WVU Recruiting Philosophies Taking Shape Under Neal Brown
West Virginia’s football recruiting Class of 2019 was a mixed bag in terms of philosophies, areas and tactics, which was to be expected given the coaching and staff changeover that took place midstream. To the credit of new head coach Neal Brown, his new additions and a handful of key holdovers, WVU managed to retain every one of the existing commitments that were on board when Brown was hired, and also snag some important additions in January and early February.
With that massive, and not to be underrated, task complete, Brown is now putting the final pieces in place that will determine how he and WVU approach recruiting in future years. The blueprint isn’t 100% complete, as there are still hires to be finalized and assignments to be made, but much of the framework is erected.
First up are the areas in which West Virginia will recruit. While Brown wasn’t ready to reveal final assignments in terms of which coaches will be working where, he has confirmed the major regions where he hopes to establish the Mountaineers’ efforts.
“I think what you’ll see from a recruiting philosophy here is going to be West Virginia and all the states that touch West Virginia,” Brown said. “We want to have a really strong recruiting presence. Everybody on our staff is going to have a primary recruiting area within that geographic footprint, and then, we’ll go into the southeast – Florida, Georgia, Alabama, probably into Mississippi junior colleges and some Kansas junior colleges, where we have really strong relationships and a good brand. West Virginia has a good brand, and we’re obviously well-known from a coaching standpoint as well.”
That approach looks, on the surface, to be a good blend of geographic proximity and areas in which incoming staff members are familiar. WVU has been very good in Pennsylvania and Maryland, and decent in Ohio and Virginia on the recruiting trail. Its work in Kentucky has been very limited, but given the background of Brown and his staff, a strong move into the Bluegrass State makes sense.
Then there’s West Virginia, where the previous head coach and staff were hit or miss at best. The prevailing attitude from on high seemed to be that if WVU offered, that was all that needed to happen, and that in-state players should flock to the banner. Brown has already reversed that thinking, and while he and his staff have the benefit of being the new guys on the block who get attention wherever they go, they have also indicated strongly that hard work in the Mountain State is going to be one of their foundational blocks.
Those visits and trips to schools — even those that may not have a recruitable player in the current class, are important to building relationships and laying the groundwork for the years when they do.
“I think I was out every day that I legally could be. Weather got us one day, but I got in several high schools here in West Virginia,” Brown said of his first month on the job. “I spent a day in Pittsburgh. I spent two in D.C. I didn’t get into Ohio as much this time as I will when I have the next opportunity, but we did. We were in that footprint as much as we possibly could while trying to chase the signees and going to see the guys who signed in December as well.”
The second region — Florida, Georgia and Alabama — is also a mix of tradition and updates. WVU has long been involved in the Sunshine State, and more recently added the Peach. The latter came largely courtesy of assistant Doug Belk, who departed on the coattails of Dana Holgorsen to Houston, so West Virginia will have to reestablish the ties there with a new coach. That shouldn’t be an overwhelming task, but the Mountaineers will obviously be facing off against Belk there in the future, which could set up some interesting battles.
Finally there’s Alabama. The Mountaineers might not be able to go head-to-head with Alabama or Auburn, but much like it has done in Ohio, it may be able to snare the quality player here or there that gets overlooked. In that regard, a couple of the new WVU staffers will likely be going up against their old school, Troy, on the recruiting trail.
Another place where Brown has been building is the in-house recruiting staff. Casey Smithson remains on staff, and has provided a much-needed bridge in the transition. Brian Bennett has come on board as Director of Player Personnel, and Patrick Johnson, whose title is Director of Football Operations, has also been involved in on-campus work. Graduate assistants have also been chipping in, as they too can make phone calls and work on-campus. The growth of the recruiting staff mirrors that of other top Power Five schools, and it’s an area where Brown won’t be caught short.
“What we’re trying to do is be competitive with the people we are going against. Recruiting, and you know this, it’s such a long process now. It’s such an in-depth process that I think you need multiple people,” Brown detailed. “You need a recruiting division almost within your staff, and that’s what we’re trying to establish here. We’ve made some hires, we have some additions to make and hopefully, we’ll do that here in the near future.”