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Neal Brown ‘deserving’ of West Virignia job

By LARRY VAUGHT

Contributing Writer

 

As soon as Chuck Smith heard the news about Neal Brown, his former player at Boyle County, getting the head football coaching job at West Virginia, one thought came to his mind.

“I felt he was ready. He has worked so hard to get into this position and it so well deserved,” said the Boyle head football coach.

Brown had won 10 games and a bowl game the last three years as head coach at Troy after being offensive coordinator at Troy, Texas Tech and Kentucky.

Tony Franklin was the on the Kentucky coaching staff when Brown was a walk-on receiver. He was the offensive coordinator at Troy when he hired Brown to coach receivers.

“I am so happy for him. He was raised by a great mom and dad. He’s from a great community. He had a great role model in Chuck Smith. He developed his own personality coaching-wise and was already a good human being,” Franklin, the offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee, said.

“I am glad he got that job and I am really excited to see what he can do. I am excited for Brooke (Neal’s wife) and his (three) kids to have that life. From the first day I hired him, I knew he would be a head coach. He was always planning, always preparing to be a head coach. Obviously there will be challenges. They look to be a few people (players) short in what they need to be the nine or 10 win program they want to be. His job is to take them to that level and he will do that.”

Smith, a former UK assistant under Rich Brooks and Joker Phillips, is just as confident as Franklin about Brown’s future. He notes that West Virginia will get the best players in the state and has been using an offense similar to what Brown does under former coach Dana Holgorsen.

“The kids already there were recruited for it,” Smith said. “He builds a program and doesn’t just coach a team. Neal has the personality and charisma  to win over the fan base. The team and the program will feed off of his passion and sincerity for success.”

Brown’s parents, Peggy and Tom, still live in Boyle County. His move to West Virginia cuts several hours off their travel time to see him coach — or visit grandchildren. They were obviously excited about the move that came with a six-year, $19-million contract.

“Our phones blew up with text messages when the news broke,” Tom Brown said.

Their daughter, Beth, had a roommate at Centre College who was from West Virginia and eventually transferred to West Virginia to finish her education.

“She actually texted Beth and told her about Neal getting hired,” Tom Brown said. “But we all had plenty of text messages.

“Just for me, he ended up with the best job that came open this year and definitely the best fit for him. They have a pretty tough schedule and actually play 11 Power-5 schools (nine Big 12 games along with Missouri and North Carolina State) each of the next two years. That’s highly unusual and tough for any school or coach.”

Even with the contract that more than tripled Brown’s salary, the move was bittersweet. Two of his children were born at Troy. He’s coached there a combined eight years and that was his first FBS job and first place he was offensive coordinator.

“Troy has been very good to their family. I would like think it has been a pretty even deal with what Neal has done for Troy but I am biased. Troy was a good fit for Neal. Everything fit him and his family and now hopefully the same will be true at West Virginia but he loved being at Troy,” Tom Brown said.

At the press conference where he was formally introduced as West Virginia’s coach, Brown said it was a bit different than getting the job at Troy where he had coached before and had already built relationships.

“It really felt good about what that reception was going to be there (at Troy when he was hired), 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,” the new coach said.  “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 appreciate the people at West Virginia being overly positive about this hire.”

Brown said he primarily plans to recruit regionally in all states that touch West Virginia along with the southeast with Alabama, Georgia and Florida contacts he’s already made.

He offered three Kentucky players — Boyle County’s Reese Smith and Landon Bartleson along with Lexington Catholic’s Beau Allen — within hours of getting his new job.

“I think he could have success recruiting Kentucky because knows the state, believes in the Kentucky kid, and believes you can have success with them on your team,” Smith, a former recruiting coordinator at  UK, said. “He did a great job recruiting Kentucky when he was at the UK as an assistant. He knows talent and has a system that is appealing to young players. He could have the same impact that Purdue and Jeff Brohm have had with Kentucky kids.”