Unprecedented Times For All, Including Neal Brown And The Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The computer screen blinked, and there was Neal Brown, live and in person from his office at his home outside of Morgantown.
West Virginia’s head football coach has become very familiar with Zoom video conferencing the past couple of weeks. In today’s social-distancing world, Zoom is how he holds meetings with his coaches and also how he has group sessions with his entire team.
Thursday morning he used Zoom to conduct a remote press conference with 30-some media members.
“I wanted to take this opportunity to let you and the fans know how we’re operating,” said Brown at the opening of the interview opportunity. “These are truly unprecedented times. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been affected by COVID-19. We are also thinking and supporting those who are on the front lines in the fight against this virus.
“As for us, our main priority is the health and well-being of our players and staff.”
In normal times, the Mountaineers would be in the midst of spring practice right now, but these are far from normal times.
Brown and his staff are working from their respective homes. As for the players, approximately 25 have remained in Morgantown, while the rest have scattered to other locales, normally back to their own homes.
“Our guys were on spring break last week and for the most part we left them alone, outside of some texts,” explained Brown. “We started to try to get back on schedule on Monday, and basically we’re trying to do some daily check-in via this tool, Zoom.
“We had two team meetings, and then we’ve had them get together with their accountability coaches or with their position groups (via video conferencing),” he added. “We’re not allowed to do any football right now, and we’re not doing any football right now. It’s really just check-ins and encouraging our guys to get into a routine. I think that’s important. I think it’s important to get eyeballs on everyone on a daily basis.”
The Big 12 Conference cancelled all athletic competition through the end of the academic year. It also currently has a restriction on any athletic activities, be it practices, workouts, meetings, etc., through March 29. That still leaves open the window, though, that some teaching sessions, even if they are held via video conferencing, can take place starting March 30.
It remains unclear if the league will allow such online learning beginning next week.
It’s still also unknown when actual in-person, organized team activities will be able to be conducted again.
“Those discussions are still ongoing,” said Brown. “Shane (Lyons, WVU’s director of athletics) and the other athletic directors in the Big 12 have really stayed consolidated on this. I know they’ve been in communication throughout this.
“I know they are talking about what our immediate future will look like for the next few weeks in terms of what’s allowed.
“Once the immediate plans are laid out, then they’ll determine what it will look like when teams get back together,” he said. “I think we need to do something, but I would caution on to just adding on to football camp. I don’t think that’s productive. If we could do OTA-type workout, I think that would be good.”
Brown stated that he would like to see teams get a total of 15 workouts, adding together the spring practices already held and any future OTA sessions. Thus for WVU, which was able to conduct two spring practices, it would have the opportunity to conduct 13 OTA whenever the timeframe is permitted for those to be held. For those who held more spring practices, their OTA opportunities would go down, or visa versa, just as long as the total is 15, as is the normal number of spring practices allowed.
The Mountaineers didn’t get a lot of work in during the spring, holding just two non-contact practices, but Brown did like what he saw from his team in that limited period of time.
“I think we’re an eager group,” said West Virginia’s second-year head coach. “It’s a fun group to coach. Our skill level is much better than where it was a year ago. I think our cohesiveness is better, and I’m not just talking about our players, but also our staff and everything.
“I think there are some guys who made some big jumps, which is what you hope, especially in year-one to year-two guys,” Brown continued. “I think there have been some pleasant surprises on the offensive side. We were only in helmets, so it was hard to tell, but I was pleased with what I saw. I think we have some talent on the perimeter on offense. I think our receivers have a chance to be one of the better groups. I’m looking forward to working with them.
“Unfortunately we’re missing the spring. I’m glad it’s not year one for us. I’ll say that as a positive. This is the hand we’re dealt, and we’ll move forward with it.”