Brown Reflects, Moves Toward Clarity With Parker As Offensive Coordinator
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — During his introductory media session to this year’s spring practice, West Virginia football coach Neal Brown spoke of taking time during the off-season for reflection, not only on his team and its performance but on himself as a coach.
And, when he did he noted one major flaw that he felt he had to fix.
“Here’s the part where I needed to do a better job than I did a year ago,” Brown said. “A year ago, I felt like those guys were waiting on me a lot.”
There are things a head coach has to do that gobble up his time and, considering his role with the offense and with a situation where he had co-offensive coordinators, there was indecisiveness and delays in getting things done.
He looked to change that and when wide receiver coach Xavier Dye left for UCF, it gave him the opportunity to make a large change, not only replacing Dye but bringing in someone who could serve as wide receiver coach but also someone to be offensive coordinator.
He had a person in mind, a former teammate at Kentucky in whom he had complete trust — Gerad Parker.
“Now Gerad is leading that room, so when I’m called out to do head coaching stuff, there’s a true leader in there,” Brown said. “There’s an offensive coordinator. He has the vision, and that’s not a knock against anything we did last year. It’s just a lot of guys were waiting on me and were not as prepared as they needed to be until probably later in the week. That’s something where as a head coach I think you’ve got to look inward. I think you look inward before you look outward.
“That’s something I owned. When we had an opening on our staff offensively, that was the reason why I really felt strongly about Gerad being the right guy.”
The right guy? Why?
It goes back to that longstanding, entangled relationship when they were teammates at the University of Kentucky, beginning to grow up in the Hal Mumme school of Air Raid football.
“You have to have a pretty seamless approach to this thing in order for it to go well — and that’s every staff and every corporation in the world,” Parker said as he readied for the opening of spring practice on Tuesday morning. “Does the pre-existing relationship help? Anybody would say it has to help.
“Our pre-existing relationship and me being able to tell him my opinions and us being able to build some things together, it helps. Also, it helps our growth together. I know we all want to grow together. There are things he’s got that he wants to do to grow together. There are things I want to grow professionally in to be ready to do this job and the things it’s going to ask for.”
The only thing that is strange is that they didn’t latch up as soon Brown came to WVU.
Brown says that Parker is “the best wide receivers coach in the country.”
They both come from Kentucky. Brown more from the middle of the state in Danville, Parker from down on the border of Kentucky and West Virginia, a tiny town called Louisa.
It’s like hundreds of those little river communities, 2,300 or so people with the most interesting landmark being the bridge from Louisa to Fort Gay, West Virginia, a quarter-mile concrete structure that spans the Big Sandy River and connects the two states and has a right turn at its halfway point, which connects traffic to the Point Section neighborhood of Louisa.
But the town is more than that, for it has become something of a “Cradle of Coaches,” spitting them out of Lawrence County High School the way Miami of Ohio used to do so back in its prime.
There’s Parker and Dontae Wright, one of the two other new coaches this year who will handle linebackers.
Wright and Parker played two years together in high school.
And then there’s the late Phil Ratliff, once of Marshall, and Jason Michael, tight end coach of the Indianapolis Colts … all out of tiny Louisa.
“I think we were surrounded by a football community,” Parker explains. “Everybody loved the game. We won a lot and winning breeds success in so many ways, so it shaped us in how to learn to be young men. The game kind of grabbed ahold of us in that way and clearly it’s kept its course to this point where we are now coaching at the highest of levels.”
Early on, basketball sucked Parker in and introduced him to the state where he eventually would be coaching.
“I spent more of my time in my childhood playing basketball, all in West Virginia,” he said. “My first trip to Morgantown was when I was 14 years old to play in a YBO basketball tournament. I’ve been to Summersville to play ball. I’ve been to a lot of towns up and down the river.
“Our basketball team was called Louisa-Fort Gay. You couldn’t get more intertwined. We tied baseball teams together that played across the state.”
He wound up in the same receiver room as Brown in Lexington, Kentucky, and they became close.
Who was the better receiver?
“There’s no way I would say me.” Parker said. “That’s a trap question.”
But this is what he would say.
“I had so many injuries and so much going on in my career, how could I say anything? But it ended well and so did Neal’s when he left and went to UMass.”
Having rejoined him now, he sees pretty much the same guy he knew then.
“He’s not all that different now,” he said. “The thing I will say is I went to a clinic with Tony Franklin and Neal was involved during those early days when he was at Troy and I heard him talk on wide receiver play.
“He did about an hour deal. When I heard him do that I remember thinking, ‘He’s special.’ Just hearing him present his details of what he was, I knew he was going to go far in this profession.”
It was at UK that they began putting their offensive thoughts together under Mumme, the man whose coaching tree has blossomed.
“We’d all be remiss if we didn’t say if there was a curve, he was ahead of it.” Parker said of Mumme. “What he did, how he did it with the system he put he was ahead of the times. That’s testifiable over the past 25 years. It’s pretty cool to still see him call plays now.”
Parker and Brown stayed in touch over the years.
“It was built more by him as he went through the profession and became a young head coach,” Parker said. “We were in touch when we could. We’d meet each other in camps or at clinics. When he was at Troy and I was just starting my career a couple of years after him, I’d go down there and he has helped me professionally the last five years.”
It was Ratliff, however, who was his football daddy.
“Phil Ratliff helped raise us,” he said of himself, Wright and Jason Michael. “He was a Marshall All-American and guy who we all lost tragically too soon. He coached me and Jason and Dontae. That tree stays alive through a guy like Phil Ratliff and the special person he was.”
In 2011 the young coach who was Parker took a helping hand from Ratliff and wound up at Marshall, giving him an even stronger taste of the state and an inside look at WVU from people who had been there such as his head coach, Doc Holliday, Bill Legg, who Brown recently hired as his assistant, and most of all from one-time WVU quarterback and coach JaJuan Seider.
“JaJuan Seider is one of my best friends. Any time you come to a place like this, knowing he’s been here, our conversations when he left Marshall and we went our different ways, we stayed in close touch,” he said.
“He means a lot to me and my family so I’ll be emotional talking about him. He has helped to tell us how great a community this place is and what Morgantown means to these people. He’s been a good resource to have in our back pocket.
“I had a friend, a mentor, a colleague in Phil Rafliff on that staff, someone I used to idolize and he fought for me. Doc believed in me. It was my breakthrough and I learned to recruit at a different level.”
“That was a really cool thing … and I was 45 minutes from my house. It allowed me to have my first child at Cabell Huntington Hospital, where I was born. It was a really neat experience,” said Parker, whose family know has grown to four children.
Parker went from there to Purdue, where he worked as an assistant to former WVU assistant Darrell Hazell until in 2016, when Hazell was fired, he was named interim head coach for the final six games of the season.
It was a unique time.
“That was one of the most rewarding and difficult things I ever had to do in my career — just the timing of it, six games left, it was a weird deal — but to see a staff come together. You see a lot of times in that position will have guys quit on them or self-implode,” Parker said.
“That staff at Purdue was phenomenal with me. We fought tooth and nail, the kids stayed with it. It was a tough time but I hope it will pay dividends in the future.”
After Purdue he went to Cincinnati and Duke before settling at Penn State as the running back coach.
Now the normal career course is not to go from an assistant at Penn State to WVU, but the circumstances were right for the reunion with Brown when he came calling.
“There’s a lot of respect for the place where I was, but there’s a lot of respect here,” he said. “Selfishly, this is a pretty nice opportunity for me in my carer, to take a step and be something I haven’t been — an offensive coordinator.
“This is a big challenge to build morale with staff and players. I want to be in a position with a chance to grow, where I can put a different footprint on it, look at it from a different perspective, think a different way.
“I think that’s how I’ve grown as in this profession and as a person. You take steps that are not exactly comfortable and do things different and this job gave me this opportunity.”
So now it’s him and Neal Brown and Dontae Wright against the world … a small world, at that.
Did he see that coming when they were at Kentucky?
“I don’t know if I ever thought this far out when I was there,” Parker said. “I’ve always told people around me I hope I’m not one of those people who say I can’t believe I made it this far. I hope I believed I would make this far.
“As far whether 20 years ago I thought Neal and I would be together in this situation, I don’t know that I thought that. I’m humbled by it.”