One could forgive new West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown if he wanted to put his best foot forward in terms of the win column in his inaugural season.
It’s his first time in the Power 5, his biggest break to date. He wants to reward both the WVU administration’s faith in him and its offering of a six-year multi-million dollar contract. What better way to do that than hit the ground running with a bunch of wins?
To do that, though, he might have to ... compromise ... on who he adds to his roster, grabbing some guys who might be able to score some touchdowns and get some sacks, but introducing them to the team might be akin to pouring gasoline on a house fire.
Yet, if you read Tom Bragg’s story in today’s edition, you’ll see that Brown is going the other direction. He’s not thinking about the scoreboard first in this maiden voyage. His main concern was the locker room.
It’s obvious in the first words Brown utters in the story, how the coaching staff was in “culture-building” mode and quite particular in who they brought in as transfers. The choices may be more talent-based later, but this time around it was more about personality fits.
That’s not saying he just signed a bunch of nice guys without thinking at all about whether they could play. But if he had to sacrifice a little physical ability in order to get the right guy for the team, he was comfortable in doing so.
Take a look at the four graduate transfers mentioned in Tom’s story. Austin Kendall from Oklahoma was WVU’s starting quarterback against James Madison. George Campbell from Florida State caught a touchdown from Kendall. Reuben Jones from Michigan recorded a sack and a tackle for loss. And Josh Growden from LSU was the team’s starting punter.
All four were significant contributors to last week’s win, and he’s happy with how all four represent themselves on campus and in the community.
I’ve seen programs take the other fork in the road, coaches who wanted to win now, perhaps to jump from a mid-major job to a power conference, or go from the middle of the Power 5 pack to the platinum level. So they go sign some guys who are really talented but extremely volatile. That volatility cancels out the talent and then some.
And, rather than win quick, they lose quicker. And rather than give that coach a fast track to the big time, that coach was looking for work.
So it’s refreshing to see someone like Brown do as much as he can to facilitate early success while laying a foundation for what’s to come. I think that’s part of why West Virginia handed him a six-year deal. The university knew he had some work to do. It gave him the peace of mind to work ahead rather than settle for a quick band-aid.
That’s not to say that life will be easy for the Mountaineers in the near future. That JMU win was closer than most fans would have wished. And the 2019 schedule is anything but easy. Saturday’s foe Missouri might have lost to Wyoming to open its season, but there are less challenging projects than starting the road schedule in an SEC stadium.
But WVU fans can have some solace in knowing that Brown is making moves with the future of the Mountaineer program — not just his own — in mind.