2008, when Franklin left to be a part of Auburn for his personal less successful brush with Tommy Tuberville, Brown earned the Troy promotion and became the youngest offensive coordinator in the FBS.
Franklin has worked with recruiters personable enough to go sign anyone, only they couldn’t consider expertise. Others might spot upside but failed to connect with gamers. “Neal happens to be good at both,” he stated.
Turns out the coach who came low cost 13 years ago seems to be “a uniquely special coach and person,” and Franklin is unapologetically bullish on Brown supplanting Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia.
“I’ve known Dana a long time and I think he’s a really, really good football coach,” he stated. “And there’s a tremendous heritage of good football coaches at West Virginia. But in Neal Brown, I think he’ll end up being the best coach they’ve ever had.”