Brown A Home Run Hire For WVU, But Results Will Take Time
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — You can search the Internet from Twitter to Facebook, from Google to Instagram, and you can’t find any hint that West Virginia’s hire of Neal Brown to replace Dana Holgorsen has a downside.
Good coach, good man. Paid his dues along the way, served his time in Lubbock, Texas, which is a nice place to visit but here’s betting this man out of the hills of Kentucky will find the hills of West Virginia more to his liking.
He’s actually got more head coaching experience than the man he replaced had Oliver Luck nabbed him to lead West Virginia to the Promised Land and he’s proven that he’s qualified to make the jump from the Group of 5 to the Power 5.
Can he beat Oklahoma?
Don’t know. But he has beaten LSU. He has beaten Nebraska.
And he’s played in three bowl games and won all three.
OK, none of them were named Rose, Cotton, Sugar or Fiesta but a bowl by any other name is just as sweet to win when Troy is your home base.
All of this having been said (if you are reading out loud), may we offer a word of caution in the initial stages of your giddiness.
Do not expect a miracle worker. Do not expect instant gratification. Do not expect to be playing Alabama and Nick Saban next January for the National Championship.
History tells us that rampant success in the first year at a new job, despite that 10-3 record and Orange Bowl victory over Clemson in Holgorsen’s rookie season as a head coach, is an aberration and not the norm.
In fact, we want to see no effigies if things go wrong in Brown’s first season in Morgantown, hear no boos or see no boycotts, for the first year really is a difficult one for most coaches.
Even the best.
Do you remember a fellow who made a stop here at West Virginia by the name of Rich Rodriguez? If you can erase the memory of the last game of his WVU coaching career from your mind you will recall you saw him as a state treasure.
His first year? 3-8.
Don Nehlen? He coached his way into the College Football Hall of Fame while coaching 20 years here and becoming the top winner in the school’s history.
His first year? 6-6.
And this isn’t a West Virginia thing. It happens every year, but you just have to write it off as a learning process.
John Wooden, the great UCLA basketball coach, put it this way.
“It’s what you learn, after you know it all, that counts.”
Take Bear Bryant. You’ve probably heard of him. His first season at Texas A&M he went 1-9. Two years later he was 9-0-1.
And when he went to Alabama his first season was 5-4-1.
It got better, you know.
With the national championship game on Monday you might be thinking about Saban these days. You know, he’s the guy from the down the road here who looks upon trailing in the fourth quarter as a loss now.
But his first year at Michigan State he was 6-5. His first year at LSU he was 8-4, good but not what was to come.
And, at Alabama? He was 7-6 that first year. I don’t think he’s lost six games since.
It happens. The guy Saban is playing, Dabo Swinney, came to Clemson and went 4-3 taking over during the season, then 9-5, then 6-7.
Sometimes it takes time. Ara Parseghian went to Notre Dame and was 4-4-1 and then 0-9 before a 9-1 season started him on the road to the Hall of Fame in the next year.
You just can’t draw any conclusions from the first year.
USC’s John McKay, another West Virginian who went to the Hall of Fame, was 4-6 his first season and two years later was 11-0. Woody Hayes must have real pleasure to live with his first year at Ohio State when he went 4-3-2.
He was far happier two years later at 11-0.
And then there was a guy named Joe Paterno, who took over at Penn State with a 5-5 season but then was 11-0 in his second and fourth seasons.
See, there’s so much to do and so little time to do it. You have to learn your players, they have to learn you. They have new playbooks, new terminology, new assistant coaches.
You, as the coach, have to set up a structure, have to learn you new league, go out and recruit, fill vacancies as some players are almost certain to leave. You have to win over the fan base, which means nights at Rotary and Kiwanis.
This is not to say it can’t be done. Barry Switzer took over at Oklahoma and lost one game in his first three years.
But that’s Oklahoma, where the “wins” come sweeping down the plain.
So, be patient, be kind and allow the new sheriff in town time to learn the lay of the land.