Neal Brown did the right thing by admitting he was wrong. As you know, it’s not always the easiest thing to do.
That’s what Brown had to do, and he did it. Yet while most of us only have to swallow our pride and do so in front of a family member or significant other, Brown was forced to do it before an entire fan base, one that had largely killed him on social media platforms over the past several months.
In my opinion, it’s difficult to overstate Monday’s hiring of Graham Harrell as the team’s offensive coordinator. I think it’s the kind of hire that could alter the course of this program for the next several years and, certainly, for the better.
I’ll get to that a little later. I had a feeling that a major change to the offensive staff would happen this offseason, but like most of you, I never could’ve foreseen this particular hire. Who thought we’d ever live in a day where West Virginia would pick off a coach from USC, one who had far-reaching interest, including employment possibilities in the NFL?
But that’s not what stuck out most to me, at least after the initial realization settled in. It was some of the language in the release that came from the program announcing the hire.
Brown was quoted a couple of times, the first of which was a statement touting Harrell. But the second was much more telling to me. If you haven’t seen it yet, Brown said:
“Since the end of the season, I have spent time reflecting on the program, and take responsibility, knowing we have to be better offensively. I’ve been serving in a dual role as the offensive coordinator and head coach, and we need to bring in another voice for the offense. Having Graham as the offensive coordinator and working with Gerad [Parker] as the No. 2 lead in the offensive room, as he has done, will make us a better, more efficient offense and move us in the direction we need to head. In turn, that will allow me to be a more effective CEO of the Mountaineer football program.”
Reading between the lines, it sure seems like the move was of Brown’s own volition. I thought that WVU Director of Athletics Shane Lyons would likely step in at some point this offseason and force a move in an effort to prove to fans that the lackluster offense of the past three seasons would not be acceptable moving forward.
Something had to be done. Whether it was Brown making it happen on his own or Lyons pushing the process, who knows? Truthfully, it doesn’t much matter.
But Brown’s statement was certainly telling, and while quotes in a press release are largely a formality, this one was much more revealing.
In 2008, Brown was named the offensive coordinator at Troy. Since then, he’s had a major hand in offensive strategy and play calling, whether with the Trojans, at Kentucky or in his three seasons at West Virginia.
That’s 14 seasons. Yet, in hiring Harrell, Brown seems to be letting all of that go, and in doing so he publicly acknowledged that the program needs help on that side of the ball.
And look, all of us who have watched this team play for the past three seasons already knew that. The Mountaineers have ranked 119th, 50th and 86th in total offense in Brown’s three seasons. Harrell’s offenses at USC were 20th, 46th and 23rd in that same period.
While Jordan Lesley has seemingly installed a maintainable culture and standard on the defensive side, a complementary offense could be the difference between a 6-6 season and a 9-3 campaign or better. It certainly was this season and, in particular, in a 30-24 loss at Maryland, a 16-13 loss at Oklahoma, a 23-20 loss to Texas Tech and, arguably, even in an 18-6 defeat against Minnesota in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.
There’s no telling if Harrell, inheriting an offense with a new starting running back, a new starting quarterback and a suddenly thin position group at wide receiver will be the immediate and magical fix. Maybe it will take a little time.
But offensively, something had to give, and it was Brown who gave a difficult admission and then did something in an effort to fix it.
Now it’s up to you to give Brown a second chance and Harrell the time and opportunity to work.