Neal Brown continues path as coach, educator at WVU

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Neal Brown grew up in a family of coaches and educators.

As West Virginia’s head football coach, Brown will continue to do what he’s always done: Educate.

Brown, a Boyle County graduate, was named the 35th head football coach at West Virginia on Jan. 5 and has had a busy month and a half of work — recruiting, building his staff and recruiting some more.

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“It’s been busy. It’s a great place, great people. Very similar culturally to the people of Kentucky,” Brown said. “Lot of tradition here, 14th winningest program in college football. The staff and I have been received very well by the fan base, that’s been encouraging. Basically we finished a recruiting class, hired an on-field staff and started our winter offseason program and now we’re starting our 2020 and 2021 recruiting class. It’s been a busy time but rewarding as well.”

Brown said his family — he and his wife Brooke have three kids, Adalyn, Anslee and Dax — moved from Troy, Alabama earlier this month and started school last week.

The transition has been so far, so good,” Brown said. “The positive is, we’ve basically cut our time from Danville in half. So our parents, both Brooke and my parents can both make the drive … From a convenience standpoint, it’s been great for our parents.”

Brown left his head coaching position at Troy University with a 31-8 record over the past three seasons to take the West Virginia job. Before Troy, he was at the University of Kentucky for two years as offensive coordinator alongside head coach Mark Stoops.

Every year at Troy, he’s hosted Boyle coaches Chuck Smith and Chris Pardue at spring training. The two coaches, along with Boyle assistants Jeff Hester and Travis Leffew, made the trip to Mobile, Alabama on Dec. 22 to watch Brown’s Troy team defeat Buffalo in the Dollar General Bowl.

“Chuck Smith and Chris Pardue, those are guys that are special to me, have meant a lot to me as a young person,” Brown said. “Going from a player-coach relationship to a friendship now, and both of those guys, I respect immensely … They’ve come to spring practice every spring that I was at Troy.

“For them to come to a bowl game, especially so close to Christmas, was special. It meant a lot to myself and to my dad. Then Travis and I were teammates. Travis actually played in that bowl in Mobile a couple of times. That was special to me, I really appreciated them taking the time to come down. I think they had a good time as well.”

Smith said that Brown was a special player for Boyle County — he’s one of the top receivers in school history — but it wasn’t just his physical tools that made him great on the football field.

“He was always like a coach on the field for us,” Smith said. “He was a really good player, great hands, great hand-eye coordination, good speed, ran really good routes. But he was just as valuable being a coach on the field, he would come over to the sidelines and say, ‘I could beat this guy on this route.’ He always thought like a coach. Of course, his dad was a coach, he’s always been around it.”

Brown said he and his wife keep up with Boyle County athletics — their parents still live in central Kentucky and they share a special pride with Boyle. Brown’s father, Tom, was the principal at Boyle County while he was a student. His wife’s father spent many years as a coach.

“There’s a tremendous amount of pride in that school,” he said. “My dad was the principal at that school, the athletic programs blossomed under him and Tom Mills when he was superintendent. To see the success that they started and what it has grown into is tremendous. On both sides of Brooke and I’s family, a lot of pride about that school system and what the athletic programs have accomplished.”

Smith said that Brown’s pride in his past and where he was raised has helped him get to where he is today. The Boyle coach said he’s always been appreciative that Brown has always remembered the Rebels.

“He’s very good about that, he knows where he came from, he appreciates where he came from,” Smith said. “He never loses sight of that, and I think that’s really what is one of the things that is special about him. We’re all fans over here, we love to watch his games and follow him, keep up with him. He makes us proud every day.
“It just really excites me. I’m just beaming with proudness, he’s really worked so hard to get where he’s at. He’s humble about it, he knows what got him there. All of his hard work, I think he’s got a whole lot more success ahead of him. The sky’s the limit for him.”

Brown said that his educational upbringing — from his parents to his teachers and coaches — helped mold him into the coach and educator he is today.

His mother was a librarian at his elementary school. Middle school was the only time he didn’t have one of his parents in the same building, because in high school, his father took the job at Boyle County when he was at Boyle County High School.  

“That’s the only life that I knew,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world, to be able to grow up in a school system where my dad was either a coach or principal, at Nelson County my uncle was the basketball coach there for a long time. I was in a gym or in a fieldhouse for as long as I can remember. That upbringing, I think that college football coaching, at the heart of it, we’re teachers. I learned that and that teaching perspective comes from growing up in a family of educators.”

Brown also said he’s been fortunate to learn from some of the best — noting Smith as head coach of the football team when he arrived at Boyle County.

“I’ve just been really fortunate. When I got to Boyle County, it wasn’t necessarily the Boyle County athletic program or football in general that it is now,” Brown said. “Being a part of coach Smith’s (team) when he was coaching the first time, being involved in that and being a part of that building process has been without question a huge benefit for me in my career, especially as we rebuilt a couple programs. West Virginia doesn’t need to be rebuilt, but several programs that we’ve been a part of needed to be rebuilt. Being there at a young age, I think that was beneficial. Then obviously, as I went into college, I was around some really influential people and that shaped me as well.”

Brown played football at the University of Kentucky from 1998-2000 and then the University of Massachusetts from 2001-02. He earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in education from Massachusetts in 2002 and 2005, respectively, and started his coaching career in 2003 as a tight ends/offensive line assistant at UMass.

That was the start for Brown, and every stop has led him to his most prestigious role as head coach at West Virginia.

“To me, you get into coaching because you want to develop young people,” Brown said. “You’ve got to have the passion for development. If you want to pursue collegiate coaching, in any sport, you’ve got to be willing to start at the bottom and work your way up. You’ve got to do the best you can at where you’re at. I’m just a big believer, if you work extremely hard, if you treat people right, you make good decisions, then good things will happen. You’ll have success. You’ll be able to work your way up.”