ARLINGTON, Texas — First-year West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown is no stranger to the Big 12 Conference, having served as the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech in the early part of the decade.
On Tuesday, however, he got his first taste of the big stage during Big 12 Media Days at AT&T Stadium — home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys and the Big 12’s championship game.
Brown took his turn on stage to speak with the media Tuesday morning at the league’s unofficially kickoff to the 2019 season. One of four new head coaches in the Big 12 this season, Brown said he’s proud to be a part of a solid group of coaches.
“I think there were quality hires across the league,” Brown said. “This is a league of tremendous coaches and really innovative coaches — guys that have won at different levels.
“I grew up in a family of educators and I’ve been around sports all my life. What I really respect about the group of head coaches in this league is so many of them worked their way up from lower levels, lower positions and worked their way up to, really, the highest level of Power 5 college football.”
Brown, of course, has yet to coach a game for WVU since being hired in January, but said the reception he has received from fans around the state and country has been nothing but positive.
“I think it’s because we’re undefeated,” Brown joked. “No, it’s a couple of things. I think our marketing staff and the people within our administration have done a really good job presenting us to the state. I think there is a lot of relatability from Kentucky. Brooke and I, my wife, we’re five hours from our hometown and I can’t say enough about how we’ve been received, really, and not only myself and my family but my staff and their families. It’s exciting. We’ve got our hands full.”
Winning over the fan base and the donors has been Brown’s battle off the field. On the field, the Mountaineers will have their hands full with one of the toughest schedules in the country in 2019.
“First of all, I knew what the schedule was when I took the job,” Brown said. “When you look at the schedule, it is what it is. We don’t talk to our players about it, kind of a one-game mindset. That’s cliche.
“It’s a very challenging schedule. If you look at our future schedules, it’s challenging. I think that we have to, being where we fit geographically, I think it’s important for us to play natural rivals. The series with Pitt is coming up. We play Virginia Tech. Some of those type games make sense because it’s hard for our fan base to travel, you know, so those geographic games and natural rivalries, I think, are important for us to play.”
Brown said Tuesday there has been no movement this summer in the Mountaineers’ quarterback competition.
Graduate transfer Austin Kendall — who came to WVU from Big 12 rival Oklahoma — along with redshirt junior Jack Allison and redshirt freshman Trey Lowe are up for the job. None of the three took command in the race during spring practice, and Brown said that hasn’t changed.
“What we’re going to do is we’re going to take it into fall camp,” Brown said. “Like I told you guys during spring ball — when we know, we’ll know. It’s going to be clear and I think that’s the way it works in quarterback competitions. You go through, really, it’s not a coach choosing, it’s one quarterback separating themself from the others.”
Kendall famously was blocked from leaving OU for the Mountaineers at first, before the Sooners relented. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said Monday he is still not a fan of players being allowed to transfer within the Big 12 without being forced to sit out a season, and on Tuesday Brown offered his thoughts on the situation.
“My take on the transfer portal and transfers in general is this: I’m not in the position right now where we’re setting legislation,” Brown said. “The transfer portal is here. The rules are clear and we’re going to play by the rules. I think most schools are going to benefit from the transfers, and then at the same time you’re also going to have some subtractions through the portal.”
Former West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen famously took a lot of transfers to help build the Mountaineers’ roster. Asked Tuesday if he plans to do the same, Brown said there will certainly be transfers coming into Morgantown but his goal is to build the WVU program through high school players.
“I think you have to mix,” Brown said. “We’re always going to try to build our team through the high school football recruiting. I think that’s how you build your foundation. I think it’s important to have guys in your program four and five years, but we’re also going to be creative in how we build our roster. If you look at what we’ve done over the summer you’ll see that. We’re going to be creative, but it’s a year-long approach to building our roster.”