Boyle County alum Neal Brown living large at Troy

Published 10:08 pm Wednesday, November 29, 2017

How popular is former Boyle County High School sports standout Neal Brown with Troy University football fans?

“He is the unofficial mayor of Troy right now with what he has done with the football program,” said Phil Cunningham, Troy’s head basketball coach.

Brown was an offensive coordinator at Troy before leaving for Texas Tech and then the University of Kentucky before returning to Troy as head coach in 2015. His first team went 4-8 but last year Troy finished 10-3, almost won at Clemson and beat Ohio 28-23 in the Dollar General Bowl.

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“When they almost beat Clemson in Death Valley when they were No. 1 and headed for a national championship, fans really got excited. Troy has traditionally had terrific football,” Cunningham said. “Neal was part of that great run as offensive coordinator at Troy. It was automatic he was going to get the job when it came open.

“When they went to Clemson and did what they did last year, it was back on. The fans hit the reset button. Then to go to LSU and win this year … but the crazy thing is nobody at Troy was surprised by that. Most people expected us to win down there.”

Troy is 9-2 this season after last week’s 62-9 win over Texas State going into its final regular-season game at Arkansas State Saturday. Troy lost 24-13 at Boise State, a top 25 team, to open the season. It’s only other loss was19-8 to South Alabama the next game after the win over LSU.

Brown’s success has put his name into the conversation for various head coaching jobs next year. Cunningham was in Lexington Monday when his team played Kentucky and admitted he stays “zoned” out during his season when it comes to speculation about Brown’s future. But he knows the talk is out there with jobs open across the SEC.

“The crazy thing is all these SEC jobs have popped in the same year. Neal is a young guy, offensive mind. He has the background. He has been very successful at Troy. He’s what a lot of schools could want. He has all the tools. He is a workaholic, he is talented, he knows how to manage people. I have really been impressed with him,” Cunningham said. “I certainly hope we don’t lose him. I have a great friend and so much common ground with him being from Kentucky. We’ll see what happens.”

Cunningham is a Campbellsville  native and his father was a successful college basketball coach. Brown lived in Bardstown before moving to Danville.

“When you think about it, it blows me away how it all turned out and then for us to live within a quarter mile of each other and see each other all the time, it’s crazy,” Cunningham said. “Being from Kentucky it allowed us to immediately bond and trust each other.

“We text and talk a lot. We live in the same neighborhood. Everywhere I have been I pride myself on being able to outwork everybody at the university. At Troy, when I leave the neighborhood I will know if Neal is gone or not. When I leave, how I judge where I am is I look to see if Neal’s truck is still there. I promise you most of the time that truck is already gone.”

The two coaches have become close friends and even Brown’s father-in-law, former Boyle County basketball coach Morris Stewart, often watches Cunningham’s team practice or stops by to talk to the basketball coach.

“It has been fun getting to know Neal and his family,” Cunningham said. “Troy is just a small town with a college in it. The advantage is you are about two hours from the beach. It reminds me a lot of Starkville (Miss.). It is kind of like the Mississippi State (where Cunningham coached) of the Sunbelt. It is off the beaten path a little bit and you don’t know much about it until you get there. But when you get there, you are kind of blown away by how beautiful the campus is.

“We have nice athletic facilities. Our arena is the best mid-major arena in the country and they are filling in the end zone of the football stadium. With the way Neal is going, they may have to find a way to make it even bigger if they keep him at Troy and I know they will want to do that.”