Neal Brown will lose the butterfly battle.
It’s a foregone conclusion.
When Brown debuts as West Virginia University’s new head coach at 2 p.m. Saturday against James Madison at Milan Puskar Stadium, he will have a unique distinction.
Brown actually will possess far less experience in WVU’s home stadium than James Madison’s first-year coach, Curt Cignetti.
That’s because the 58-year-old Cignetti was a backup quarterback for WVU when “new” Mountaineer Field opened on September 6, 1980.
“What I really remember about the new stadium, I guess,” said Cignetti, “was it wasn’t completely finished, so we were taking the quarterback exchange ... I remember Gary Tranquill was the quarterback coach and he had us taking exchanges in sort of a facility outside the locker room.
“It was still inside, but it wasn’t finished and it was just all concrete. That was kind of weird.
“And I remember John Denver. I think they flew him in and he sang, ‘Country Roads.’ We played Cincinnati, I believe, and beat them pretty soundly [41-27]. But it was a great atmosphere. It was a facility that was much needed. It was a great day.”
It will be another great day for Cignetti on Saturday when he walks into Mountaineer Field for the first time since, since ... well, just when was the last time Cignetti was in the stadium?
“Oh, man,” said Cignetti, mulling over the question. “It would have to have been when I was at Pitt with [then-head coach] Walt Harris. I think that was 1999, but it might have been ‘98. I’ve been back to play against them a few times in my coaching career.
“I had a daughter that was accepted in the med school there and she almost went to West Virginia, but she went to Wake Forest instead. So, I was on the campus for a little bit, but it has been a while.”
So, it should be a fun moment for Cignetti — whose father, Frank, was the head coach at WVU from 1976-79 after six seasons as a Mountaineer assistant — when he walks down memory lane onto Mountaineer Field on Saturday.
“Well, yeah, I think it will be,” he said. “It’s very ironic that you take a new job and, then, look at the schedule come out and there’s West Virginia ... the place where you grew up from third grade through college.
“I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me. Obviously, a lot of great memories. But, truthfully, once we arrive at the stadium it’s all business. Whether it’s Morgantown or anywhere else. I’ve got a job to do. Everybody has a job to do. That will be the focus.”
The same is true for WVU’s Brown. The 39-year-old will possess all the coaching staples and demonstrate them in a business-like and focused manner.
Brown admits he will have butterflies in his Mountaineer Field debut.
“Oh, sure,” said Brown. “I think if you don’t have butterflies — and not just to go to my first game as head coach here, but really you have some butterflies every game you play.
“And if you don’t, you’ve probably lost your edge a little bit. It’s perfectly normal. That’s what I tell the players. It’s perfectly normal. You’re going to have some nerves on Saturday. And it’s perfectly normal. You’ve just got to be able to control your emotions. That’s the same way for me as a coach.”
So, one coach is making his debut. The other, his homecoming.
Welcome to the strange world of coaching.