Neal Brown Looks To Establish Local Recruiting Footprint
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — While it was a step up in class for Neal Brown as he moved out of the Sun Belt Conference at Troy and into the Big 12 and all the pressures that come with big time college football, at least in one way he had to feel as if his job had been made much easier.
Coaching at Troy, which is in Alabama, leaves you in something of recruiting jail, for you operate in the giant shadows of both Alabama and Nick Saban and Auburn, both of whom get to pick up the prime rib of recruiting within the state while you are left with the Spam.
But in West Virginia, it is different. No, there is not the same kind of in-state talent pool, but Brown believes that they can be a force in the surrounding states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Kentucky and Virginia while also using their southern roots to fill talent.
“It’s not something we thought about a lot. It kind of was what it was,” he said of dealing with the aura the Crimson Tide and Auburn. “We weren’t necessarily going to go head to head and beat the Alabamas and Auburns. Those guys were recruiting nationally, so we were really trying to have a really strong geographic footprint there in Alabama.
“But here in West Virginia, having a really strong brand within this geographic footprint is critical. We feel we can compete and win against anybody if we do our jobs and are diligent, build relationships we should have a chance against anybody in West Virginia and all the states that surround it.”
With this in mind, Brown believes once he gets his coaching staff completed — he has one more coach to go on the offensive side — he can then give each coach a territory close at hand to work.
Recruiting, to Brown, has maybe the highest priority of any part of the program and he has put great thought into organizing it with Brian Bennett in charge as his director of player personnel.
Bennett spent the past four years at Troy with Brown and before that he spent seven years with Charlie Strong as a student assistant at Florida, a graduate assistant at Louisville and an analyst at Texas.
He learned a lot about Brown, he says, just from his first interview with him.
“I spent the whole day with him. It wasn’t just an interview. I showed up in a suit, trying to put my best foot forward, but we drove over to his house that he was doing a renovation on so I got to see that.
“He took me to a little downtown restaurant and it was a different feel. He’s young, he’s energetic and you could tell spending that first day with him how special he was.”
Brown has his priorities straight and that has to come across to recruits.
Priorities? Well, this is probably the most famous example. When his Troy team upset LSU a couple of seasons back, his wife and family watched the game at Applebee’s.
“My daughter had a gymnastics meet that day,” he explained.
A little thing like beating LSU wasn’t going to keep his wife and daughter from that gymnastics meet.
His approach is the kind of approach that kids seem to love.
“The thing you will learn about Neal is you’ll see how genuine a person he is,” Bennett said. “His care and love for people is obvious as soon as you speak to him.”
He showed it as soon as he took the WVU job.
“Getting to know those kids was the No. 1 priority for him, the kids who signed here,” Bennett said. “He got on the phone with them. He was Twittering them to get their numbers to make sure they were fine.
“His two goals were to make sure our guys in Troy were fine and that he left them the right way and to make sure the guys on the team here were fine and that the guys we had signed were in a comfortable position and felt good with him.”
They must have felt really good for not one new recruit from the Dana Holgorsen staff left and there was very little attrition from the team.
“We want to build an organization where people want to be here,” he said. “The first thing we talk about is fun. We had a Super Bowl party with the team. We went bowling. We have competitions. We will have a history of WVU football quiz this afternoon.
“If you look at the makeup of the coaches who we hire, they like to smile. They have to have a lot of juice is the way we put it.”
If it’s fun, if the atmosphere is conducive to learning, it is also conducive to succeeding, he believes.
That’s something he got from his upbringing, his mother being a librarian and his father running the Boyle County high school.
“At the end of the day, we are in the education business,” he said.
As such, he learned what inspired people.
“When my dad took over Boyle County High School it had not had much success. He invested time and people into extracurricular activities, things like band and sports and whatever. Now it’s one of the best schools in the state of Kentucky and has been highly successful in boys and girls sports.
“I watched that. I saw the pride the kids took in it.”
And Brown uses it with his teams, and it apparently comes through even to recruits.