WVU’s Neal Brown Hits The Recruiting Trail
Neal Brown is still relatively new to the West Virginia head football coaching position.
Having been hired on Jan. 5, he’s only been on the job a couple months. But from day one Brown and his staff have been traveling the recruiting trails.
Initially their focus was to secure the 16 prospects who had signed National Letters of Intent with the Mountaineers back in December when Dana Holgorsen was still WVU’s head coach. Brown and company were successful there, as every one of those signees decided to remain committed to WVU, despite the change in coaching staffs.
Then Brown needed to add a few more recruits, which he did by adding three signees – defensive lineman Jordan Jefferson, safety Rashean Lynn and cornerback Tavian Mayo – to West Virginia’s class of 2019 during the February signing period.
On top of all that, Brown and his staff have also begun courting recruits for the class of 2020. There will likely be a couple more additions to WVU’s class of 2019 – probably transfers with an eye toward providing immediate help to the offensive and defensive lines – but most of West Virginia’s recruiting focus now has centered on future prospects for the class of 2020, ’21 and beyond.
“I’ve been really pleased with how our staff is recruiting so far,” noted Brown in a recent exclusive interview with the Blue & Gold News. “We’ve had really, really good prospects on campus for the four or five junior days we’ve had so far. We’ve had a lot of really good players in for visits, and most of those have been players from within about five or six hours Morgantown. We’ve been able to secure a couple early commits, which creates some momentum. I’m excited about our recruiting. We’re still a little behind on this ’20 class, but we’re making headway.”
Having spent the past four years as the head coach of Troy University, Brown admits that to be successful he needs to attract a different caliber prospect at a Big 12 Conference school like West Virginia. But he says the resources WVU has at its disposal lend to recruiting a better athlete.
“Who you can get in on is different,” said Brown in terms of the difference between recruiting for a Group of 5 school compared to a Power 5 one. “Your logo matters in recruiting, no doubt. I think our brand here at West Virginia is strong. I think we have a national brand. We have a strong presence in social media and a winning tradition. We have a lot things to sell.”
Brown has a definite plan when it comes to his recruiting philosophy at WVU.
“How we are going about this is we are going to recruit really, really heavy in a six-hour radius around Morgantown,” he explained. “Then we’ll add to that the southeast in Florida, Georgia and Alabama, and we’re still going to be in the junior college market. That’s kind of how we’re going about it.”
Brown’s program also has a heavy presence on social media, and that’s not an accident. Like most everything West Virginia’s new coach does, the social media output has a specific plan, particularly when if comes to catching the attention of recruiting prospects.
“I think you thave a major presence on social media, especially when it comes to recruiting,” said the 39-year-old head coach. “It’s a way to create your own message. We’re trying to promote our program. We have some things that are really, really positive about West Virginia and West Virginia football, and I think you have to promote that.
“When it comes to social media, there are a few demographics we’re targeting,” he added. “Certainly we’re going after the recruit demographic, but we’re also going after the student body demographic and then we’re also going after our fans in general. We want to be engaged on social media with all three. I think the West Virginia fan base is really engaged on social media.”
Especially in terms of recruiting, social media is a two-way street. Certainly it allows the Mountaineers to paint a portrait for recruits, but it also allows West Virginia’s staff insight into the thoughts and lives of those prospects as well. That information can reveal a lot, both good and bad. In today’s world many should-be adults start a firestorm with their social media posts, and those missteps can also easily happen with teenage recruits.
“I think if you look at our assistant coaches’ Instagram profiles and Twitter profiles, you’ll see they are following just about everyone they are recruiting,” Brown pointed out. “If there is some questionable material in there, they’ll find it.
“There have been times we’ve turned down a recruit because of what we saw in their social media. Most of the time, how it works is that if something comes up on social media, you make a note about it, and you bring it up to that recruit. If after that the behavior doesn’t change, then that can be a problem because it may show they’re not taking directions, which means they’re not coachable. That’s not something you want to deal with.”
College-age individuals, including student-athletes, can find themselves in trouble for their social media posts as well. Some coaches have taken to demanding those in their charge stay off social media, but that’s not Brown’s philosophy for his players.
“To me, my message to them is social media is an opportunity to promote your brand,” explained WVU’s head coach. “What do you want to stand for? What do you want to be about? Let’s use this. It’s an educational process. When you hire somebody, what’s the first thing you’re going to do? Probably Google them and then search their social media pages. That’s what I do for anybody I’m going to hire. It’s just an education process.
“I’m a big proponent that our guys deserve to have a voice,” he continued. “You have some people who try to take their players off social media and all that stuff. I don’t think that’s appropriate. We live in a democratic society, and people are allowed to have a voice. It’s an educational process. These kids are anywhere from 17 to 21 or 22, and that’s a huge developmental time in someone’s life. Social media is not going away. Rather than limit, let’s educate.”