MORGANTOWN — “Almost Heaven” isn’t just a West Virginia motto. It might also describe where the match was made between the Mountaineers and new head coach Neal Brown, who was officially introduced to the public on Thursday morning.
“West Virginia is a special place where we can accomplish great things,” Brown said. “I look forward to working with [the administration] to make the people of this great state proud of how we represent them.”
It quickly became clear from all three major players in Brown’s hire – university president E. Gordon Gee, athletic director Shane Lyons and Brown himself – all found what they were looking for in each other.
“We are an institution of family,” Gee said with emphasis before introducing Brown’s family of three children. “West Virginia is a place of family… in many ways, we represent the hopes and dreams of every West Virginian. We carry the flag, and today is special because we have a new flag carrier.”
Lyons noted that “every box I looked at was checked by Neal Brown.”
Lyons said he was looking for a successful sitting head coach with experience, a cultural fit with West Virginia University and someone with an emphasis on “the student-athlete experience” that encourages a fun atmosphere for players while still upholding academic and NCAA standards.
Lyons and Brown had a seven-hour interview last Thursday, but the athletic director said that by the end of the first hour it was already evident who West Virginia’s next head coach would be.
Likewise, Brown could tell that West Virginia was the opportunity he had been waiting for. He interviewed for the Arizona vacancy a year ago, and was a logical fit for openings at Louisville and Texas Tech this offseason.
Though everything came together in unusual fashion – all coaching vacancies this offseason had been filled until Dana Holgorsen departed for Houston on Jan. 2 – Brown found a school with everything on his personal checklist.
“Culture, vision, passion are the three things that have always been important to me and [wife] Brooke that have factored into each move we’ve made,” Brown said. “West Virginia is culture, it is vision and it is passion. It’s a great fit. It fits my DNA.”