Players First Mantra Plays Out For Neal Brown In Initial Days At WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As Neal Brown would do, he sees his move from Troy University in Alabama, where he made his bones as a head football coach, to West Virginia not as an upheaval in his life but instead in the lives of the players and recruits he is inheriting from Dana Holgorsen.
True he has to up and leave what has been now a long-time home, gather up his wife and three young children and take them to a strange city in which they had never been before, hire a coaching staff, learn his personnel and figure out a way to beat Oklahoma.
But that wasn’t how he saw it.
This, he believes, threw a wrench into his players’ lives.
“Their world was turned upside down,” he said. “The first thing I asked them was that on December 28, who thought they would be in this position? Raise your hand. Not a single hand went up, nor did mine.
“I was at my uncle’s house in Kentucky, celebrating a belated Christmas, chasing my son Dax around and the West Virginia game was on in the background and I didn’t give it a second thought, other than I like college football and I always respected West Virginia.
“I didn’t for the life of me think in 10 days I’d be here talking to this team.”
Or to the media.
“What I wanted them to understand is that change is hard, life is fast but adversity creates opportunities. They are in an adverse situation. Nobody asked for this. But I say this a lot. You always want to answer adversity with the response that it is good.
“For the players, it’s good. Everyone has a clean slate. Everyone is starting from the same level. This is your team. It’s not about me.” See Brown, unlike so many coaches who believe that they are the sun and the universe — and university — revolves around them wants the players to lay claim to their team.
“There’s two kinds of coaches. The coach who leads the team out of the tunnel. He’s the first one out. Then there’s the guy who stands there and the team runs out and the coach wants to get in the back,” he said.
“That’s me. We’re a players first organization. My job as the leader is to create a culture and environment, establish a structure and put people in place and help them reach their goals.
“Our vision is threefold. No. 1, development. I love the game of football but what it does is give you great opportunities for life but it is a great calling for development.
“Next we are going to graduate our student athletes and the third thing we are going to do is win.”
And that, he said, comes far easier if you are having fun at what you do.
“I want this to be a fun process. I don’t want them be miserable student-athletes. This is a great opportunity. How many people get to go run out in front of 60,000 people and have fun?” Brown asked.
“The last thing I said is I choose you. You didn’t choose me. All I ask is you give me the opportunity to coach you. We have to develop a relationship where I can push you, understanding when I go to push you its because I want what’s best for you.
“Understand I do it because I care about you as an individual. I’m doing it for the greater good, your greater good and the team’s. That’s going to take some time. Trust is built over time. I promise you, if you buy in, you like what it produces.”
And what you have to buy into is accountability and discipline.
“Discipline and accountability are two of our core values,” Brown stressed. “To me, to be a successful organization, discipline and accountability are going to be intertwined.
“Discipline within our program is doing what you are supposed to do or are told to do consistently. Discipline isn’t every now and then. It is repeated every time.”
“Accountability is understanding you are part of something bigger than yourself. The decisions you make affect everyone within the entire organization,” he explained.
“As the leader you have to set the tone with discipline and accountability. You have to have great self-discipline and you have to make difficult decisions and you have to hold yourself accountable.
“That’s something that’s at the forefront. It’s something we spend a lot of time on.”
And he has an interesting way to stress it.
“We call it ‘The Accountability Sled’,” he said. “If you have a routine miss or are tardy in any phase within the program, you push a sled. For every additional miss or being tardy we add weight … and it’s all for time.
“In the Nebraska game I had a disagreement with the officials in the first half. We thought we recovered fumble. It was clear, right in front of my face, the ball was out, we went to replay and somehow the Big Ten decided the ball should remain with Nebraska.
“Now I didn’t think I did much but I did get a penalty. They threw an interception like two plays later, so it didn’t hurt us but if you get a selfish penalty during a game it’s an opportunity to push the sled.
“So I got an opportunity to push the sled and I’ll say this, I was really good going over but coming back it wasn’t good but I did finish.”