Bruce Feldman Sees Short Term Battles, Long Term Success For WVU
ARLINGTON, TEXAS – Covering college football for more than two decades, Fox College Football analyst and The Athletic columnist Bruce Feldman has met and talked with numerous coaches while crossing the country. His depth of experience in that regard adds even more punch to his opinion of the mental prowess of West Virginia head football coach Neal Brown.
“He’s one of the smartest guys in college football. Anybody who has spent much time around Neal knows that he’s brilliant,” Feldman told BlueGoldNews.com. “I think you see a guy who has a real offensive pedigree, but go back a couple of years when he’s at Troy and they play LSU in Baton Rouge. He’s an Air Raid guy by pedigree, but the way they beat them was physical football. If I was a West Virginia fan, I’d be excited about stuff like that.”
Noting that several other schools, including Big 12 foes Texas Tech and Kansas State, had the opportunity to pluck Brown from Troy but passed, Feldman believes WVU hit a bit of a jackpot.
“He’s really good at developing players, and toughness. I think he’s good at developing his staff,” noted Feldman. “He’s the whole package. He should be in a Power 5 job, and I think West Virginia is lucky to have him. The only perceived negative is that he looks really young.”
That last was a bit of a joke, and perhaps offered so as not to appear to go overboard on West Virginia’s 39-year-old head coach, but in today’s world, where image often trumps reality, is looking young really a minus?
Feldman, though, is the last person to succumb to the hype machine, or say things he doesn’t believe just to attract attention or shape a narrative. For instance, while he is sold on Brown and the job he thinks he will do at WVU, he isn’t hesitant to say that some struggles may be on the immediate horizon.
“I think this year is going to be a tough year. You lose a bunch of really good skill guys and the best player on defense,” he analyzed. “I think they are going to go from eight or nine wins to five or six. You better be patient. I think they are a fringe bowl team for this year and maybe next year.”
Patience, which describes a concept in short supply in many areas, and especially in sports fans, might be a tough ask. WVU, of course, has been doing so with its major marketing taglines for the 2019 season: Trust The Climb. While it’s nice and zippy, it also conveys a deeper message, the same one that Feldman is talking about. There are likely going to be some tough spots in what the Mountaineers hope is an ascent for its program, so holding on to the rope (to borrow another catchphrase from a previous decade) and trusting that the many changes in the program will bear fruit is a primary goal for this year.
That doesn’t mean WVU fans have to consign themselves to a lost first season, however.
“It didn’t take Matt Rhule that long to go from a one-win team to really respectable, to a team that is physical and tough,” said Feldman, noting that Baylor was 1-11 in his first year in Waco (2017 ) and 7-6 last year.
Getting West Virginia to a bowl game this year would be an excellent achievement, but even if it doesn’t happen, Feldman doesn’t believe it will be long before Brown has the Mountaineers in the postseason – and more importantly, reshaping the team according to his vision.
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The high expectations that West Virginia fans have overall also probably extend to quarterback Austin Kendall, who will be the starter in game one vs. James Madison. Again, Feldman, a realist whose even-handed assessments are refreshing, cautions against holding him to an unrealistic standard.
“He looks like he is pretty talented,” said Feldman, before noting the parade of excellent signalcallers who have gone through the program. “The bar is so high for West Virginia fans – and that’s great – but you’ve had one prolific quarterback after another, and then you had Will Grier, who put up ridiculous numbers. I think people are going to expect sky high, and I don’t know if you are going to get that from a lot of people in their first year.
“I think he does have some NFL tools. I think he has a big enough arm, and I think the guys he sat behind and watched, I think that will help him get a lot better.”