MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Neal Brown was introduced as West Virginia University’s 35th head football coach on Thursday, Jan. 10, in a press conference at the Milan Puskar Center Team Room.
President E. Gordon Gee
Ladies and gentlemen, what an honor it is to have everyone here. This is a very special day. It is a very special moment. I want to say this to the wonderful Brown family, we are an institution of family. West Virginia is a place of family. West Virginia is a place that believes in its institution and university. In fact, we in many ways represent the hopes and dreams of every West Virginian. Our football program, our basketball programs and our athletic programs in general really do carry the flag of West Virginia, and they have done so successfully for a long period of time. Today is a very special day because we have a new flag carrier; a very special one.
I can tell you that when we had the opportunity to speak with Brooke and the coach, very infrequently do you know what is right. Very infrequently do you know how this is going to work. We sought. We believed in it. He believed in us. Brooke believed in us. We had the most wonderful conversation, and for that, we are grateful.
West Virginia University is a place of purpose. I tell everyone if you don’t believe in purpose, if you don’t believe we have a special calling, if you don’t believe in the ministry of West Virginia and its University, then please don’t come here. This is a place of purpose, and we are also a place of inspiration. Today that is what we are celebrating. We are celebrating family. We are celebrating 1.8 million West Virginians. We are celebrating the West Virginian’s around the world who take great pride in this state, and we are celebrating the newest of our family, so coach, welcome to you, and welcome to your family. I am not very good at babysitting. I’m a grandfather. I go and visit them and Uber back to the hotel. We are honored to have you here, and we are honored to have all of your family. Thank you very much for making this decision. This is a special day for West Virginia.
Director of Athletics Shane Lyons
Thank you to everyone for being here today. Like Dr. Gee said, it is an exciting day to be able to introduce a new football coach in West Virginia, Mountaineer football history. It’s also exciting to begin a new chapter in West Virginia football history.
As we started this process, we were obviously looking for a coach who could come in here and fit us as an institution. I do want to recognize Brooke, Adalyn, Anslee and Dax to the family. As Dr. Gee said, this was a family affair as we started this, and they definitely bring every quality in a family that we can think of. I want to thank Dr. Gee for the process. We moved very swiftly on this. His support and making this happen in a quick manor. We worked hand-in-hand to make this happen as swiftly as we could. I also want to thank Bill Wilmoth and David Alvarez of the chair and vice chair of the board of directors for their support. Also, from Dr. Gee’s team, there were a number of people that we had conversations with in the process for their support along the way as well.
From athletics, my right hand (deputy athletic director) Keli Zinn. I could not do this without her and her work behind the scenes of the day-to-day grunt work in the trenches, finding out about coaches and the information. Along with (executive senior associate athletic director) Steve Uryasz, who is not here today, working with us in the interview process. There were a number of other senior staff members who made this happen. It was truly a team effort, and I thank them for their hard work and their effort in this process.
As I entered the search, I was looking for a sitting head coach with experience. Obviously, Neal had that with four years of experience at Troy. I was looking for the fit and culture for our university. Somebody that embraced our values and missions. Not only from the athletic department, but from the University as a whole. Somebody who had an emphasis on the student-athlete experience. You’ll hear coach talk about the student-athlete experience and the total student-athlete experience. It’s not all about the playing field. It’s off the playing field as well. We want to make sure these guys are having fun and growing socially, as well as academically.
I was looking for a coach with a proven record of competitive success. Coach had a 35-16 record in a four-year period at Troy. He was 31-8 in the last three years. He was tied with Central Florida for the best record in the nation among the group of five. He had a conference championship and three bowl wins, so obviously, the competitive success box was checked. I wanted a coach who had an emphasis on academics and NCAA compliance. I needed a quality person with a strong work ethic, and every box that I talked about was being checked by Neal Brown.
As we entered the interview process and had a chance to sit down with him in person, it was very clear and evident that he was going to be the next West Virginia football coach. We talked, and the interview lasted about seven hours. We talked about a number of things throughout those seven hours. The brand of football that he plays. He likes to throw the ball. He has a strong focus on the running game. His team is known for their defense as much as their offense. His team plays with a chip on their shoulder with a blue-collar mentality, which fits us perfectly. We talked about a lot of those things. We talked about his passion for the student-athlete. His passion for the game. We also had the chance for Brooke to join us in the last couple hours of the interview. Coach, she was the closer. It was evident that they wanted to be here at West Virginia. They wanted to be our football coach, and they wanted to be the first family of football, so it was evident that we were definitely on the right track.
As I talk about the process, and the process began a long time before the last week or so. We had systems in place to review coaches. I had my list and always kept it up to date of coaches. We watched and listened from afar. We were prepared. We done our homework. That allowed us to work quickly, effectively and efficiently in naming our next head football coach.
After we had a chance to come back to Morgantown, sit down and debrief the next morning real quickly, it really became evident. I told our staff that the great state of West Virginia, our alumni and fans, our department and university is going to love this guy. The last week or almost a week since Saturday when we made the official announcement, I can tell you that Mountaineer Nation is once again energized. Neal, we are glad to have you. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor and privilege to introduce to you West Virginia University’s 35th head football coach Neal Brown.
Head Coach Neal Brown
Thank you for that introduction and thank you to everyone for being here today and good morning. I appreciate the media being present, key University individuals, boosters. I appreciate you all taking the time to be here. What an honor and what a privilege it is to stand before you today as the head football coach at West Virginia University. You hear that a lot in press conferences, but it’s important for me to tell you why it’s such a privilege. We’ve had a lot of success over the last few years at Troy. That’s why I’m here. When you have success, it creates opportunity.
Other schools want to talk about jobs, and when you get those opportunities, you get an opportunity to find out about that school’s culture, about their administration’s vision and their fan base’s passion for the program. Culture, vision and passion – those are the three things that have always been very important to me and Brooke, who I am going to introduce here in just a second. Those are the three criteria that have factored into each move we’ve made and every opportunity we’ve evaluated over the years.
When I think about culture, when I think about vision, when I think about passion, I think about Coach (Don) Nehlen and the incredible legacy he left here, over two decades of success, and I appreciate the time he spent welcoming me to town and this University on Sunday afternoon. He provided great insight, and I appreciate that. I think about the 14th-winningest program in college football. Wow. I think about 15 conference championships. I think about the flying WV and the hard working, blue-collar people of West Virginia that the WV represents. I think about Country Roads, and I think about one of the best environments in all of college football. West Virginia is culture. It is vision, and it is passion. It was a great fit, it fits my DNA.
I am grateful for Dr. Gee, Shane Lyons, Keli Zinn and the board of governors for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to lead this great program. Their entire team was incredible throughout this process. They were everything you look for from both an athletics and University perspective. The alignment of Dr. Gee, Shane and his team was evident.
Dr. Gee, your vision for this University is crystal clear and it’s invigorating. When you spend time with Dr. Gee, you come away with a deeper appreciation for West Virginia and a sincere belief that nothing is impossible.
Shane, it is clear that you bleed gold and blue. From our first conversation, you were consistent in your message. West Virginia is a special place where we can accomplish great things. I look forward to working with both Dr. Gee and Shane to make the people of this great state proud of how we represent them on a daily basis.
I want to recognize and introduce a few people who proudly define me; my wife, Brooke, who I will talk about here in a second, our children, Adalyn, Anslee and Dax. I probably shouldn’t look at Brooke, so I’ll talk above her. But Brooke, probably more than anybody, understands what this moment means. She’s been by my side through the ups and the downs of this profession. She’s a constant coach’s wife. I wouldn’t be standing here today without her. She’s the head coach at home, but she will also have a prominent role in our program and be very visible in the Morgantown community.
My sister, Beth, is here. She’s a recent law school graduate, I’m proud of her. My parents, Tom and Peggy, and my in-laws, Morris and Pat Stewart – they’re all four teachers, educators. At the heart, I think that’s who we are as well. I also wouldn’t be standing here today without the players, coaches, administration and fans at Troy University. We experienced a lot of success at Troy, because they gave their all every day. (Troy chancellor) Dr. Jack Hawkins and Jeremy McClain, our athletic director, bought into our vision and were completely aligned with what we wanted to accomplish. The players sacrificed individual goals in the interest of the team, and I will forever be grateful for the relationships and the memories that we all made at Troy.
On Sunday night, I stood on this stage. Honestly, I was looking at a group that was probably bigger, faster and stronger than the group I’m looking at now. They better be. But what I told them was, at West Virginia, we were going to be about three things. Number one, we are going to develop young men. I love football and I’m passionate. Athletics has given me every opportunity that I’ve ever had in my life. I think it’s a tool to develop young men. Number two, we’re going to graduate student-athletes and set them up for their future endeavors. Number three, we’re going to win football games. We accomplish these goals by being a player-first program. We build a program around our student-athletes. They are all why we are here and why we do what we do. This program will not be about me.
From our coaching staff, to our academic support, to strength and conditioning, all our support areas and anyone that touches this program, our job is to help our student-athletes develop in all phases. To whom much is given, much is required. That hold true for Mountaineer football. We will provide our student-athletes with every resource they need to be successful, both in the classroom and on the field. With that said, our expectations for our student-athletes are going to be extremely high. We will insure that they carry themselves in a manner that makes us all proud. We will all be accountable to each other, this program and this University. We will be disciplined on and off the field. This is not coach speak, this is a program mandate from day one. We’ll have fun. I think it’s important to have fun. It’s a game. They talk about playing, playing football. I want our players to look forward to coming into the Milan Puskar Center. That doesn’t mean we won’t work hard, we will. But we’re going to enjoy ourselves as we go through the process of getting better.
There have been exciting former players that should be a visible part of our program. I want them to know that they’re welcome here. Jeff Hostetler is doing wonderful work with the children’s hospital. Marc Bulger reached out to me on Twitter. Tavon Austin, Major Harris, Pat (White), Bruce Irvin, Darryl Talley, just to name a few. I want all former Mountaineer players to know you all can come see us. Please be a part of what’s going to be the next chapter of Mountaineer football.
Competition will be key. Our student-athletes will be expected to compete every day in everything. I’m talking about grades, in the offseason, practice effort, in-game performance, everything. I want our staff competing with that same energy and intensity as well. Competition breeds success. Those that possess great competitive character will strive here.
We’re going to recruit, but not only recruit, we’re going to develop. Championship football programs are built through recruiting and development. A program is only as good as its players. I’m from this area, I’ve spent years recruiting this area. I know the type of players in our footprint. They will know who we are and what we’re about. Our coaching staff will be active, they will be visible. We have a tremendous, and I’ll say that, tremendous product to sell here, and our staff will be expected to work extremely hard to evaluate, build relationships and close on the best prospects that fit our program. Keeping the best players in the state at home is a top priority.
From a player-development perspective, we want to make sure that we’re developing the total player mentally, physically and socially. We also focus on things like character development, leadership training.
On the football side, offensively, you all know my background. That’s why I am here. We’re not changing that. We’ll be a fast-paced, attacking offense. We’re going to get playmakers in space and put points on the board. We’re a get-it-done offense, by any means necessary to win the game. We’re going to shots down the field, create explosive plays. We’re also going to be very physical up front, we’re going to run the football. On defense, we’ll be aggressive, playing
fundamentally-sound football with one goal of getting the ball back. We want our players reacting, not thinking.
I’m pleased to announce that Vic Koenning will be our defensive coordinator. Vic has a history of putting together some of the top, attacking defenses in the country. He was a huge part of our success at Troy, he has experience in this league, and I cannot be more excited to have him.
On special teams, we will be opportunistic. I view them as offensive opportunities. We led the nation this season, according to ESPN, in special teams’ efficiency at Troy, and it’s important.
As far as getting started, putting together a staff will be a high priority. I’ll focus over the next couple of weeks on completing our staff – it’s more important to get it right than get it done quickly. So, have patience, media, please, have patience. In addition to Vic, we’ll have a couple of important hires that we’ll release in the next couple of days as they get their contracts signed. I can tell you this: our staff will consist of coaches who appreciate the opportunity that West Virginia offers, and they want to be here. They will be great teachers, great motivators, recruiters. They will care about the young men in our program.
Over the last four days of getting started in this role, it’s been both easy and enjoyable. I greatly appreciate, my family greatly appreciates, the warm reception that we’ve received. I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with our players, getting to know them relationally. I’m excited about them and learning about all of our support staff areas, getting to know them. We have a lot of pieces in place here.
I’m a basketball fan, and I enjoyed spending time with Coach (Bob) Huggins and the other coaches. He shared some key insights with me, as well.
Ladies and gentlemen, I cannot be more excited to be your head football coach. We’re going to work, we’re going to compete, we’re going to have fun, at the end of the day, we’re going to make you proud. Cue Country Roads, let’s go Mountaineers.
On the timing of getting hired
I don’t know that the timing of these things are ever ideal. What I told our players in our initial team meeting was I chose them. To me, coaching – I’ll get to the recruiting piece in a second – is about building relationships. They’re all our players now, and it’s about building relationships, understand who they are, what they are about, understand that relationships are about love, care and trust. And it’s the same with the recruits that are signed. I had the opportunity to talk with each of them on the phone, and I look forward, as we build our staff, getting out and seeing them. If I’ll have one opportunity to see them in person, I’ll definitely do that. I’d love to have the opportunity to bring them back on campus for official visits. So, over the next few weeks, we’ll grow that relationship. I’m excited about the guys that signed. And again, we’re going to add some pieces. We have some spots available, and we’ll definitely continue to build our roster.
On when it hit that becoming the head coach at West Virginia was a possibility
Well, as you know, social media doesn’t always get it right, so this process didn’t quite look like it played out on social media. It did not play out like it did on social media. So, I think it was the 28th, we were at my aunt and uncle’s house in Bardstown, Kentucky, and we were having a family Christmas. We had two babies and a very active 3-year-old – if you’re paying attention, you see that now – and we were having a family gathering as West Virginia played in the background. Life happens fast, and we’re very grateful to be here, because probably on Dec. 28, I didn’t envision that.
On current team needs
In full disclosure, what my initial days on this job have been about have been about building relationships with players. I have not watched one clip of film yet. The reason being is, when you take a new job, there’s so many things to do. I think the mistake that a lot of people make is they go in and immediately hire staff and immediately doing other things. Well, to me, you have to evaluate the players here as far as how are they going to fit with what you want to do. And what I mean by that is, from a relationship standpoint, who are they and what are they about? Because these guys are 17-22-years old, but they are kids in a lot of ways, and their whole world just got rocked. Talking about Dec. 28, they’re playing a game. Did they envision in less than two weeks that coaches change and all those type of things? So, I think it was important for me to sit down and them to understand who I was as a person, and for me to get to know them. Also, the support staff, the people that spend the most time with them, could be with academics, (assistant athletic director/student-athlete development) Brittney (O’Dell) and her staff, (assistant athletic director of strength and conditioning) Mike (Joseph) and his staff in strength and conditioning, getting a feel for who those people are. We’re going to get to the football piece, probably will be closer to the weekend. I know what scholarships we have available, I know the group of the guys that left and, on paper, where it looks like we need to fill some holes. But we’re going to evaluate our personnel, especially now that we have a few coaches on board. We’ll evaluate our personnel and really make some key personnel decisions moving forward for the remaining spots in the recruiting process.
On what he’s learned from the players so far
Well, a lot of those conversations are obviously private. Here’s what I did in these meetings: I wanted to know what their background is. And in a normal process – and there’s nothing normal about this – the guys that are on this football team are the guys that signed back in December. I would have a home visit with them, they would have multiple opportunities to come here on unofficial visits, they would take an official visit, so that relationship would be really strong. Really, what I wanted to know was, tell me about your family, who are you, where are you from, tell me about your hometown, and then I asked some simple questions, what are the best things we’re doing here? What are we doing well, what do we need to sustain? What are some improvement areas that you need to see? That was how those conversations went.
On where he plans to recruit
Well, we’ll recruit regionally, all the states that touch our home state. And then, obviously, we’ll have a really strong presence in the southeast. Alabama, Georgia and into the state of Florida.
On if expects any players from Troy to transfer to West Virginia
No. Listen, I have great appreciation – that video that I had no intention of going viral that I did on Saturday, where my voice cracked a little bit; I’ll try to avoid that today – obviously, I love them guys. I think that’s the right word to use. I love those guys. It was really emotional meeting with them yesterday, I appreciate Shane (Lyons) giving me the opportunity to go back and do that and do it the right way. They started school yesterday at Troy. But I have tremendous appreciate for those kids, our chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins and athletic director Jeremy McClain. So, those aren’t conversations that I’ll have with those players.
On if he had any prior knowledge of West Virginia
Well, watching and growing up. Obviously, being from a neighboring state, and being a fan of college football throughout, I actually spent a couple of days here in the spring of 2011. I came and watched practiced and spent a couple of days here. So, I had been here, I’ve seen the facilities and those type things. Not the recent renovations, but I had seen the facilities. I had a decent understanding.
On if there was an event that made him want to go in a certain direction as a coach
At the end of the day, I talk about my parents being educators. I grew up in a school. I grew up from the time I can remember in an elementary school library, cleaning off books and all that, and then being in school with my dad and shutting down the gym or whatever it was as a principal. Being around educators and seeing the influence that they have on young people. I think it is important that people pave their own way. You get bits and pieces from everyone you’ve been around. I think we all, whatever profession we are in, collect from a lot of people that touched us along the way to get here. For me, it is about the development process. It’s not just about players. It’s about staff as well. The other thing to is that I don’t want to be miserable, honestly. I look at so many people in this profession. I get it. The pressure is high. The money is a lot. At the end of the day, we are coaching football. I mean c’mon. It’s football. I’m around young people all day, every day. In a lot of ways, you don’t have to really grow up, so I just approach it in that way. Let’s have fun. There’s work time, and there’s play time. You can accomplish both. I think if you look at what Clemson has done, they have proven that to be important. I don’t think there is anyone having more fun than Dabo Swinney right now. I mean he is having a lot of fun. I had the opportunity to go spend three or four days in the spring (with him), and I just came away really impressed. This is one of the top programs in college football, and if they are doing it this way, I really feel sound in our approach as well.
On the dance video made at Troy
This is one thing Brooke said I had to hit today. Let’s talk about this dance video. This is how this came about. At Troy, you have your awards at the end of the spring semester. One of the things they do is a competition between coaching staffs. Becky Whetstone is in charge of academics and those types of things at Troy, and she sent out multiple emails about doing this video, this dance video. And when I say multiple, I mean 10 plus emails. Our women’s basketball program at Troy is led by Chanda Rigby. She is funny, and she is really good in front of the camera. She likes to have fun. They’ve been successful. I’m talking about after several emails, I walk into the staff meeting, and Becky said ‘you all aren’t going to do this.’ I said ‘you know what, we are actually going to do this.’ One of our coaches, who had a little bit of a music background, put this together. Now, that video won an award. That video was supposed to be shown one time at the award ceremony and never come out of the vault again. The next day, that thing went viral. It may be the most watched, even more so than our win against LSU. It may be the most watched video in Troy athletic history. I want to make sure that is clear. That wasn’t a serious video.
On being a younger head coach
Well, I think that vulnerability is probably something that males, in general, struggle with, especially males in leadership. So, I think it’s important when you’re dealing with young people that they understand that you’re going to make mistakes. I always say this: as we get later in game weeks, a lot of times at the hotel before he go to the stadium, I’ll say, ‘Listen, I want you guys to play loose, I want you to play free. There probably won’t be anybody that makes any more mistakes today than me.’ Now, I don’t tell them that I have to make more decisions than the rest of them, but probably nobody will make more decisions. It’s not necessarily when you make the mistake, it’s how you respond. But I think it’s important for our staff, it’s important for our players, all our support people, is to be vulnerable and to put yourself out there. Don’t be scared to put yourself into a relationship, don’t be scared to put yourself out there and give it all you have.
On if his youth can be an advantage
Well, youth is a general term. Some days I feel really good, I haven’t gotten much sleep over the last three days so I don’t know how youthful I feel right now. Really, my whole world right now at home is around a 10-, a 7- and a 3-year old. And I come to work and it’s around anywhere some 17-22, 23 max. So, regardless of age, I think you’re always going to feel youthful. I think being one of the younger head coaches, especially at this level, I think it’s a benefit. I think I have a good understanding. There are days where I feel like I could still play, and there are days, the older I get, the fewer those days are. But I think it’s definitely beneficial, to answer your question.
On how his offensive philosophy compares to what West Virginia has run recently
Like I said, I’ve watched them a little bit on TV after our games at Troy, and knowing Dana (Holgorsen’s) background, and know (Jake) Spav (Spavital’s) background, as well, I think there’s going to be a lot of similarities, some carry over. I don’t think they’ll be identical in any way; we’ve added some options elements to what we’re doing in the run game just to make us harder to defend. But I do think, especially in some pass concepts, there will be some crossover.
On if he’s spoken to Dana Holgorsen about how he runs his offense
No. Just in general, knowing him. I wouldn’t say we’re close. I have an appreciation for what they’ve done offensively. Obviously, it was very good here last year.
On being named the head coach at West Virginia compared to when he was hired at Troy
Both were really positive. The difference is, at Troy, there were a lot of relationships there being an assistant coach for four years, two years as an offensive coordinator. We were a part of four conference championships in a row. It really felt good about what that reception was going to be there, just because we knew a lot of the people. Here, it’s a new place. I haven’t been here before, I didn’t really know what to expect. Really, the overwhelmingly positive reception has been great. Any time when you’re young, especially when you’re my daughter’s age, change is a little uneasy. I think the reception we had at the airport last night was really beneficial for them. And I appreciate it. I appreciate Shane (Lyons) and Keli (Zinn) and this department really welcoming us with open arms. I appreciate the people at West Virginia being overly positive about this hire.
On the direction of how the defense will play
Yeah, (Vic Koenning) will be available, I don’t think today, but he’ll be available, and he can talk to you. We haven’t talked a lot about personnel. He came in last night. So, that’ll be something moving forward. But we will look different.
On if he’s learned to dislike Pitt
They don’t let you sign the contract until you dislike Pitt.
On what he knows about football in western Pennsylvania and his thoughts on the Backyard Brawl
I think rivalries are important in college football. I think that’s what makes it unique are those rivalries and the interactions the fan bases have. So, those are conversations that Shane and I will have. As far as Western Pennsylvania, I had an opportunity to work in the northeast when I was young in my career. Actually, I recruited that area personally, especially when I was at Delaware. The was one of the key recruiting areas for us. They’re tough, hard-nose kids. They’re really well coached kids. The high school football coaching in that area is very good, as good as it is anywhere. So, that will definitely be a part of our recruiting landscape.